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Four Iroquois Oral Traditions of Animals as retold by Glenn Welker
 
retold by Glenn Welker
  

The Legend of the Iroquois

This brief history of the Iroquois Nations is courtesy of David B. Kelley and The Iroquois Legend website.

Sometime in the 1300s, today's State of New York became the stronghold of five powerful Iroquois nations--the Senecas, the Onondagas, the Mohawks, the Cayugas, and the Oneidas. About 1575, they devised a Confederacy, formed from these five nations, known as the Haudenosaunee, People of the Long House.  In order to better organize the affairs of the Confederacy, the "Great Binding Law" was created. This is known as the Iroquois Constitution. The five nations were later joined by another great tribe, the Tuscaroras, from the south. In 1715, the Tuscaroras were accepted into the Iroquois Confederacy, becoming its sixth member nation.

As the years passed, the numerous Iroquois families became scattered over New York State, and also in what is now Pennsylvania, parts of the Midwest, and southeastern Canada. Some lived in areas where wolves were in great abundance, and so, these people came to be called the Wolf Clan. Others lived where turtles were plentiful, and they are called the Turtle Clan. For similar reasons, the Bear, Beaver, Deer, Snipe, Hawk, and Eel clans received their names. In time, through intermarriage, some or all of these clans became associated with each of the Iroquois nations, with an individual's clan affiliation being inherited from the mother's side, since all the clans are led by women.

When the original Iroquois Confederacy was formed, the locations of the five original nations formed a west-to-east arrangement. The leaders came to interpret this, symbolically, as a long house with a west door, a central fire, and an east door. This is why they came to call thems the People of the Long House. The Seneca nation is the Keeper of the Western Door, the Onondaga nation is the Keeper of the Fire, and the Mohawk nation is the Keeper of the Eastern Door. These three nations are also known as the Three Brothers, in the Iroquois Confederacy. At council meetings, each nation is represented by a varying number of male representatives who are chosen by the female clan leaders, though the number of representatives does not affect decisions since each nation has only one vote, and unanimity is the goal. The Iroquois Confederacy is still active, and the Iroquois Constitution, created at the beginning of the Confederation, is now more than 500 years old. This Iroquois form of government and Constitution had a strong influence on the form of government devised by the framers of the younger United States government and the U.S. Constitution.

 
Scroll down and click the text to read the Iroquois oral tradition.  These oral traditions originally appeared in Glenn Welker's Iroquois Literature, located on his Indigenous Peoples' Literature website.

Rabbit and Fox

 

 

Rabbit and Fox

How Buzzard Got His Feathers

 

 

How the Buzzard Got His Feathers

How Buzzard Got His Feathers

 

 

Raccoon and the Crayfish

Chipmunk and Bear

 

 

Chipmunk and Bear

 

Dr. Glenn Welker is an author, researcher, and website editor in the field of indigenous American studies. His Indigenous Peoples' Literature websites promote indigenous artwork, literature, and culture, containing a wide array of resources.

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