The Mohawks

Mohawk tribe" src="" alt="" width="638" height="473" srcset=" 638w, 300w" sizes="(max-width: 638px) 100vw, 638px" /Mohawk It’s pronounced “mo-hawk.” It comes from a name their Algonkian enemies used to call them, meaning “man-eaters.” In their own language, the Mohawk people call themselves Kanienkehaka, which means “people of the flint,” or as some experts now believe now that this also meant, “people of the crystals.”

Were they really man-eaters?

It’s not clear anymore whether that name was supposed to be literal, or an insult, or just a figure of speech to show that the Mohawks were fierce. Some Mohawk people believe that in ancient times, before they joined the Iroquois Confederacy, their ancestors used to eat enemies they had killed in battle. Other Mohawks think that never really happened and cannibals were always rare and strange in Mohawk society, like they were in other cultures.

Iroquois water drum filled at different levels with water, and flutes, were used to bring vibrational tones from the quartz crystal caves. This vibration kept the evil spirits at bay.

(The two most important Mohawk instruments are drums and flutes. Iroquois drums were often filled with water to give them a distinctive sound different from the drums of other tribes. Most Mohawk music is very rhythmic and consists mostly of drumming and lively singing. Flutes were used to woo women in the Mohawk tribe. A young Mohawk man would play beautiful flute music outside his girlfriend’s longhouse at night to show her he was thinking about her.)

(Real Iroquois Myth) Tree of Peace

“Then an Iroquois, a Mohawk chief had a vision of a mighty tree that never lost its leaves. With Iroquois people sheltering under its boughs.”

The Tree of Peace is a tall white pine that has been planted by the Onondaga, representing the great binding law, or Gayanahsagowa, which unified the five Nations.

The cardinal points for north, south, east, and west are represented by four white roots growing from the Tree of Peace. The number four has great significance in Haudenosaunee lore, also representing the four beings who help the Creator, and the four winds that blow.

An eagle sits atop the tree of peace, watching over the five Nations, ready to cry out at the first sign of approaching danger. The eagle is considered to be a messenger sent by the Creator.

The next symbol is that of a circle, representing unity and the cycle of life. According to Haudenosaunee lore, the Peace Maker made the Iroquois chiefs gather around the Tree of Peace, forming a circle by holding hands in order to keep the peace.



Four Mohawk Kings painted by Jan Verelst, 1710. From left to right: Etow Oh Koam, Sa Ga Yeath Qua Pieth Tow, Ho Nee Yeath Taw No Row and Tee Yee Ho Ga Row. (National Archives of Canada – Artist: Jan Verelst C-092421, C-092419, C-092417, C-092415)

The Four Mohawk Kings or Four Kings of the New World were the three Mohawk and one Mahican Chiefs of the Iroquoian Confederacy. The three Mohawk were: Sa Ga Yeath Qua Pieth Tow of the Bear Clan, called King of Maguas, with the Christian name Peter Brant, grandfather of Joseph Brant; Ho Nee Yeath Taw No Row of the Wolf Clan, called King of Canojaharie, or John of Canojaharie (“Great Boiling Pot”); and Tee Yee Ho Ga Row, meaning “Double Life”, of the Wolf Clan, called King Hendrick, with the Christian name Hendrick Peters. The one Mahican was Etow Oh Koam of the Turtle Clan, labeled in his portrait as Emperor of the Six Nations.


Much of the mythology of the Iroquois (a confederacy of originally Five, later Six Nations of Native Americans) has been lost. Some of their religious stories have been preserved, including creation stories and some folktales.

Hahgwehdiyu is the creator god. He was said to have planted a single maize plant in the body of his mother Atahensic. This plant was a gift to mankind. In many variants of the creation myth, Atahensic (also known as Ataensic) was a Sky Woman who fell to the Earth. She died in childbirth and her body fertilized the earth so that her granddaughters could grow many things.

Hahgwehdiyu has an evil twin brother named Hahgwehdaetgan.

One of the twin Gods of Wind Breath, HAHGWEHDIYU is the Good Creator God of the Iroquois.

He shaped the earth with the palm of his hand and recycled his dead mother ( ATAENTSIC) as bits of creation. Her face became the sky, her breasts were made into the sun and moon, and her body emplanted with a grain of corn, transforming it into the source of all fertility (see GA-GAAH).

But all this work wasn’t without its setbacks. HAHGWEHDIYU had a jealous twin brother. This is one of the classic goodie/baddie twin brother conflicts. They were both Twin Gods of Wind Breath, but brother HAHGWEHDAETGAH was a real baddie. So he was the God of Bad Breath.

The two started fighting before they were even born. Biff! Thud! Crunch! The final outcome was decided in a big battle under a giant crab-apple tree. HAHGWEHDIYU bashed his brother with a large thorny stick and banished him to the Underworld. 238w" sizes="(max-width: 250px) 100vw, 250px" / Joseph Brant

Most people believe that the Mohawks, like some indigenous tribes in the Great Lakes region, sometimes wore a hair style in which all their hair would be cut off except for a narrow strip down the middle of the scalp from the forehead to the nape, that was approximately three finger widths across. However, the idea that Mohawks had “Mohawk hairstyles” is incorrect and came from Hollywood movies, particularly Drums Along the Mohawk. The true hairstyle of the Mohawk including the entire Six Nations was to remove the hair from the head by plucking (not shaving) tuft by tuft of hair until all that was left was a square of hair on the back crown of the head. The remaining hair was shortened so that three short braids of hair were created and those braids were highly decorated. This is the true “Mohawk” hairstyle and not the Hollywood version taken from thePawnee.

The women wore their hair long, often with traditional bear grease, or tied back into a single braid. They often wore no covering or hat on their heads, even in winter.

Traditional dress styles of the Kanien’kehá:ka Mohawk peoples consisted of women going topless in summer with a skirt of deerskin. In colder seasons, women wore a full woodland deerskin dress, leather tied underwear, long fashioned hair or a braid and bear grease. They were several ear piercings adorned by shell earrings, shell necklaces, and also puckered seam ankle wrap moccasins.

The women also used a layer of smoked and cured moss as an insulation absorbency for menses, as well as simple scraps of leather. Later menses use consisted of cotton linen pieces where pilgrim settlers and missionaries provided trade and introduced of such items.

The traditional dress styles of the Kanien’kehá:ka Mohawk men consisted solely of a breech cloth of deerskin in summer, deerskin leggings and a full piece deerskin shirt in winter, several shell strand earrings, shell necklaces, long fashioned hair, and puckered seamed wrap ankle moccasins.

The men would also carry a quill and flint arrow hunting bag as well as arm and knee bands.

During the summer, the Kanien’kehá:ka Mohawk children traditionally wore nothing up to the ages of thirteen, the time before they were ready for their warrior or woman passages or rites.

Later dress after European contact combined some cloth pieces such as the males’ ribbon shirt in addition to the deerskin clothing, and wool trousers and skirts. For a time many Mohawk peoples incorporated a combination of the older styles of dress with newly introduced forms of clothing.

According to author Kanatiiosh in Hodenasaunee Clothing and & Other Cultural Items, Mohawks as a part of the Hodenasaunee Confederacy “traditionally used furs obtained from the woodland, which consisted of elk and deer hides, corn husks, and they also wove plant and tree fibers to produce clothing”.

Later, sinew or animal gut was cleaned and prepared as a thread for garments and footwear and was threaded to porcupine quills or sharp leg bones, in order to sew or pierce eyeholes for threading.

Clothing dyes were obtained of various sources such as berries, tree barks, flowers, grasses, sometimes fixed with urine.[citation needed]

Generally a village of Mohawk people wore the same design of clothing applicable to their gender, with individualized color and artwork designs incorporated onto the clothing and moccasins.

Durable clothing that was held by older village people and adults was handed down to others in their family sometimes as gifts, honours, or because of outgrowth.

Mohawk clothing was sometimes reminiscent of designs from trade with neighboring First Nation tribes, and more closely resembled that of other Six Nations confederacy nations; however, much of the originality of the Mohawk nation peoples’ style of dress was preserved as the foundation of the style they wore.


Mohawk Nation wedding ceremonies are conducted by a chief, since the chief holds the sanction to perform the greatest rituals before the Creator. In a marriage, the couple vow their commitment before the Creator. The marrying man and woman then unite in a lifelong relationship, and there is not any custom for divorce. This is not held as a punishment, however; the Mohawk Nation people are a matrilineal society and hold marriage as a great commitment which should be nurtured and respected. Much respect is given to the woman by her husband because the woman is the head of the household.

The traditional marriage ceremony included a day of celebration for the man and woman, a formal oration by the chief of the woman’s nation and clan, community dancing and feast, and gifts of respect and honour by community members. Traditionally these gifts were practical items which the couple would use in their everyday religious and working lives.

For clothing the man and woman wore white rabbit leathers and furs with personal adornments, usually made by their families, to stand apart from the rest of the community’s traditional style of dress during the ceremony. The “Rabbit Dance Song” and other social dance songs were sung by the men, where they used gourd rattles and later cow-horn rattles. In the “Water Drum”, other well-wishing couples participated in the dance with the couple. The meal would commence after the ceremony and everyone who participated would eat.

Today the marriage ceremony may follow that of the old tradition or incorporate newer elements, but it is still used by many Mohawk Nation marrying couples. In addition, there are couples who have chosen to marry in the European manner, as well as in the Longhouse manner, with the Longhouse ceremony usually being held first.[9]

They Lived in Longhouses
The Mohawk people lived in villages of longhouses, which were large wood-frame buildings covered with sheets of elm bark. One Mohawk house could be a hundred feet long, and an entire clan lived in it–up to 60 people! Here are some pictures of Iroquois longhouses like the ones Mohawk Indians used, and a drawing of what a long house looked like on the inside. Here is a photograph of an Iroquois longhouse, and here is a picture of what a longhouse looked like on the inside. Today, longhouses are only used for ceremonial purposes. The Mohawks live in modern houses and apartment buildings, just like you.


Haudenosaunee designs have featured recurring designs for centuries; these symbols have been passed on through generations, and have deep cultural significance.

The Tree of Peace is a tall white pine that has been planted by the Onondaga, representing the great binding law, or Gayanahsagowa, which unified the five Nations.

The cardinal points for north, south, east, and west are represented by four white roots growing from the Tree of Peace. The number four has great significance in Haudenosaunee lore, also representing the four beings who help the Creator, and the four winds that blow.

An eagle sits atop the tree of peace, watching over the five Nations, ready to cry out at the first sign of approaching danger. The eagle is considered to be a messenger sent by the Creator.

The next symbol is that of a circle, representing unity and the cycle of life. According to Haudenosaunee lore, the Peace Maker made the Iroquois chiefs gather around the Tree of Peace, forming a circle by holding hands in order to keep the peace.

What language do the Mohawks speak?
Most Mohawk people speak English today, but some Mohawks also speak their native Mohawk language. Mohawk is a complex language with many sounds that are unlike the sounds in English. If you’d like to know a few easy Mohawk words, “she:kon” (pronounced similar to shay-cone) is a friendly greeting, and “nia:wen” (pronounced similar to nee-ah-wenh) means ‘thank you.’ You can also read a Mohawk picture glossary here and listen to the spoken language here.

How do Mohawk Indian children live, and what did they do in the past?
They do the same things any children do–play with each other, go to school and help around the house. Many Mohawk children like to go hunting and fishing with their fathers. In the past, Indian kids had more chores and less time to play, just like early colonial children. But Mohawk children did have toys and games. Mohawk girls liked to play with cornhusk dolls, and boys played a game where they tried to throw a dart through a moving hoop. Lacrosse was also a popular sport among Mohawk boys as it was among adult men. Like many Native Americans, Mohawk mothers traditionally carried their babies in cradleboards on their backs–a custom many American parents have adopted.

Men and women’s roles in the Mohawk tribe
Mohawk men were in charge of hunting, trading, and war. Mohawk women were in charge of farming, property, and family. These different roles were reflected in Mohawk government. Mohawk clans were always ruled by women, who made all the land and resource decisions for each clan. But Mohawk chiefs, who made military decisions and trade agreements, were always men. Only men represented the Mohawks at the Iroquois Great Council, but only women voted to determine who the Mohawk representatives would be. Both genders took part in storytelling, artwork and music, and traditional medicine.

The Mohawks didn’t wear long headdresses like the Sioux. Mohawk men wore traditional Iroquois headdresses, which are feathered caps with a different insignia for each tribe. (The Mohawk headdress has three eagle feathers on top.) Mohawk women sometimes wore special beaded tiaras. In times of war, Mohawk men shaved their heads except for a scalplock or a crest down the center of their head–the hairstyle known as a roach or a “Mohawk.” Sometimes they augmented this haircut with splayed feathers or artificial roaches made of brightly dyed porcupine and deer hair. Here are some pictures of these different kinds of Indian headdresses. Mohawk women only cut their hair when they were in mourning. Otherwise they wore their hair long and loose or plaited into a long braid. Men sometimes decorated their faces and bodies with tattoo art, but Mohawk women generally didn’t paint or tattoo themselves.

Yes, there were two types of Mohawk canoes. A canoe made from elm bark was light and fast. A dugout canoe, made from hollowed-out logs, was long and could carry many people. Over land, the Mohawks used dogs as pack animals. (There were no horses in North America until colonists brought them over from Europe.) During the winter the Mohawks used sleds and laced snowshoes to travel through the snow.

The Mohawk Indians were farming people. Mohawk women planted crops of corn, beans, and squash and harvested wild berries and herbs. Mohawk men hunted for deer and elk and fished in the rivers. Traditional Mohawk foods included cornbread, soups, and stews, which they cooked on stone hearths.

What were Mohawk weapons, tools, and artifacts like in the past?

Mohawk hunters used bows and arrows. Mohawk fishermen used spears and fishing poles. In war, Mohawk men used their bows and arrows or fought with clubs, spears and shields.

Other important tools used by the Mohawks included stone adzes (hand axes for woodworking), flint knives for skinning animals, and wooden hoes for farming. The Mohawks and other Iroquois were skilled woodworkers, steaming wood so that it could be bent to make curved tools. Some Iroquois artisans still make lacrosse sticks this way today.

Mohawk (borrowed from the Narraganset ‘mohowaùuck’, ‘they eat (animate) things,’ hence ‘man-eaters'[1]) are the most easterly tribe of the Iroquois confederation. They call themselves Kanien’gehaga, people of the place of the flint. Kanien’kehá:ka (“People of the Place of Flint”) are an Iroquoian-speaking indigenous people of North Americaoriginally from the Mohawk Valley in upstate New York. Their territory ranged to present-day southern Quebec and eastern Ontario. Their current settlements include areas around Lake Ontario and the St Lawrence River in Canada. Their traditional homeland stretched southward of the Mohawk River, eastward to the Green Mountains of Vermont, westward to the border with the Oneida Nation’s traditional homeland territory, and northward to the St Lawrence River. As original members of the Iroquois League, orHaudenosaunee, the Mohawk were known as the “Keepers of the Eastern Door”. For hundreds of years, they guarded the Iroquois Confederation against invasion from that direction by tribes from the New England and lower New York areas. Mohawk religion is predominantly Animist.

First contact with European settlers

In 1614, the Dutch opened a trading post at Fort Nassau, New Netherland, near present-day Albany, New York. The Dutch initially traded for furs with the local Mahican. In 1628, the Mohawk tribe defeated the Mahican, who retreated to Connecticut. The Mohawk gained a near-monopoly in the fur trade with the Dutch by not allowing the neighboring Algonquian-speaking tribes to the north or east to trade with them. The Dutch established trading posts at present-day Schenectady and Schoharie, further west in the Mohawk Valley.

The Mohawk and Dutch became allies. Their relations were peaceful even during the periods of Kieft’s War and the Esopus Wars, when the Dutch fought localized battles with other tribes. The Dutch trade partners equipped the Mohawk to fight against other nations allied with the French, including the Ojibwe, Huron-Wendat, and Algonquin. In 1645 the Mohawk made peace with the French.

During the Pequot War (1634–1638), the Algonquian Indians of New England sought an alliance with the Mohawk. The Mohawk refused the alliance, killing the Pequot sachem Sassacus, who had come to them for refuge.

In the winter of 1651, the Mohawks attacked to the southeast and overwhelmed Algonquians in the coastal areas. They took between 500-600 captives. In 1664, the Pequot of New England killed a Mohawk ambassador, starting a war which resulted in the destruction of the Pequot. The Mohawks also attacked other members of the Pequot confederacy, in a war which lasted until 1671.

In 1666, the French attacked the Mohawk in the central New York area, burning all the Mohawk villages and their stored food supply. One of the conditions of the peace was that the Mohawks accept Jesuit missionaries. Beginning in 1669, missionaries attempted to convert many Mohawks from paganism to Christianity and relocate to two mission villages near Montreal. These Mohawks became known as Kahnawake (also spelledCaughnawaga) and they became allies of the French. Many converted to Catholicism at Kahnawake, the village named after them.

One of the most famous Catholic Mohawks was Kateri Tekakwitha, who was later beatified.

After the fall of New Netherland to England, the Mohawks in New York became English allies. During King Philip’s War, Metacom, sachem of the warring Wampanoag Pokanoket, decided to winter with his warriors nearAlbany in 1675. Encouraged by the English, the Mohawks attacked and killed all but 40 of the 400 Pokanokets.

From the 1690s, the Mohawks in the New York colony underwent a period of Christianization by Protestant missionaries. Many were baptized with English surnames while others were given both first and surnames in English.

During the era of the French and Indian War (also known as the Seven Years’ War), Anglo-Mohawk partnership relations were maintained by men such as Sir William Johnson (for the British Crown), Conrad Weiser (on behalf of the colony of Pennsylvania), and Hendrick Theyanoguin (for the Mohawks). The Albany Congress of 1754 was called in part to repair the damaged diplomatic relationship between the British and the Mohawks.

American Revolutionary War
During the second and third quarters of the 18th century, most of the Mohawks in the Province of New York lived along the Mohawk River at Canajoharie. A few lived at Schoharie, and the rest lived about 30 miles downstream at the Ticonderoga Castle, also called Fort Hunter. The two settlements were traditionally called the Upper Castle and the Lower Castle. The Lower Castle was almost contiguous with Sir Peter Warren’s Warrensbush. Sir William Johnson built his first house on the north bank of the Mohawk River almost opposite Warrensbush.

Because of unsettled conflicts with settlers encroaching into the Mohawk Valley and outstanding treaty obligations to the British Crown, Mohawks fought against the United States during the American Revolutionary War. Some prominent Mohawks, such as the sachem Little Abraham at Fort Hunter, remained neutral throughout the war. One man, Joseph Louis Cook, supported the Americans and received a commission from the Continental Congress. During this war, Johannes Tekarihoga was the leader of the Mohawks. Johannes Tekarihoga died about 1780. Catherine Crogan, wife of Mohawk war chief Joseph Brant, named her brother Henry Crogan as the new Tekarihoga.

After the Revolution
Teyoninhokovrawen (John Norton) played a prominent role in the War of 1812, leading Iroquois warriors from Grand River into battle against Americans. Norton was part Cherokee and partScottish.

After the American victory, most of the Mohawks were forced to move further west, or into Canada. The Mohawks at the Upper Castle fled to Fort Niagara, while most of those at the Lower Castle fled to Montreal.

Joseph Brant led a large group of Iroquois out of New York to Six Nations of the Grand River, Ontario. Another Mohawk war chief, John Deseronto, led a group of Mohawks to the Bay of Quinte. Other Mohawks settled in the vicinity of Montreal, joining the communities at Kahnawake, Akwesasne, and Kanesatake.

On November 11, 1794, representatives of the Mohawks (along with the other Iroquois nations) signed the Treaty of Canandaigua with the United States.The Mohawks fought against the United States in the War of 1812.

On October 15, 1993, Governor Mario Cuomo entered into the “Tribal-State Compact Between the St. Regis Mohawk Tribe and the State of New York.” The compact allowed the Tribe to conduct gambling, including games such as baccarat, blackjack, craps and roulette, on the Akwesasne Reservation in Franklin County under the Indian Gaming Regulatory Act (IGRA).

According to the terms of the 1993 compact, the New York State Racing and Wagering Board, the New York State Police and the St. Regis Mohawk Tribal Gaming Commission were vested with gaming oversight. Law enforcement responsibilities fell under the cognizance of the state police, with some law enforcement matters left to the tribe. As required by IGRA, the compact was approved by the United States Department of the Interiorbefore it took effect. There were several extensions and amendments to this compact, but not all of them were approved by the U.S. Department of the Interior.

On June 12, 2003, the New York Court of Appeals affirmed the lower courts’ rulings that Governor Cuomo exceeded his authority by entering into the compact absent legislative authorization and declared the compact void [1]. On October 19, 2004, Governor George Pataki signed a bill passed by the State Legislature that ratified the compact as being Nunc Pro Tunc, with some additional minor changes.

The Mohawk Nation is currently in pursuit of obtaining approval to own and operate a casino in Sullivan County, New York, at Monticello Raceway. The U.S. Department of the Interior has until recently approved of this action and even after obtaining Governor Eliot Spitzer’s concurrence subject to the negotiation and approval of either an amendment to the current compact or a new compact has rejected their application to take the land into trust.

There are currently two pending. The State of New York has expressed similar objections in its responses to take land into trust for other Indian nations and tribes.[7] The other contends that the Indian Gaming Regulatory Act violates the Tenth Amendment to the United States Constitution as it is applied in the State of New York and is currently pending in the United States District Court for the Western District of New York.


These are grouped by broad geographical cluster, with notes on the character of community governance found in each.

Inland New York:

Ganienkeh. Warrior Society.

Kanatsiohareke. Traditional chiefs.

Along the St Lawrence:

Akwesasne/St.Regis. Traditional chiefs, elected chiefs on US side, elected chiefs on Canadian side. The Warrior society is also active.


Kahnawake. Elected chiefs, traditional chiefs, Warrior Society.


Southern Ontario:

Tyendinaga. Elected chiefs.

Wahta/Gibson in southern Ontario. Elected chiefs, (traditional chiefs?).

Six Nations of the Grand River. Elected chiefs, traditional chiefs.

Bay of Quinte Mohawk

Upper Mohawk

Lower Mohawk

Walker Mohawk

Mohawk skyscraper builders

New York City has a Mohawk Indian community founded by the arrival of hired skyscraper construction workers of Mohawk and other Iroquois origin from the 1930s to the 1970s on special labor contracts to build bridges and skyscrapers, including the Empire State Building. The construction companies found that the Mohawks did not fear heights or dangerous conditions, but the contracts offered lower than average wages and limited labor union membership.

A Mohawk community in Brooklyn called “Little Caughnawaga” had its heyday from the 1920s to the 1960s. Brooklyn Mohawks were mostly from Kahnawake. The work and home life of Mohawk steelworkers was documented in Don Owen’s 1965 National Film Board of Canada documentary High Steel.