In This Article Expand or collapse the "in this article" section Iroquois (Haudenosaunee)

  • Introduction
  • General Overviews
  • Journals
  • Primary Sources
  • Critical Theory and Historiography
  • Foundation and Dating of the Confederacy
  • Early Trade, Contact, and Archaeology
  • Social and Cultural History
  • Christian Missionaries and Conversion
  • The American Revolution
  • Major Treaties and Legal History
  • Kahnawà:ke and Other Laurentian Communities

Atlantic History Iroquois (Haudenosaunee)
Maeve Kane
  • LAST REVIEWED: 26 May 2022
  • LAST MODIFIED: 26 May 2022
  • DOI: 10.1093/obo/9780199730414-0362


The Haudenosaunee (Iroquois) include the Mohawk (Kanienʼkehá꞉ka), Oneida (Onyota’a:ka), Onondaga (Onöñda’gaga’), Cayuga (Guyohkohnyoh), Seneca (Onödowáʼga), and since 1722, Tuscarora (Skaruhreh). The Haudenosaunee are sometimes referred to as the Five Nations or Six Nations in both the scholarly literature and archival sources. Iroquois is an exonym commonly used in older scholarship, while the endonym Haudenosaunee is becoming more common in recent scholarship. Each nation of the Haudenosaunee speaks a distinct Iroquoian language and at time of contact with Europeans in the 16th century the Five Nations occupied parts of what is now New York and at various times occupied part of Pennsylvania, Ontario, and Quebec. Archaeological evidence suggests that many defining features of Haudenosaunee culture including maize-bean-squash agriculture, matrilocality and matrilineality, and longhouse architecture coalesced circa 1000–1300 CE. The social and political structure of the Five Nations underwent many historical changes, most notably the creation of the Gayanesshagowa or Great Law of Peace, in which the Peacemaker brought together the Five Nations of the Mohawk, Oneida, Onondaga, Cayuga, and Seneca in the Confederacy. The full history of the Great Law and the founding of the Confederacy is sometimes known as the Deganawidah Epic or Founding Epic, and a full oral rendition takes several days to tell. The Confederacy created by the Great Law still brings together chiefs from all six nations to form a decentralized, consensus-based government. After contact with Europeans, the Haudenosaunee were among the most powerful military and diplomatic powers in eastern North America. Haudenosaunee diplomats were major players in many of the major events of the 17th and 18th centuries including the Seven Years’ War and the American Revolution, and Haudenosaunee traders were influential and active in trade connecting them to the broader Atlantic world. In the wake of the American Revolution, both British-allied and American-allied Haudenosaunee communities faced precipitous land loss to American colonialism and punitive land sales and threats of removal throughout the 19th century. The 1794 Treaty of Canandaigua secured the boundaries of remaining Haudenosaunee reservations in what is now New York and some land claims cases remain ongoing. Today there are eighteen Haudenosaunee reservations and reserves within the boundaries of New York, Wisconsin, Oklahoma, Ontario, Quebec, and on the border between New York, Quebec, and Ontario.

General Overviews

The works included in this section give an overview of academic scholarship, as there have been very few works that attempt an overview of Haudenosaunee history for academic or scholarly audiences. George-Kanentiio 2000 and Snow 1994 provide brief, readable introductory overviews for a general audience, while Johansen and Mann 2000, Littlefield and Parins 2011, and Trigger 1978 are general reference works. Adams and Macleod 2000, Deloria and Salisbury 2004, and Deloria and DeMallie 1999 provide historiographic overviews of academic work.

  • Adams, Richard E. W., and Murdo J. Macleod, eds. The Cambridge History of the Native Peoples of the Americas. Vol. 1, North America. New York: Cambridge University Press, 2000.

    The first part of a larger series, this work includes essays offering a comprehensive overview of recent scholarship to 1996 on North American Indigenous groups including the Haudenosaunee, covering topics from trade and religion to environment and historiography. Each essay is followed by a comprehensive bibliographic essay.

  • Deloria, Vine, and Raymond J. DeMallie, eds. Documents of American Indian Diplomacy: Treaties, Agreements, and Conventions, 1775–1979. Norman: University of Oklahoma Press, 1999.

    Two-volume set that compiles major treaties with many Indigenous nations from before the American Revolution through 1871, including treaties with individual Haudenosaunee nations and reservations. Because this reference mainly focuses on the post–American Revolution period, many earlier Haudenosaunee treaties are not included, but there are valuable overview essays of intercultural treaty making protocol and sovereignty issues.

  • Deloria, Philip J., and Neal Salisbury, eds. A Companion to American Indian History. Malden, MA: Blackwell, 2004.

    This collection of essays by leading scholars gives an overview of recent historiography from first contacts through sovereignty issues in the present. The volume is comprehensive in scope covering all of North America, but specific essays including those on empires, religion, kinship, gender, and captivity treat Haudenosaunee history and academic Iroquois studies historiography in depth.

  • George-Kanentiio, Doug. Iroquois Culture & Commentary. Santa Fe, NM: Clear Light, 2000.

    This overview of Haudenosaunee history from creation through the present by Mohawk journalist and activist Doug George-Kanentiio connects Haudenosaunee cultural and spiritual frameworks to cultural survival in the present.

  • Johansen, Bruce E., and Barbara Alice Mann. Encyclopedia of the Haudenosaunee (Iroquois Confederacy). Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 2000.

    Essential encyclopedia that defines key terms and concepts in Iroquois studies and Haudenosaunee history with reference to both oral history and academic scholarship. Many essays include historiographic discussion and bibliographies with primary and secondary sources, making this a vital first stop for a bibliographic overview of major issues.

  • Littlefield, Daniel F. and James W. Parins, eds. Encyclopedia of American Indian Removal. 2 vols. Santa Barbara, CA: Greenwood, 2011.

    Mainly focused on the southeast, this two-volume encyclopedia includes essays on the Oneida and Seneca experiences of Removal, as well as essays on notable Haudenosaunee individuals such as Ely Parker and Maris Pierce. The well-researched essays include bibliographies up to date to 2011.

  • Mann, Barbara Alice. Iroquoian Women: The Gantowisas. New York: P. Lang, 2000.

    This survey of women’s roles in Haudenosaunee community life and governance draws on oral and archival evidence. Mann’s survey is the first book-length work to examine Haudenosaunee women’s social, political, economic, and religious roles from before contact to the 19th century and includes a comprehensive bibliography up to date through 2000.

  • Snow, Dean. The Iroquois. Cambridge, MA: Blackwell, 1994.

    This accessible account of Haudenosaunee history, primarily based on archaeological evidence, covers the origins of the Five Nations through the end of the 20th century. This broad overview by a leading anthropologist orients the reader to major periods and events, and has a comprehensive anthropological and historical bibliography through 1994, but its historical framing is somewhat dated.

  • Trigger, Bruce, ed. Handbook of North American Indians. Vol. 15, Northeast. Washington, DC: Smithsonian Institute, 1978.

    An exhaustive, though now somewhat dated, collection of essays on major Indigenous nations and issues in northeastern North America. Essays include overviews of individual nations, the formation of the Confederacy, Haudenosaunee reservations and reserves in the United States and Canada, and early history before contact.

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