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The Haudenosaunee Confederacy for AP U.S. History

Cate O'Donnell

3 min read

Mar 26

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The Haudenosaunee Confederacy is an illustrative example of the Native American Societies before European Contact topic in Period 1 of AP U.S. History. You could reference this example on your AP U.S. History test.



map of the five nations
Map of the Five Nations/public domain


The Haudenosaunee Confederacy, known as the Iroquois Confederacy to the French and the League of Five Nations to the English, was a union of six Native American tribes. This alliance, formed to maintain peace, is believed to haveConfederacy originated in 1142, a date marked by a total solar eclipse in the region. However, European estimates place the Confederacy’s founding much later, between 1350 and 1600. The original five tribes were the Mohawk, Oneida, Onondaga, Cayuga, and Seneca. In 1722, the Tuscarora of North Carolina joined the Confederacy after being displaced from their land by European settlers.


According to legend, the Haudenosaunee Confederacy was brought into being by two men, Deganawida and Hiawatha. Deganawida, a member of the Huron tribe, was driven by a desire to bring peace to the warring tribes to the south. On his journey, he encountered a woman named Jigonsaseh, known for luring men into her hut and poisoning them. Deganawida managed to change her ways. This transformative experience inspired him to propose that the Clan Mother choose the chief of a tribe within his Confederacy.


Meanwhile, Hiawatha was the chief of the Onondaga tribe. He desperately wanted peace, but his tribe was terrorized by the evil Atotarhoh, who had snakes in his hair and ate people. After the deaths of his seven daughters, Hiawatha left his tribe in search of peace.


Hiawatha met Deganawida while he was living with the Mohawks. Deganawida explained his goal of forming a confederacy of tribes based on peace, civil authority, and righteousness. He called this structure the Great Law. Hiawatha became Deganawida’s spokesperson, and the two worked together to convince tribes to join the Confederacy. During this time, Deganawida became known as the Peacemaker.


The Mohawks were the first tribe to join. Then, Hiawatha and the Peacemaker spent a year traveling to the other four tribes to convince them to join the Confederacy. The two men started wearing deer antlers to signify their positions. After all five tribes had joined the Haudenosaunee Confederacy, Hiawatha and the Peacemaker faced Atotarhoh, who had been terrorizing the Onondaga tribe. They approached his hut singing the Mohawk Hymn of Peace and rubbed his body, which had become crooked and bent. By the time they finished, his body had straightened, and the snakes had left his hair. Like Jigonsaseh, Atotarhoh repented. He became the firekeeper of the Confederacy, a position the Onondaga tribe holds to this day. After this final act of peace, all of the tribes of the Confederacy gathered at the Tree of Peace, the tallest white pine, and buried their weapons of war. This is where we get the phrase “burying the hatchet.”


The framers of the United States Constitution borrowed much of the government’s structure from the Haudenosaunee Confederacy. Each of the six tribes sent multiple representative chiefs to the Grand Council of Chiefs for a total of forty-nine chiefs and one chief of chiefs. Each tribe had one vote in confederacy matters. All decisions had to be unanimous. There were also procedures for handling disputes between confederacy tribes. Witnessing the peace the Confederacy brought to the diverse tribes would have given our founding fathers great hope for the peace they could have amongst the original thirteen colonies.


Printable Reading Passage on the Haudenosaunee Confederacy


The Haudenosaunee Confederacy FREE Reading Passage


Do you want to watch a video about the Haudenosaunee Confederacy?



Native American Societies Before European Contact

Period 1

AP U.S. History



The Haudenosaunee Confederacy


References

“Who We Are.” Haudenosaunee Confederacy, Haudenosaunee Confederacy. Accessed 24 Mar. 2024.

“Iroquois Confederacy.” Britannica, 27 Feb. 2024, www.britannica.com/topic/Iroquois-Confederacy/The-Iroquois-Confederacys-role-in-the-French-British-rivalry. Accessed 24 Mar. 2024.

“Iroquois Confederacy.” Citizen Potawatomi Nation Cultural Heritage Center, www.potawatomiheritage.com/encyclopedia/iroquois-confederacy/. Accessed 25 Mar. 2024.

Cate O'Donnell

3 min read

Mar 26

2

0

0

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