The Origin of the Iroquois Nations
Native American Lore
About 1390, today's State of New York became
the stronghold of five powerful Indian tribes. They
were later joined by another great tribe, the Tuscaroras from the south. Eventually the Iroquois,
Mohawks, Oneidas, Onondagas, and Cayugas joined together to form the great Iroquois Nation. In
1715, the Tuscaroras were accepted into the Iroquois Nations
The Five Nations
Long, long ago, one of the Spirits of the
Sky World came down and looked at the earth. As he travelled
over it, he found it beautiful, and so he created people to live on it. Before returning to the sky, he gave
them names, called the people all together, and spoke his parting words:
"To the Mohawks, I give corn," he said.
"To the patient Oneidas, I give the nuts and the fruit of many
trees. To the industrious Senecas, I give beans. To the friendly Cayugas, I give the roots of plants to
be eaten. To the wise and eloquent Onondagas, I give grapes and squashes to eat and tobacco to
smoke at the camp fires."
Many other things he told the new people.
Then he wrapped himself in a bright cloud and went like a
swift arrow to the Sun. There his return caused his Brother Sky Spirits to rejoice.
The Six Nations
Long, long ago, in the great past, there
were no people on the earth. All of it was covered by deep
water. Birds, flying, filled the air, and many huge monsters possessed the waters.
One day the birds saw a beautiful woman
falling from the sky. Immediately the huge ducks held a
"How can we prevent her from falling into the water?" they asked.
After some discussion, they decided to spread
out their wings and thus break the force of her fall. Each
duck spread out its wings until it touched the wings of other ducks. So the beautiful woman reached
Then the monsters of the deep held a council,
to decide how they could protect the beautiful being from
the terror of the waters. One after another, the monsters decided that they were not able to protect her,
that only Giant Tortoise was big enough to bear her weight. He volunteered, and she was gently placed
upon his back. Giant Tortoise magically increased in size and soon became a large island.
After a time, the Celestial Woman gave birth
to twin boys. One of them was the Spirit of Good. He
made all the good things on the earth and caused the corn, the fruits, and the tobacco to grow.
The other twin was the Spirit of Evil. He
created the weeds and also the worms and the bugs and all the
other creatures that do evil to the good animals and birds.
All the time, Giant Tortoise continued to
stretch himself. And so the world became larger and larger.
Sometimes Giant Tortoise moved himself in such a way as to make the earth quake.
After many, many years had passed by, the
Sky-Holder, whom Indians called Ta-rhu-hia-wah-ku,
decided to create some people. He wanted them to surpass all others in beauty, strength, and bravery.
So from the bosom of the island where they had been living on moles, the Sky-Holder brought forth six
pairs of people.
The first pair were left near a great river,
now called the Mohawk. So they are called the Mohawk
Indians. The second pair were told to move their home beside a large stone. Their descendants have
been called the Oneidas. Many of them lived on the south side of Oneida Lake and others in the
valleys of Oneida Creek. A third pair were left on a high hill and have always been called the
The fourth pair became the parents of the
Cayugas, and the fifth pair the parents of the Senecas. Both
were placed in some part of what is now known as the State of New York. But the Tuscaroras were
taken up the Roanoke River into what is now known as North Carolina. There the Sky-Holder made
his home while he taught these people and their descendants many useful arts and crafts.
The Tuscaroras claim that his presence with
them made them superior to the other Iroquois nations.
But each of the other five will tell you, "Ours was the favoured tribe with whom Sky- Holder made his
home while he was on the earth."
The Onondagas say, "We have the council fire. That means that we are the chosen people."
As the years passed by, the numerous Iroquois
families became scattered over the state, and also in
what is now Pennsylvania, the Middle West and Southeastern Canada. Some lived in areas where bear
was their principal game. So these people were called the Bear Clan. Others lived where beavers were
plentiful. So they were called the Beaver Clan. For similar reasons, the Deer, Wolf, Snipe and Tortoise
clans received their names.