Droulers/Tsiionhiakwatha Archaeological Site Interpretation Center
Virtual Museum of Canada

The Story Continues

PresentationContact periodHistorical impact | The Mohawk Nation | Testimonies

The Mohawk Nation

The Mohawk Nation

Mohawk basket made of colored tree bark.

Mohawk basket

At the time the St. Lawrence Iroquoians were dispersed, other Iroquoian populations living in the Great Lakes-St. Lawrence area were caught up in growing political movement. Iroquoian nations living between Lake Ontario and Lake Huron were about to join forces in the Huron-Wendat Confederacy, which was consolidated in the second half of the 16th century. In upstate New York, five Iroquois nations (Seneca, Cayuga, Onondaga, Oneida and Mohawk) formed an alliance that, by the end of the 16th century, became a league known as the Five Nations, or Haudenosaunee, meaning "People of the Longhouse." At the beginning of the 17th century, the Tuscaroras left their territories to join this group, which then took the name of Six Nations. After the St. Lawrence Iroquoians had dispersed, the ancestors of present-day Huron and Mohawk populations moved into the St. Lawrence Valley.

The Mohawks, being one of the Iroquois nations, belonged to a sedentary, matrilinear society that practised agriculture, like their counterparts, the St. Lawrence Iroquoians. Their traditional territory corresponded to the valley of the Mohawk River, which flows into the Hudson River, in New York. The Mohawks were involved in numerous conflicts in the struggle for control of the lucrative fur trade network that reached from the Great Lakes region and to the St. Lawrence Valley. During the first half of the 17th century, they allied themselves with the Dutch, and then with the English, in confrontations with the French, Hurons and Algonquins. In the second half of the 17th century, following a temporary peace agreement between the French and the Iroquois, some Oneidas, Onondagas and Mohawks settled in new lands near Montreal. As members of the Five Nations they took part in the signing of the Great Peace of Montreal in1701. This treaty between France and 39 Native nations brought the wars and conflicts of the 17th century to an end and ushered in an era of improved French-Native relations.

Today, Mohawks in Quebec live in three communities: Kahnawake, Akwesasne and Kanesatake. Kahnawake can trace its roots back to the first Iroquois mission in New France – Kentake – which was established in 1667, but was moved several times over the next half century, ending up in the present-day location of Kahnawake. In 1716, the Mohawk village took the name of Caughnawaga and, in 1980, it officially became the Territory of Kahnawake. The story of Akwesasne began in the 1752-1755 period, when Mohawk families settled along the shores of Lake Saint-François. In the spring of 1755, this settlement officially became the St. Regis mission, founded under the patronage of missionary Jean-François Régis. Now known as Akwesasne, meaning "where the partridge drums," the community saddles the Canada-US border in an area shared by Ontario, Quebec and New York State. The community of Kanesatake was established on the seigneury of Lac-des-Deux-Montagnes granted to the Sulpicians in 1717. Several pieces of this land were subsequently sold to private interests and the federal government. Kanesatake has never obtained the status of reserve and the territorial question that led to the Oka Crisis in 1990 remains an issue that is still unresolved.

Did you know?

Did you know?

The presence of Mohawks (Iroquois) in the St. Lawrence Valley has to some degree made it possible to perpetuate certain traditional practices of the St. Lawrence Iroquoians. With the introduction of modern agricultural techniques in the 1950s and the appearance of genetically modified organisms (GMOs), there was a risk that traditional knowledge about growing the Three Sisters (heirloom varieties of corn, squash and beans) would be lost forever. Having abandoned traditional horticulture as their main mode of subsistence, the Iroquois communities of Quebec, Ontario and New York soon began to lose the ancient skills of their elders, while the genetic diversity of the plants they cultivated grew poorer.

After a hiatus of about 20 years, Native populations became more aware of the importance of these valuable skills and took steps to ensure that this heritage would be preserved and transmitted to others. Seed banks were established with a view to protecting, perpetuating and sharing heirloom varieties of cultigens such as corn, beans, squash, peas and tomatoes. This initiative on the part of traditionalists enabled Iroquois communities to grow more than a dozen varieties of beans and squash in vegetable plots and larger gardens. Iroquois communities have also started to cultivate different traditional varieties of corn, including Indian White Corn (also known as Tuscarora White Corn) and types of Northern Flint, the corn that was the basis of the St. Lawrence Iroquoians' diet. In several Iroquois communities, people mark the annual autumn harvest of white corn by braiding the husks together and suspending the ears to dry in accordance with Iroquoian tradition.