Many Indian nations occupied the North American woodlands during the early seventeenth century. The Iroquois-speaking peoples included the Huron, Cherokee, Neutrals, Tuscarora, Wenro, Erie, and Susquehannock, as well as the political confederates known as the Five Nations Iroquois. The five nations are, from west to east:
• Seneca , Keepers of the Western Door
The French called these nations the Iroquois, the English referred to them as the Five Nations, but they called themselves Haudenosaunee. In 1714, the Tuscarora came from what is now North Carolina to join the Haudenosaunee Confederacy, and henceforth the English called the Confederacy the Six Nations.
The Seneca and the other nations of the Haudenosaunee have the same creation story, which relates that Twins -- spirits of the Sky World -- created the world on the back of a great spirit turtle. Consequently, our world is a Turtle Island aswim in an endless black sea. Seneca oral history also relates that from ancient times the Seneca lived in extended families, who lived together under one roof in bark houses known as longhouses. The name Haudenosaunee translates to People Who Build an Extended House. This distinguished the Haudenosaunee from the peoples who surrounded them.
Another Seneca story relates that a people emerged from the earth at what is now called South Hill near Canandaigua Lake, about 20 miles from Ganondagan. It is an extremely significant tale, for the Seneca answer to the name Onondowaga, literally the People of the Great Hill. Seneca identity is strongly attached to place, and South Hill is the birthplace of the Seneca people in the distant and unmeasured past.
Seneca oral tradition also tells of a Huron man who arrived among the Mohawks speaking of peace and an ordered society. This prophet is known today as the Peacemaker. The Mohawk, Oneida, and Cayuga pledged to join his proposed confederation, and following a dramatic interlude, the Seneca agreed also. The discussion about how to bring in the Onondaga found its way into the house of a Neutral woman living among the Seneca. She proposed a solution which eventually brought the Onondaga into the fold. This woman is now known as the Mother of Nations She lived in the vicinity of Ganondagan, and is buried nearby.
The Peacemaker established the Gayanashagowa, or Great Law of Peace, as the Constitution of the Haudenosaunee. The foundation of the law was that thinking and negotiations can replace violence and warfare as a means of settling disputes. The nations of the Haudenosaunee Confederacy have held fast to that law since the time of the Peacemaker.
The Haudenosaunee of today live in sixteen scattered communities in New York State, Ontario, Quebec, Oklahoma, and Wisconsin. Some also live in urban centers such as Buffalo, Rochester, and Brooklyn.
To learn more about the Haudenosaunee today, please see these websites for the various Haudenosaunee Six Nations:
• Seneca Nation of Indians
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