Thunder god and Skywoman – Myth and History of the Iroquois: Exploring a First Nations Tradition

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Statue of an Iroquois man, Montreal, Quebec, Canada. (Theresa O’Connor/CC BY-SA 2.0) and background, Hiawatha by Thomas Eakins, 1874.

Thunder god and Skywoman – Myth and History of the Iroquois: Exploring a First Nations Tradition

Every year, western scholars look with wonder to the ancient mythologies, ruins, and histories of such places as Egypt, Greece, and the Near East. Due to the considerable efforts of professional and amateur researchers alike, we are flooded with an endless river of books, articles, documentaries and other media concerning the famous and extravagant cultures of the Old World. While American archaeologists and ethno-historians have long been aware that equally rich and vibrant cultural manifestations exist among indigenous North American peoples, these traditions are much less publicized and remain little known to the general public. This article is a discussion of the fascinating contributions to world mythology and history made by an indigenous group who, at the time of European contact with the Americas, occupied a large area of eastern North America and southern Ontario, known collectively as the Iroquoian people.

Ki-On-Twog-Ky or Corn Plant, A Seneca Chief. Seneca are one of the five Iroquois tribes. (Public Domain)

The New World

In the 16th and 17th centuries, northern Iroquoian peoples inhabited a territory encompassing New York State, Pennsylvania, northern Maryland, southern Ontario, and southern Quebec. Southern Iroquoians inhabited portions of Virginia and North Carolina. It is believed that as many as 60,000 Iroquoians lived in Southern Ontario and the St. Lawrence Valley just prior to full European contact, part of a population of around 100,000 occupying the greater region of Southern Ontario, Quebec, New York State, and Pennsylvania. In south-central and southwestern Ontario, more prehistoric Iroquoian villages are known than settlements have been found for the Neolithic period in Britain. Regional Iroquoian Nations include the Mohawk, Oneida, Onondaga, Cayuga, Seneca, Wenro, Erie, Susquehannock, Huron, Petun, and others. The Algonquian People referred to the Iroquois as “Hirokoa”—or “Killer People”. Based upon this term, the French referred to these people as the Iroquois, a tendency that spread and persists to the present.


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