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First Posted: July 17, 2010
Mar 6, 2011

Mohawk Nation

Thayendanegea or Joseph Brant, painted by Gilbert Stuart, 1786

Total population: 78,000+
Regions with significant populations Canada (Quebec, Ontario) 30,000, United States (New York) 20,000
Languages: English, Kanien'keha'ka, Other Iroquoian Dialects
Religion: Kai'hwi'io, Kano''hon'io, Kahni'kwi'io, Christianity, Longhouse, Handsome Lake, Other Indigenous Religion
Related ethnic groups: Seneca Nation, Oneida Nation, Cayuga Nation, Onondaga Nation, Tuscarora Nation, other Iroquoian peoples

Mohawk Flag

Mohawk (Kanienkeh, Kanienkehaka Kanien'Kahake, or Kahnawake (meaning "People of the Flint") are an Iroquoian-speaking indigenous people of North America originally from the Mohawk Valley in upstate New York. Their territory ranged to present-day southern Quebec and eastern Ontario. Their current settlements include areas around Lake Ontario and the St Lawrence River in Canada. Their traditional homeland stretched southward of the Mohawk River, eastward to the Green Mountains of Vermont, westward to the border with the Oneida Nation traditional homeland territory, and northward to the St Lawrence River. As original members of the Iroquois League, or Haudenosaunee, the Mohawk were known as the "Keepers of the Eastern Door." For hundreds of years, they guarded the Iroquois Confederation against invasion from that direction by tribes from the New England and lower New York areas.

Origins of Name

In the Mohawk language, the people call themselves the autonym, Kanien'kehá:ka, "People of the Flint." It has been spelled in a variety of ways as Europeans tried to put it into their phonetic systems (e.g. Canyeers.) Some sources say Europeans adopted an Algonquian-language exonym given to the Kahnawake by traditional competitors of the tribe: in their language Mohawk meant "eaters of flesh." Other historians believe Europeans such as the Dutch, who called them Maquasen, and English, who first called them Mohowawogs, were trying to render the phonetic sounds of the name which they heard other tribes call them. The Dutch also referred to the Mohawk as Hawks, Egils, or Maquas. The French adapted these terms as Aigniers, Maquis, or called them by the generic Iroquois. The accepted traditional use of "People of the Flint" is associated with their origins in the Mohawk Valley, their homeland in New York. There, the Natives used flint deposits to tip their arrows and for other toolmaking.

History Since Colonization
First Contact with European Settlers

In 1614, the Dutch opened a trading post at Fort Nassau, New Netherland near present-day Albany, New York. The Dutch initially traded for furs with the local Mahican. In 1628, the Mohawk tribe defeated the Mahican, who retreated to Connecticut. The Mohawk gained a near-monopoly in the fur trade with the Dutch by not allowing the neighboring Algonquian-speaking tribes to the north or east to trade with them. The Dutch established trading posts at present-day Schenectady and Schoharie, further west in the Mohawk Valley.

The Mohawk and Dutch became allies. Their relations were peaceful even during the periods of Kieft's War and the Esopus Wars, when the Dutch fought localized battles with other tribes. The Dutch trade partners equipped the Mohawk to fight against other nations allied with the French, including the Ojibwe, Huron-Wendat, and Algonquin. In 1645 the Mohawk made peace with the French.

During the Pequot War (1634-1638), the Algonquian Indians of New England sought an alliance with the Mohawk. The Mohawk refused the alliance, killing the Pequot sachem Sassacus, who had come to them for refuge.

In the winter of 1651, the Mohawks attacked to the southeast and overwhelmed Algonquians in the coastal areas. They took between 500-600 captives. In 1664, the Pequot of New England killed a Mohawk ambassador, starting a war which resulted in the destruction of the Pequot. The Mohawks also attacked other members of the Pequot confederacy, in a war which lasted until 1671.

In 1666, the French attacked the Mohawk in the central New York area, burning all the Mohawk villages and their stored food supply. One of the conditions of the peace was that the Mohawks accept Jesuit missionaries. Beginning in 1669, the missionaries convinced some Mohawks to convert to Christianity and relocate to two mission villages near Montreal. These Mohawks became known as Kahnawake (also spelled Caughnawaga) and they became allies of the French. Many converted to Catholicism at Kahnawake, the village named after them One of the most famous Catholic Mohawks was Kateri Tekakwitha, who was later beatified..

After the fall of New Netherland to England, the Mohawks in New York became English allies. During King Philip's War, Metacom, sachem of the warring Wampanoag Pokanoket, decided to winter with his warriors near Albany in 1675. Encouraged by the English, the Mohawks attacked and killed all but 40 of the 400 Pokanokets. From the 1690s, the Mohawks in the New York colony underwent a period of Christianization by Protestant missionaries. Many were baptized with English surnames while others were given both first and surnames in English.

During the era of the French and Indian War (also known as the Seven Years' War), Anglo-Mohawk partnership relations were maintained by men such as Sir William

Johnson (for the British Crown), Conrad Weiser (on behalf of the colony of Pennsylvania), and Hendrick Theyanoguin (for the Mohawks). The Albany Congress of 1754 was called in part to repair the damaged diplomatic relationship between the British and the Mohawks.

American Revolutionary War

During the second and third quarters of the 18th century, most of the Mohawks in the Province of New York lived along the Mohawk River at Canajoharie, a few lived at Schoharie, while the rest lived about 30 miles downstream at the Ticonderoga Castle also called Fort Hunter. The two settlements were traditionally called the Upper Castle and the Lower Castle. The Lower Castle was almost contiguous with Sir Peter Warren's Warrensbush. Sir William Johnson built his first house on the north bank of the Mohawk River almost opposite Warrensbush.

Because of unsettled conflicts with settlers encroaching into the Mohawk Valley and outstanding treaty obligations to the British Crown, Mohawks fought against the United States during the American Revolutionary War. Some prominent Mohawks, such as the sachem Little Abraham at Fort Hunter, remained neutral throughout the war. One man, Joseph Louis Cook, supported the Americans and received a commission from the Continental Congress. During this war, Johannes Tekarihoga was the leader of the Mohawks. Johannes Tekarihoga died about 1780. Catherine Crogan, wife of Mohawk war chief Joseph Brant, named her brother Henry Crogan as the new Tekarihoga.

After the Revolution

Teyoninhokovrawen (John Norton) played a prominent role in the War of 1812, leading Iroquois warriors from Grand River into battle against Americans. Norton was part Cherokee and part Scottish. After the American victory, most of the Mohawks migrated further west, or into Canada. The Mohawks at the Upper Castle fled to Fort Niagara, while most of those at the Lower Castle fled to Montreal.

Joseph Brant led a large group of Iroquois out of New York to Six Nations of the Grand River, Ontario. Another Mohawk war chief, John Deseronto, led a group of Mohawks to the Bay of Quinte. Other Mohawks settled in the vicinity of Montreal, joining the communities at Kahnawake, Akwesasne, and Kanesatake. On November 11, 1794, representatives of the Mohawks (along with the other Iroquois nations) signed the Treaty of Canandaigua with the United States. The Mohawks fought against the United States in the War of 1812.


Members of the Mohawk tribe now live in settlements spread throughout New York State and southeastern Canada. Among these are Ganienkeh and Kanatsiohareke in northeast New York, Akwesasne (St. Regis) along the New York-Ontario-Quebec border, Kanesatake (Oka) and Kahnawake in southern Quebec, and Tyendinaga and Wahta (Gibson) in southern Ontario. Mohawks also form the majority on the mixed Iroquois reserve, Six Nations of the Grand River, in Ontario. There are also Mohawk Orange Lodges in Canada.

Many Mohawk communities have two sets of chiefs, who rule in unison and are in some sense competing governmental rivals. One group are the hereditary chiefs nominated by clan matriarchs in the traditional Mohawk fashion; the other is the elected chief and councilors with whom the Canadian and U.S. governments usually prefer to deal exclusively. Since the 1980s, Mohawk politics have been driven by factional disputes over gambling, land claims, traditional government jurisdiction, taxation, and the Indian Act.

Both the elected chiefs and the controversial Warrior Society have encouraged gambling as a means of ensuring tribal self-sufficiency on the various reserves or Indian reservations. Traditional chiefs have tended to oppose gaming on moral grounds and out of fear of corruption and organized crime. Such disputes have also been associated with religious divisions: the traditional chiefs are often associated with the Longhouse tradition, practicing consensus-democratic values, while the Warrior Society has attacked that religion and asserted independence. Meanwhile, the elected chiefs have tended to be associated (though in a much looser and general way) with democratic, legislative and Canadian governmental values.

In the 19th and early 20th century, the Government of Canada imposed English schooling and separated families to place children in English boarding schools. Like other tribes, Mohawks have fluctuated in their native language fluency. Many have left the reserve to join the English Canadian culture, and to work in a greater variety of occupations.


On October 15, 1993, Governor Mario Cuomo entered into the "Tribal-State Compact Between the St. Regis Mohawk Tribe and the State of New York." The compact allowed the Tribe to conduct gambling, including games such as baccarat, blackjack, craps and roulette, on the Akwesasne Reservation in Franklin County under the Indian Gaming Regulatory Act (IGRA).

According to the terms of the 1993 compact, the New York State Racing and Wagering Board, the New York State Police and the St. Regis Mohawk Tribal Gaming Commission were vested with gaming oversight. Law enforcement responsibilities fell under the cognizance of the state police, with some law enforcement matters left to the tribe. As required by IGRA, the compact was approved by the United States Department of the Interior before it took effect. There were several extensions and amendments to this compact, but not all of them were approved by the U.S. Department of the Interior.

On June 12, 2003, the New York Court of Appeals affirmed the lower court'' rulings that Governor Cuomo exceeded his authority by entering into the compact absent legislative authorization and declared the compact void. On October 19, 2004, Governor George Pataki signed a bill passed by the State Legislature that ratified the compact as being Nunc Pro Tunc, with some additional minor changes.

The Mohawk Nation is currently in pursuit of obtaining approval to own and operate a casino in Sullivan County, New York at Monticello Raceway. The U.S. Department of the Interior has until recently approved of this action and even after obtaining Governor Eliot Spitzer's concurrence subject to the negotiation and approval of either an amendment to the current compact or a new compact has rejected their application to take the land in to trust.

There are currently two pending. The State of New York has expressed similar objections in its responses to take land into trust for other Indian nations and tribes. The other contends that the Indian Gaming Regulatory Act violates the Tenth Amendment to the United States Constitution as it is applied in the State of New York and is currently pending in the United States District Court for the Western District of New York.

Traditional Mohawk Dress

The Mohawks, like many indigenous tribes in the Great Lakes region, sometimes wore a hair style in which all their hair would be cut off except for a narrow strip down the middle of the scalp from the forehead to the nape, that was approximately three finger widths across. This style was only used by warriors going off to war. The Mohawks saw their hair as a connection to the Creator, and therefore grew it long. But when they went to war, they cut all or some of it off, leaving that narrow strip. The women wore their hair long often with traditional bear grease or tied back into a single braid. Their heads were often not covered by a covering or hat, often wearing nothing on their heads in winter


Traditional dress styles of the Kanien'kehá:ka Mohawk peoples consisted of women going topless in summer with a skirt of deerskin. In colder seasons, women wore a full woodland deerskin dress, leather tied underwear, long fashioned hair or a braid and bear grease. There was otherwise nothing on their head, except several ear piercings adorned by shell earrings, shell necklaces, and also puckered seam ankle wrap moccasins.

The women also used a layer of smoked and cured moss as an insulation absorbency for menses, as well as simple scraps of leather were used. Later menses use consisted of cotton linen pieces where pilgrim settlers and missionaries provided trade and introduced of such items.

The traditional dress styles of the Kanien'kehá:ka Mohawk men consisted solely of a breech cloth of deerskin in summer, deerskin leggings and a full piece deerskin shirt in winter, several shell strand earrings, shell necklaces, long fashioned hair or a three finger width forehead-to-nape hair row which stood approximately three inches from the head and puckered seamed wrap ankle moccasins. The men would also carry a quill and flint arrow hunting bag as well as arm and knee bands.

During the summer, traditional dress styles of the Kanie''kehá:ka Mohawk children consisted of nothing up to the ages of thirteen, the time before they were ready for their warrior or woman passages or rites.

Later dress after European contact combined some cloth pieces such as the males ribbon shirt in addition to the place of the deerskin clothing, and wool trousers and skirts. For a time many Mohawk peoples incorporated a combination of the older styles of dress with newly introduced forms of clothing.

According to author Kanatiiosh in "Hodenasaunee Clothing and & Other Cultural Items" Mohawk as a part of the Hodenasaunee Confederacy: "Traditionally used furs obtained from the woodland, which consisted of elk and deer hides, corn husks, and they also wove plant and tree fibers to produce [the] clothing,"

Later Sinew or animal gut was cleaned and prepared as a thread for garments and footwear and was threaded to porcupine quills or sharp leg bones, in order to sew or pierce eyeholes for threading. Clothing dyes were obtained of various sources such as berries, tree barks, flowers, grasses, sometimes fixed with urine.

Generally a village of Mohawk people wore the same design of clothing applicable to their gender, with individualized color and artwork designs incorporated onto the clothing and moccasins. Durable clothing that was held by older village people and adults was handed down to others in their family sometimes as gifts, honors, or because of outgrowth. Mohawk clothing was sometimes reminiscent of designs from trade with neighboring First Nation tribes, and was more closely in resemblance to that of other Six Nations confederacy nations however much originality applicable to the Mohawk nation peoples style of dress was often kept as the foundation of the style they wore.


Replicas of seventeenth-century longhouses have been built at landmarks and tourist villages, such as Kanata Village Brantford, Ontario and Awkwasasne's "Tsiionhiakwatha" interpretation village in Quebec, Ontario. Other Mohawk Nation Longhouses are found on the Mohawk territory reserves that hold the Mohawk law recitations, ceremonial rites, and the Mohawk and Handsome Lake religion. These include:

Six Nations First Nation Territory, Ontario holds one Ceremonial Mohawk Community Longhouse.
Wahta First Nation Territory, Ontario holds one Ceremonial Mohawk Community Longhouse.
Tyendinaga First Nation Territory, Ontario holds one Ceremonial Mohawk Community Longhouse.
Awkwasasne First Nation Territory, Quebec holds two Mohawk Ceremonial Community Longhouses.
Kanesatake First Nation Territory, Quebec holds two Ceremonial Mohawk Community Longhouses.
Kahnawahke First Nation Territory, Quebec holds one Ceremonial Mohawk Community Longhouse.
Kanienkeh First Nation Territory, New York State holds one Ceremonial Mohawk Community Longhouse.
Kanatsioharake First Nation Territory, New York State holds one Ceremonial Mohawk Community Longhouse.

Mohawk Communities Today

These are grouped by broad geographical cluster, with notes on the character of community governance found in each...

For More Information:
Mohawk Indian Fact sheet for Kids
Mohawk Indian Tribe History
Mohawk Culture and History