The Mohawk Indians are a Native American and First Nation tribe, who originally dwelt in the northeastern parts of North America. Part of the powerful Six Nation alliance, Mohawk Indians were primarily a farming culture. Today, Mohawk Indians maintain a vibrant culture that honors their long past while vigorously campaigning for a better future.
A more stationary group than the nomadic Plains Indians, the Mohawk were notable for their impressive longhouse dwellings. These wood-framed houses could hold extended families and were noted for their sturdy construction. Also distinct from many other Native American cultures, these longhouses were owned by a clan, rather than an individual. This inherent sense of community ownership permeated much of Mohawk culture and tradition.
Spectacular craftspeople, Mohawk Indians were known for the creation of beautiful bead belts, carved masks, and highly decorated musical instruments. Music and storytelling were vital parts of tribal life, a tradition that continues to this day. In addition to decorative arts, skilled craftspeople also made hunting weapons, canoes, and built the longhouses.
Women in Mohawk society enjoyed considerable power and freedom. A matriarchal society, life was run by clan mothers, who chose a group of men to serve as tribal leaders. Lineage was determined through the female line, and Mohawk trace their heritage to one of three original female clans known as Turtle, Bear, and Wolf. Women also were primarily in charge of agriculture, while men were tasked with hunting wild game.
Early Dutch settlers formed a tight alliance with the Mohawk Indians, leading to some benefits for the tribe. Mohawks fought fiercely against French settlers and their Native American allies the Algonquin, who had been enemies of the Mohawk for centuries. After a severe defeat by the French, the Mohawk agreed to conditions that included accepting Jesuit missionaries into the tribes. This led to some conversion to Christianity within the tribe; some Mohawk also agreed to move to settlements after converting.
As the flood of European immigrants became overwhelming, many Mohawk moved to the comparably empty lands of modern Quebec, where many still live today. Those who remained mostly stayed near their ancestral lands in New York, settling in for a hard fight against the frequently changing settlement governments. Today, Mohawks operate autonomous governments in both Canada and the United States.
The modern Mohawk tribes operate several reservations that have autonomous rule. Though broadly integrated into American and Canadian society, many Mohawk tribe members remain committed to preserving traditional values inherent to their culture. Like many autonomous tribes, some Mohawk reservations operate successful casinos that generate revenue for the improvement of reservations and the preservation of history and culture.