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Who are the Mohawk People?

The Mohawk People are Indigenous North Americans, known for their rich cultural heritage and as the easternmost tribe of the Iroquois Confederacy. With a history steeped in both tradition and resilience, they have played a pivotal role in shaping the narrative of the continent. Discover how their vibrant legacy continues to influence modern society. What will their story reveal to you?
Grayson Millar
Grayson Millar

The Mohawk people are a Native American tribe historically located in what is now known as the Mohawk Valley in present-day upstate New York in the United States, though their territory expanded to include parts of present-day southeastern Canada. One of the initial five tribes that composed the Iroquois League of Nations, the Mohawks fought against the United States in both the American Revolutionary War and the War of 1812. A substantial Mohawk population remains throughout New York and in Quebec and Ontario, Canada. Mohawks own and operate casinos in upstate New York and were known in the 20th century for their work in the construction of many of New York City's skyscrapers, including the Empire State Building.

As a nation of the Iroquois League, the Mohawk people traditionally speak the Mohawk language of the Iroquoian language family. In the Mohawk language, the Mohawk people refer to themselves as Kanienkehaka which translate as "People of the Flint." Their name derives from their traditional region in the present-day Mohawk Valley, where they mined flint deposits to produce arrowheads and other tools.

Like other tribes in the Iroquois Confederation, the Mohawk Nation used canoes to trade, fish, and conduct warfare across the waterways of the American Northeast and Great Lakes regions.
Like other tribes in the Iroquois Confederation, the Mohawk Nation used canoes to trade, fish, and conduct warfare across the waterways of the American Northeast and Great Lakes regions.

In the early 17th century, the Mohawk people encountered Dutch colonists in what was then known as New Netherland. Mohawks entered into the business of fur trade with the Dutch and formed an alliance. They maintained an exclusive trade with the Dutch through battles with other nearby tribes, including the Algonquin, and originally were on peaceful terms with French colonists. This peace with the French lasted until 1666, when the French attacked the Mohawks before making a new peace agreement that was contingent upon the Mohawks welcoming Jesuit missionaries and converting to Catholicism.

The Mohawks were involved in construction of many New York City skyscrapers, including the Empire State Building.
The Mohawks were involved in construction of many New York City skyscrapers, including the Empire State Building.

When England drove the Dutch out of New Netherland in approximately 1674, the Mohawks became English allies, with many undergoing conversion to Protestantism, and they maintained hostile relations with neighboring Native American tribes. Mohawk allegiance to British colonists continued throughout the French and Indian War and the American Revolution. After the American victory in 1776, a large percentage of the Mohawk people was driven west from present-day New York and into what is now Canada. In alliance with the rest of the Iroquois League, the Mohawk people finally signed a treaty with the United States in 1794, though they again sided with the British in the War of 1812.

Frequently Asked Questions

Who are the Mohawk people?

The Mohawk people are one of the original members of the Iroquois Confederacy, or Haudenosaunee, a powerful alliance of six Native American nations in northeastern North America. They are indigenous to the Mohawk Valley in what is now upstate New York. Known as the "Keepers of the Eastern Door," they were responsible for guarding the confederacy's eastern border. The Mohawk people have a rich cultural heritage, with a matrilineal society and a historical emphasis on trade and skilled negotiation.

What is the significance of the Mohawk language and culture?

The Mohawk language, Kanien’kéha, is a vital aspect of their cultural identity and is part of the Iroquoian language family. Despite the challenges of language preservation, efforts are ongoing to revitalize the language through educational programs and community initiatives. Mohawk culture is known for its intricate beadwork, basketry, and the Longhouse religion. Cultural ceremonies and social dances play a significant role in community life, maintaining the traditions and social cohesion of the Mohawk people.

How did the Mohawk people contribute to the building of modern cities?

The Mohawk people made significant contributions to the construction of modern cities, particularly in the field of high steel construction. They are renowned for their ironworking skills and fearlessness at great heights, which led them to work on iconic structures such as the Empire State Building and the George Washington Bridge. According to the Smithsonian National Museum of the American Indian, Mohawk ironworkers played a crucial role in shaping the skylines of North American cities throughout the 20th century.

What are the current challenges faced by the Mohawk people?

Today, the Mohawk people face several challenges, including the preservation of their language and culture, environmental concerns, and issues related to sovereignty and land rights. Economic development and the impact of modern society on traditional ways of life are ongoing concerns. Additionally, like many indigenous communities, the Mohawks are working to address the effects of historical trauma and to promote the well-being and resilience of their people.

How can one learn more about the Mohawk people and support their community?

To learn more about the Mohawk people, one can visit cultural centers, museums, and educational institutions that focus on Iroquois history and culture. Supporting Mohawk artisans by purchasing authentic crafts, attending cultural events, and engaging with community-led initiatives are ways to show support. Additionally, educational resources and advocacy groups provide information on current issues facing the Mohawk community, offering opportunities for those interested to contribute to their efforts in preserving their heritage and rights.

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Discussion Comments

matthewc23

There are actually a lot of Mohawk people who live in present day New York City. There actually used to be a Brooklyn neighborhood that was almost exclusively Mohawks.

Since they were one of the Iroquois tribes, I would assume the Mohawk people lived in longhouses. I have always been interested in longhouses and how they were built. It is amazing they could construct something that durable out of wood and handmade rope.

What are some of the other customs of the Mohawk people? Do they have any interesting marriage customs? Also, have there been any famous people that were Mohawks or were descended from the Mohawk people?

TreeMan

@kentuckycat - I just finished reading a good book about the history of the Mohawk people. Originally, the five Iroquois tribes were one tribe, but then they split. They all kept the same language and a lot of the same customs, though.

One of the most interesting things I learned was the Mohawk tribes have two different chiefs. One is selected by the elders and one is elected by the tribe as a whole. The two different chiefs usually have different beliefs about the direction the tribe should take on different matters. The biggest one of these is whether or not the tribes should engage in running casinos.

kentuckycat

What other tribes lived in the same area as the Mohawks that they would have had conflicts with? The article mentions the Algonquin. Are there others?

Also, what exactly was the Iroquis League of Nations? Were there only five tribes or did it grow eventually? Did they all work together to support each other and avoid conflicts, or what was the purpose?

After the war of 1812, was any of the Mohawk tribe relocated to Oklahoma, or did most of them leave to go to Canada?

cardsfan27

I didn't know the Mohawk tribe had such an important role in the early history of America. I have always thought it was interesting to read about how all of the different Native American tribes survived in their respective locations.

Being in New York, the Mohawks would have had to deal with very cold winters. They probably would have had an easier time finding food than some of the tribes of the southwest, though.

How many people still belong to the tribe today?

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    • Like other tribes in the Iroquois Confederation, the Mohawk Nation used canoes to trade, fish, and conduct warfare across the waterways of the American Northeast and Great Lakes regions.
      By: Shchipkova Elena
      Like other tribes in the Iroquois Confederation, the Mohawk Nation used canoes to trade, fish, and conduct warfare across the waterways of the American Northeast and Great Lakes regions.
    • The Mohawks were involved in construction of many New York City skyscrapers, including the Empire State Building.
      By: rabbit75_fot
      The Mohawks were involved in construction of many New York City skyscrapers, including the Empire State Building.