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Iroquois Confederacy, the Oldest Representative Democracy in the World

Updated on February 11, 2017
Patty Inglish, MS profile image

A descendant of Mohawk Nation and trained in anthropology, Patty has researched and reported on Indigenous Peoples for over four decades.

A view of Lake Ontario from the Canadian side.
A view of Lake Ontario from the Canadian side. | Source

Look and listen for the welfare of the whole people and have always in view not only the present but also the coming generations, even those whose faces are yet beneath the surface of the ground – the unborn of the future Nation.

---From the Constitution of the Iroquois Confederacy or The Great Binding Law

Keepers of the Eastern Gate

Speakers of the Indigenous Iroquoian Language Group settled largely around the eastern Great Lakes in North America, many around the shores of Lakes Erie and Ontario in what is now Canada and the USA.

The settlements included all sides of these two lakes in lands that are now organized as Canada in Ontario and Quebec Provinces and the United States in the State of New York. The Mohawk Nation, called Keepers of the Eastern Gate, were located furthest to the east of all the groups. They were first to see the sun rise on the continent each day.

The Iroquoians, then, were first to see the morning sunrise. They were seen as a sort of guardian of the new day and the land and rose to the "eldest brother" position of the 5, then 6, nations that joined under a single constitution between 1390 - 1500.

In fact, The Great Binding Law was written in the Mohawk Language. Before this event, the several nations or tribes were independent. Afterwards, together they controlled 50,000 square miles of land.

The Great Binding Law was written in the Mohawk Language.

Iroquoians generally settled land and villages around the through the points noted below.

show route and directions
A markerLake Erie -
Cleveland, OH, USA
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B markerLake Ontario -
Lake Ontario
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C markerMontreal QC -
Montreal, QC, Canada
get directions

D markerSyracuse NY -
Syracuse, NY, USA
get directions

E markerDelaware River -
Delaware River, United States
get directions

Estimated Initial Mohawk Territory

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A markerSt. Lawrence River -
St Lawrence River, Quebec, Canada
get directions

B markerLake Champlain -
Lake Champlain
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C markerHudson River -
Hudson River, Newcomb, NY, USA
get directions

D markerLake George -
Lake George, NY 12845, USA
get directions

E markerDelaware River -
Delaware River, United States
get directions

Iroquois Languages and Communities

NORTHERN LANGUAGES (Southeastern Canada and Northern NY Area)

  • Tuscarora
  • Nottoway
  • Lake Iroquoian Languages: Mohawk-Oneida Languages and Seneca-Onondaga Languages that also included Cayuga; and Huron/Wyandot**; St. Lawrence Iroquoian, and Susquehannock**

NOTE: The Tuscarora are related to the rest of the Iroquois, but had settled in North Carolina. They came back north to join the Iroquois Confederacy (or League). This is one reason that Cherokee is an Iroquoian language.

SOUTHERN LANGUAGES (Generally NY Area and south- and southwestward)

  • Cherokee* **

*Elvis Presley was part Cherokee, so if you have any Cherokee lineage, you are related at least distantly to Elvis Presley.

**Cherokee, Huron, and Susquehannock Nations are distant relatives of the Iroquois Confederacy, making them also distant relations of Elvis Presley. Language groups often follow bloodlines.

Mohawk Nation Communities, Recognized in the 21st Century

  • Six Nations Reserve - largest group - Ontario, Canada
  • Akwesasne/St. Regis Reservation - Quebec, Ontario and New York
  • Kanesatake - Quebec
  • Kahnawake - Quebec
  • Tyendinaga - Ontario
  • Wahta/Gibson - Ontario
  • Ganienke - New York
  • Kanatsiohareke - New York

Most of the Mohawk Nation is located in Canada, although a few remain on the reserve in New York. The Traditional Mohawk Nation there is not recognized by the US Federal Government.

The Great Binding Law of Peace is the first written constitution in all of the North American Continent.

Oldest Representative Democracy in the World

In the Mohawk Language, the Iroquois Confederacy is Kanonsionni (People of the Longhouse).

The first five of the six Native American nations (Tuscarora joined last) that joined their governments and peoples under the first written constitution in North America met with representatives of each nation near Syracuse at Lake Onondaga.The clan mothers of the Iroquois nations chose these representatives, since the groups were led by women in matriarchies.

Mohawk Nation took the leadership of the meeting through their representative and constitution writer Dekanawidah, whose name is not uttered by some Iroquois groups, who will refer to him as Peacemaker in a supernatural legend.

The date of the writing of it in the Mohawk Language is estimated by archaeologists and cultural anthropologists to be in the range of 1390 - 1500 AD, although some have narrowed it down to 1450 - 1500.

Errors Complicate Understanding

Further confusion is provided by the use of an 1870 photograph of white and native leaders with the incorrect caption that names one of the natives with the name of the man who wrote the Iroquois Constitution. The caption is incorrect and the photo image appears in additional sources with another native name ascribed to the gentleman in question.

The Iroquois Constitution is The Great Binding Law of Peace.


Iroquois Six Nations In the Diaspora Today

show route and directions
A markerSix Nations Ontario, Canada -
Six Nations, Ohsweken, ON N0A 1M0, Canada
get directions

Delawares live on the reserve with small numbers of other groups, and Mohawk ("elder brothers"), Cayuga, Oneida, Onondonga, Seneca, and Tuscarora.

B markerMohawk Nation Ontario, Canada -
Whitehern, 41 Jackson St W, Hamilton, ON L8P 1L3, Canada
get directions

C markerTusarora Nation, New York -
Tuscarora Indian Reservation, Tuscarora, NY 14092, USA
get directions

D markerSeneca Nation, New York -
Seneca Nation of Indians, 12837 State Highway 438, Irving, NY 14081, USA
get directions

E markerCayuga Nation of New York -
2540 State Route 89, Seneca Falls, NY 13148, USA
get directions

F markerOnondonga Nation -
Onondaga Nation Office, NY 13120, USA
get directions

G markerOneida Nation New York -
Oneida Indian Nation Police, 213 County Highway 44, Oneida, NY 13421, USA
get directions

H markerSt. Regis Mohawk Nation Quebec -
St Regis Mohawk Tribe, 545 State Highway 37, Hogansburg, NY 13655-3107, USA
get directions

I markerOneida Nation, Wisconsin -
Oneida Nation Museum, Oneida, WI 54155, USA
get directions

J markerAthens OH -
Athens, OH 45701, USA
get directions

After forming the Confederacy, Iroquois Peoples traveled to the Ohio River Valley and Northern Kentucky.

Entering a Larger Diaspora

Through family records and stories, I found that members of the Iroquois Nations, including Mohawk People, traveled through Pennsylvania into the Ohio River Valley after the constitution was completed.

Although this constitution was woven into wampum belts that served as texts, it was also originally written in the Mohawk Language, that language of the leading nation in the confederacy. Mohawks and some other Iroquois traveled away from the Syracuse NY region through Pennsylvania and through Eastern Ohio, including Cambridge, Zanesville, the Lancaster and Athens areas, and into Northern Kentucky.

One Path of Mohawk Migration

show route and directions
A markerSyracuse NY -
Syracuse, NY, USA
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B markerPennsylvania -
Pennsylvania, USA
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C markerCambridge OH -
Cambridge, OH 43725, USA
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D markerZanesville OH -
Zanesville, OH 43701, USA
get directions

E markerLancaster OH -
Lancaster, OH 43130, USA
get directions

F markerAthens OH -
Athens, OH 45701, USA
get directions

G markerKentucky -
Kentucky, USA
get directions

Lake Erie Land's End

Lake Erie bluffs, David M. Roderick Wildlife Reserve, Erie County in Pennsylvania.
Lake Erie bluffs, David M. Roderick Wildlife Reserve, Erie County in Pennsylvania. | Source

Six Nations Reserve Today

A markerSix Nations Ontario -
Six Nations, Ohsweken, ON N0A 1M0, Canada
get directions

Between Lake Ontario and Lake Erie. Web site is, under reconstruction in December 2011.

© 2011 Patty Inglish


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    • Hello, hello, profile image

      Hello, hello, 5 years ago from London, UK

      A feast of information and such wonderful read for me. TGhank you for such a detailed and comprehensive hub.

    • Patty Inglish, MS profile image

      Patty Inglish 5 years ago from North America

      You guys are great for commenting!

      I agree about Elvis :)

    • profile image

      MP50 5 years ago

      I do love Elvis Presley. Now I understand where some of

      his good looks came from.

      Voted up!

    • Daniella Lopez profile image

      Danielle Lopez Newcomb 5 years ago from Arkansas

      I never realized Cherokee is an Iroquoian language... as always, fabulous Hub, Ms. Patty. Voted up!

    • Patty Inglish, MS profile image

      Patty Inglish 5 years ago from North America

      I've heard the stories and miracles at pow wows, but have not read the book. Thanks for suggesting it!

    • cclitgirl profile image

      Cynthia Sageleaf 5 years ago from Western NC

      Great hub! Have you read "The Peacemaker"? It's about Deganawidah and Hiawatha and how they helped form a peace alliance within the Iroquois Federation. Deganawidah performed miracles to help get all the different nations on board with his idea. *Another hub idea* Thanks!