Who We Are

by George Beaver

Haudenosaunee is an ancient name for the Six Nations Iroquois or “The Longhouse People.” The derivation of that name will become clear as we discuss our social dancing as it relates to our history and culture. The Six Nations Confederacy also identified itself as Onkwehonwe or “the Original People.”

The Europeans who followed Christopher Columbus after 1492 found the Haudenosaunee living in the northeastern woodlands of North America. They were a part of the 500 or so indigenous nations in North America, each with their own individual language, customs and sacred beliefs. The Laurentian (or St. Lawrence) Iroquoians included two groups of related but distinct peoples: the territory of the Otstandrakoneka [Stadaconans] lay closer to the Maritimes, extending from Quebec City to the Gaspé, while the Ohserakeka [Hochelagans] were the upriver branch of the Laurentian Iroquoians. West of them were the Wendathronon’ [Huron-Wendat], a separate branch of the northern Iroquoians. War had driven them from their southern Ontario homeland before 1650.

Today the Wendathronon’ people carry on their traditions in communities descended from refugees of those wars. These people live near Quebec City, Detroit, Kansas City, and northeast Oklahoma.
The northern Iroquoians are in upstate New York, southern Ontario and Quebec. These include the Kanien’keha:ka [Mohawk], originally the eastern “doorkeepers” of the political “Longhouse” which the Iroquois Confederacy occupied. The Oneniote’a:ka [Oneida], Ononta’kehe:non’ [Onondaga], Koiokwehonon’ [Cayuga], and Tsonontowanenka [Seneca] are the confederacy’s other original people. Until 1722, some people called the Iroquois Confederacy the League of the Hodinonhsionni or Five Nations. It later became the Six Nations when the related Taskaru:ren [Tuscarora] came up from North Carolina and joined.

My Tuscarora Background

The Beaver clan is one of the eight clans of the Tuscarora Nations, which is perhaps the root of my surname of Beaver. The other Tuscarora clans are Bear, Eel, Snipe, Gray Wolf, Yellow Wolf, Great Turtle and Little Turtle. The other Six Nations also have a Turtle, Wolf and Bear Clan. As well, some of the Six Nations have a Hawk, Heron, Deer and Ball Clan. However, contrary to what some people think, the confederacy has no Eagle clan.

Seven generations ago some of my Tuscarora ancestors were still in North Carolina. Over the internet I located notarized documents at the Tuscarora Reservation in New York State that trace my grandmother Caroline Beaver’s ancestry through her grandmother and great-grandmother’s line in the 1700s to Margaret Groat of North Carolina.

This project was made possible with the support of the Department of Canadian Heritage through Canadian Culture Online
Native Dance