The Five Iroquois Nations

This is a remarkable little book. It tells the very intimate story of the relationship between the Five Iroquois Nations of Western NY, the British and the French in 17th century colonial times. Written in 1727 and 1747 and often quoting first hand sources, makes it a very interesting  pre-confederation Canadian history read.

Covering the latter years of the Beaver Wars, 1663-1700, it starts and ends with interesting anecdotal facts:

–  the Iroquois or “longhouse people” were originally agricultural people raising corn, squash and beans, “the three sisters”.  Journeying north they were taught how to hunt and trap by the Algonquin peoples around Trois Riviere. On one of these early expeditions, the young Iroquois hunters faired very well outdoing their Algonquin hosts. In a fit of jealous rage the hosts murdered their visiting friends thus setting up a bitter war of retaliation that lasted almost 100 years.

– after peace was finally negotiated between the French and the Iroquois around 1700, there was an exchange of prisoners. Strangely enough most of the French and other native prisoners who were returned to Canada, freely chose to return to or remain with their Iroquois hosts for the rest of their days.

In between these bookends thousands of colonists, warring natives and indeed whole first nations were wiped out e.g., the Huron Nation in 1648, in an unrelenting series of attacks and brutal violence. The powerful Iroquois sought to become the middle men in the lucrative fur trade between the tribes near Lake Superior and the colonial powers in the east.  Although they greatly expanded their territory, they never quite succeeded as tribes further to the west took over once the Huron were gone..

The author spares no quarter in describing cannibalism and torture e.g., burning of prisoners alive that even the French succumbed to, to demoralize the other side. The British in Albany, always promising to come to the Iroquois aid in seeking to annihilate the French, never quite do setting the stage for the future abrogation of treaty rights that America became famous for. The Jesuits had a toe hold and counselled the Iroquois to break their relationship with the English in Albany. The Christian Mohawks in Caughnawaga near Montreal are called the “praying indians” and remained loyal to the French.

There are many detailed accounts of peace meetings between the Iroquois “sachems” or chiefs, the English and the French during which wampum belts and beaver pelts were laid down and gifted to signify honesty and commitment during negotiations. In the end. I was left with a sense of wonder and awe at the way the Five Nations conducted themselves with integrity throughout this violent period of our history.

I give it a 9 out of 10 rating and wished it were longer.



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