Sunday, October 3, 2010

Onondaga Tribe - Iroquois Nation

Onondaga Tribe in New York

Onondaga (Onoñtǎ’′ge‘,'on, or on top of, the hill or mountain'). An important tribe of the Iroquois confederation, formerly living on the mountain, lake, and creek bearing their name, in the present Onondaga county, N. Y., and extending northward to Lake Ontario and southward perhaps to the waters of the Susquehanna. In the Iroquois councils they are known as Hodiseñnageta, 'they (are) the name bearers.'

Their principal village, also the capital of the confederation, was called Onondaga, later Onondaga Castle; it was situated from before 1654 to 1681 on Indian hill, in the present town of Pompey, and in 1677 contained 140 cabins. It was removed to Butternut creek, where the fort was burned in 1696. In 1720 it was again removed to Onondaga creek, and their present reserve is in that valley, a few miles south of the lake.

The American Revolutionary War

In the American Revolutionary War, the Onondaga were at first officially neutral, although individual Onondaga warriors were involved in at least one raid on American settlements. After an American attack on their main village on April 20, 1779, the Onondaga later sided with the majority of the League and fought against the American colonists in alliance with the British.

Moved to Canada after the War

Thereafter, many Onondaga followed Joseph Brant to Six Nations, Ontario, after the United States was accorded independence.

Return to the US

On November 11, 1794, the Onondaga Nation, along with the other Haudenosaunee nations, signed the Treaty of Canandaigua with the United States, in which their right to their homeland was acknowledged by the United States in article II of the treaty.


The Haudenosaunee have a clearly structured system of government, established by their constitution. There are 50 Hoyane (chiefs), with a specific number allocated to each nation. The Onondaga have 14 chiefs who participate in the council.

The position of chief is held for life. When a chief dies a new one is selected by the Clan Mothers, matriarchs of the clan. They observe the behavior from childhood into adulthood of the men, watching their actions as adults to see if they possess the qualities of a leader. When a man fulfills the qualities he is selected to replace the one who departed.

The Clan Mother is very important in the culture, not only in selecting the chiefs but also in determining when the council should meet and ceremonies be held. The Clan Mothers are responsible for ensuring that the ways and traditions are kept. There are nine Onondaga clans, each representing an animal: Wolf, turtle, beaver, snipe, heron, deer, eel, bear, and hawk. The clans are matrilineal—lineage is transmitted through the mother. Marriage is exogamous—one's spouse must belong to a different clan.