Native American Lore
The Iroquois Confederacy, or Haudenosaunee, are also known as the “Five Nations,” the “Six Nations,” or the “People of the Longhouse. They originally consisted of the Mohawk, the Oneida, the Onondaga, thee Cayuga and the Seneca tribes, and eventually, a 6th tribe, the Tuscarora joined them. The term, Haudenosaunee, means “they are building a long house.” It implies that the people lived together as families in the same longhouse. These people have lived in the Finger Lakes Region for over 1000 years.
To earn this badge, Brownies must complete activities from 4 of the sections below, helping them to learn a bit about the customs of first people to live in Finger Lakes area. Juniors must complete 6 activities.
The Iroquois were a mix of farmers, fishers, gatherers, and hunters, though their main diet came from farming. The main crops they farmed were corn, beans and squash, which were called the three sisters and were considered special gifts from the Creator. These crops are grown strategically. The cornstalks grow, the bean plants climb the stalks, and the squash grow beneath, inhibiting weeds and keeping the soil moist under the shade of their broad leaves. In this combination, the soil remained fertile for several decades. The food was stored during the winter, and it lasts for two to three years. When the soil eventually lost its fertility, the Iroquois migrated.
Gathering was the job of the women and children. Wild roots, greens, berries and nuts were gathered in the summer. During spring, maple syrup was tapped from the trees, and herbs were gathered for medicine.
The Iroquois mostly hunted deer but also other game such as wild turkey and migratory birds. Muskrat and beaver were hunted during the winter. Fishing was also a significant source of food because the Iroquois were located near a large river. They fished salmon, trout, bass, perch and whitefish. In the spring the Iroquois netted fish, and in the winter fishing holes were made in the ice.
**Prepare and taste food that may have been served by the Haudenosaunee, or
**Participate in a program to gave sap and make maple syrup, or
**Grow at least three types are herbs and use each of them to prepare a dish to share with your troop or family.
Since they had no writing system, the Iroquois depended upon the spoken word to pass down their history, traditions, and rituals. As an aid to memory, the Iroquois used shells and shell beads. The Europeans called the beads wampum, from wampumpeag, a word used by Indians in the area who spoke Algonquin languages. (Europeans incorrectly thought wampum was a form of currency.)
The type of wampum most commonly used in historic times was bead wampum, cut from various seashells, ground and polished, and then bored through the center with a small hand drill. The purple and white beads, made from the shell of the quahog clam, were arranged on belts in designs representing events of significance.
Certain elders were designated to memorize the various events and treaty articles represented on the belts. These men could "read" the belts and reproduce their contents with great accuracy. The belts were stored at Onondaga, the capital of the confederacy, in the care of a designated wampum keeper.
**Listen to a story teller or read a story that might have been passed down to a Native American child. Share this story at a campfire ceremony, troop meeting or with your family.
Women in society When Americans and Canadians of European descent began to study Iroquois customs in the 18th and 19th centuries, they observed that women assumed a position in Iroquois society roughly equal in power to that of the men. Individual women could hold property including dwellings, horses and farmed land, and their property before marriage stayed in their possession without being mixed with that of their husband's. The work of a woman's hands was hers to do with as she saw fit. A husband lived in the longhouse of his wife's family. A woman choosing to divorce a shiftless or otherwise unsatisfactory husband was able to ask him to leave the dwelling, taking any of his possessions with him. Women had responsibility for the children of the marriage, and children were educated by members of the mother's family. The clans were matrilineal, that is, clan ties were traced through the mother's line. If a couple separated, the woman kept their children. Violence against women by men was virtually unknown.
The chief of a clan could be removed at any time by a council of the mothers of that clan, and the chief's sister was responsible for nominating his successor.
** Learn about a famous Native American woman and share with your troop or family what you have learned. Why was this woman famous? How did her actions benefit the tribe?
Spiritual beliefs In the Iroquois belief system was a formless Great Spirit or Creator, from whom other spirits were derived. Spirits animated all of nature and controlled the changing of the seasons. Key festivals coincided with the major events of the agricultural calendar, including a harvest festival of thanksgiving.
**Learn about one of the festivals celebrated by the Haudenosaunee, and host a celebration with your troop or group.
Song and Dance
Song and dance were important to the Haudenosaunee. Special costumes were worn and special rites were passed down at ceremonial dances.
**Attend a presentation of song or dance. Try one or more of the steps.
**Learn a dance move and demonstrate it to your troop or group, or learn a song to sing or play on a drum or other Native American instrument and share what you have learned.
**Learn about clothing, beadwork or other crafts that might be practiced by Native Americans. Make one item, like a necklace, dream catcher, vest or moccasin.
While dream catchers originated in the Ojibwa Nation, during the Pan-Indian Movement of the 1960s and 1970s they were adopted by Native Americans of a number of different Nations. Some consider the dream catcher a symbol of unity among the various Indian Nations, and a general symbol of identification with Native American or First Nations cultures. However, other Native Americans have come to see dream catchers as "tacky" and over-commercialized, especially as most of them are being manufactured and sold by non-Natives.
Traditionally, the Ojibwa construct dream catchers by tying sinew strands in a web around a small round or tear-shaped frame of willow (in a way roughly similar to their method for making snowshoe webbing). The resulting "dream-catcher", hung above the bed, is used as a charm to protect sleeping children from nightmares. As dream catchers are made of willow and sinew, they are not meant to last forever but are intended to dry out and collapse as the child enters the age of adulthood.
The Ojibwa believe that a dream catcher changes a person's dreams. According to Terri J. Andrews, "Only good dreams would be allowed to filter through . . . Bad dreams would stay in the net, disappearing with the light of day." Good dreams would pass through and slide down the feathers to the sleeper.
Another version from the same article was, "Good dreams pass through the center hole to the sleeping person. The bad dreams are trapped in the web, where they perish in the light of dawn."
**Learn about the architecture of several different Native American clans. Find out what materials were used to build their homes, and how their life style affected the architecture.