The Kanienkehaka, or Mohawk tribe of Native American people live around Lake Ontario and the St. Lawrence River in what is now Canada and the United States. Their traditional homeland is further South, in New York State, around present day Albany,_New_York. They belong to the Iroquois confederation. After the pre-historic formation of the Iroquois confederation (Hodenosaunee), the Mohawks became keepers of the Eastern Door, guarding the members against invasions from that direction.
During the 17th century, the Mohawks became allied with the Dutch at Fort Orange, New Netherland (now Albany, New York). Their Dutch trade partners equipped the Mohawks to fight against other nations allied with the French, including the Ojibwes, Huron-Wendats, and Algonkins. After the fall of New Netherland to the English, the Mohawks became allies of the English Crown. Because of ongoing conflict with Anglo-American settlers infiltrating into the Mohawk Valley and outstanding treaty obligations to the Crown, the Mohawks generally fought against the United States during the American Revolutionary War, the War of the Wabash Confederacy, and the War of 1812. After the Americans' victory, one prominent Mohawk leader, Joseph Brant, led a large group of Iroquois out of New York to a new homeland at Six Nations of the Grand River, Ontario.
One large group of Mohawks, who were mainly Catholic, stayed in the vicinity of Montreal, where they served as the allies of French Canadians, Algonkins, Abenakis and so on. One of the most famous Catholic Mohawks was Kateri, who was later beatified. From this group descend the Mohawks of Kahnawake, Akwesasne and Kanesatake.
Members of the Mohawk tribe now live in settlements spread throughout New York State and Southeastern Canada. Among these are Ganienkeh and Kanatsiohareke in Northeast New York, Akwesasne/St.Regis along the Ontario-New York State border, Kanesatake/Oka and Kahnawake/Caughnawaga in southwest Quebec, and Tyendinaga and Wahta/Gibson in southern Ontario. Mohawks also form the majority on the mixed Iroquois reserve, Six Nations of the Grand River, in Ontario.
Many Mohawk communities have two sets of chiefs that exist in parallel and are in some sense rivals. One group are the hereditary chiefs nominated by clan matriarchs in the traditional fashion; the other are elected chiefs with whom the Canadian and US governments usually deals exclusively. Since the 1980s, Mohawk politics have been riven by factional disputes over gambling. Both the elected chiefs and the controversial Warrior Society have encouraged gaming as a means of ensuring tribal self-sufficiency on the various reserves/reservations, while traditional chiefs have opposed gaming on moral grounds and out of fear of corruption and organized crime. Such disputes have also been associated with religious divisions: the traditional chiefs are often associated with the Longhouse religion, while Warrior Society has attacked that religion in favour of the pre-Longhouse Old Religion. Meanwhile, the elected chiefs have tended to be associated (though in a much looser and general way) with Roman Catholicism.
The name "Mohawk" was perhaps bestowed upon the tribe by the Germans, who, mistaking a personal name for the group name, started to call the Kanienkehaka "Moackh." An English corruption of pronunciation turned it into the familiar "Mohawk" which is still used today. The name of the people in the Mohawk language (which does not possess an /m/ sound) is Kanien'keh�:ka.
The Mohawks, like many indigenous tribes in the Great Lakes region, wore a type of hair style in which all their hair would be cut off except for a narrow strip down the middle of the scalp. Today such a hair style is still called a Mohawk.
Mohawk Communities Today
These are grouped by broad geographical cluster, with notes on the character of community governance found in each.
- inland New York:
- along the St Lawrence:
- southern Ontario:
- Mohawk Creation Story
- Dean R Snow, 1996. The Iroquois. Blackwell Publishers, New York. ISBN 1557869383