Northeastern Indians Essay, Research Paper
The Northeastern Indians are the Indians who live in the Northeast part of the United States. The area consists of three types of land: the coast of the ocean, fertile valleys and forests. Therefore, their three main occupations were fishing, farming and hunting.
No one is exactly sure how the Northeastern Indians got there in the first place. Some believe they migrated from northeastern Asia to Alaska and then to the Americas. Others believe that they are descendants of the ten lost tribes of Israel while others think they can be traced to a colony of Welshmen founded by Prince Madoc in 1170.
At one time there were 39 tribes living in the Northeast. They spoke basically two languages: Iroquoian and Algonquian. This report will focus on the Iroquois Indians who lived in the Northeast Woodlands. Today this part of our country is called upper New York State.
The Iroquois Indians were actually a nation of Indians made up of five tribes. These tribes were the Senecas, Onondagas, Oneidas, Cayugas and Mohawks. These tribes kept fighting with each other until they joined together to become the Iroquois League in about 1570. Then instead of fighting with each other, they started fighting with their neighbors (other Indian tribes).
The Iroquois had a society where the women were in charge. Kinship was determined through the mother and women owned all property. Each of the five tribes was further divided into three groups: turtle, bear and wolf. A matriarch headed each clan and the women of the clan chose these leaders.
The Iroquois lived in villages that were pretty permanent and only moved when the soil dried out or there was war. They built log walls all around their villages. The wall had only one opening. They could quickly close this opening if their enemies came near.
In 1600, the height of the Iroquois nation, the population was about 20,000. In the 1650 s, a combination of European disease and warfare had cut their population in half. The Iroquois managed to maintain and even increase their numbers by conquering neighboring tribes, mostly those who already spoke the Iroquoian language. Today the population is around 70,000.
The Iroquois Indians lived in wigwams and longhouses. Wigwams were made by bending young trees to form a round shape of a home. They covered this shape with tree bark and a layer of thatch (dried grass). There was a small hole in the top to allow smoke from the fires to escape. Longhouses were long rectangular homes. They were made by building a frame from young trees. They were then covered with bark sewn together. There was a long hallway with rooms on both sides. Sleeping platforms, covered with deerskin, lined each wall. There were also shelves for storing baskets, pots and pelts (animal skins with fur attached).
The Iroquois Indians used the pelts of animals for their clothing. In the winter the men wore shirts, leggings and moccasins made of buckskin. The women wore skirts they had woven from the wild grasses, covered with furs, with leggings underneath. In the summer, the men wore a breechcloth, which is a short piece of buckskin that hung from the front to the back. The women wore their grass dresses and the children wore nothing at all.
The Iroquois found their food by fishing, hunting and gathering berries, fruits and nuts. They also cleared the land and planted large fields of corn, beans and squash. These were called The Three Sisters. Corn was called maize and was their most important crop. Corn could be roasted or made into soups. It could also be ground into cornmeal for baking into bread. Corn could be combined with squash and beans into a stewlike dish called succotash . The Northeast women not only used corn for food; they also found clever ways to use the cob and the husk.
The Iroquois used a bow and arrow to hunt. They would sometimes wear the skin of a deer over their body to sneak up on animals. They used traps to catch small animals. They made canoes out of hollowed out trees and caught fish in the lakes and streams nearby.
During the winter months, trees were tapped for maple sugar. The liquid was put into wooden troughs and stirred day and night over a fire. After a long time the liquid changed into sugar. The Iroquois also used trees to make several teas. They used sassafras roots, sweet-birch twigs, wintergreen leaves and other plants, including the leaves of the strawberry plant.
A very important part of the Iroquois culture is something called wampum . Wampum belts and necklaces were made from wampum beads. These beads were actually white and purple shells. Wampum was used as money between white man and Indians. Wampum belts were used as a form of communication between Indian tribes. Wampum belts would be made into pictures showing the reason it was made. All Indian messengers carried wampum belts when going to other tribes.
Early Native American Life, www.bmcc.org/Bimaadzwin/Traditions/dbowers.htm
Iroquois, The Illustrated Encyclopedia of Mankind. Vol 8, 1984, pp. 963-966.
Kihn, W. Langdon. Indians of the Americas. Washington, D.C.: National Geographic Society, 1955.
Sita, Lisa. Indians of the Northeast. Milwaukee: Gareth Stevens Publishing, 1997.