Beginning in the 1300s, there were two major groups of different speaking Native Americans in what is now New York State: the Iroquois and the Algonquians.
The Iroquois lived in northern and central parts of New York State. The Iroquois were also called the Haudenosaunee (The People of the Longhouse). The Iroquois groups were the Mohawk ( to the east), Oneida, Onondaga, Cayuga, and Seneca ( to the west).
The Algonquians (sometimes spelled Algonkians) lived in southern New York State, in what is now Long Island and the Hudson River Valley. The Algonquian groups included Mahicans, Shinnecock, and Lenni Lanape. Some of the tribes still exist today.
Although both groups occupied what is now New York State and both groups belonged to the larger Eastern Woodland group of Native Americans, the Iroquois and the Algonquians spoke different languages and used different natural resources. Because they lived nearer the ocean and salt water, the Algonquians learned to build bigger boats and to fish for clams and mussels and other salt water fish. The Iroquois relied more on rivers and fresh water sources like Lake Ontario for food and transportation.
Before 1570, the Iroquois groups were constantly fighting among themselves and with the Algonquians. Then around 1570 (the year of the Great Peace), the five warring groups combined to form the Iroquois Confederacy, making it one of the most powerful groups of people on the Eastern Coast.
Together the five nations were stronger, but each of the five nations still had its own governing body called a council. Each council was separated into clans. The clan was headed by the clan mother and was named for an animal such as bear or eel or turtle. These clan mothers were very powerful and made many important decisions like how the land would be used and who would use it. They also owned the longhouses in which they lived. The women also chose the men to be the council leaders.
Leaders of each Iroquois Nation also came together ( at the Onondaga Nation) to discuss matters that were important to all of them, such as peace, trade, or war. These council leaders ( always men, but chosen by the women) were called sachems. The Iroquois had a total of 50 sachems. All sachems had to agree on a solution before any decision was made.
The Confederacy strengthened the individual Five Nations against other warring groups. In 1722 it added yet another group, the Tuscarora, to make it still stronger. The Iroquois Confederacy still exists today. Because of its strength, it usually overpowered the Algonquians.
Iroquois - North American Indian people that lived in upstate New York
council - a group of people who meet to talk about and solve problems
clan - a group of families who share the same ancestor, a group with similar interests
sachem - the chief of some North American tribes