Doug George-Kanentiio: Aboriginal homeland of the Six Nations

Haudenosaunee chiefs march on Canandaigua Treaty Day in 2011. From left to right, Chief Clayton Logan (Seneca), Chief Sam George (Cayuga) and the late Chief Stuart Patterson (Tuscarora). Photo by Syracuse Peace Council via Flickr

Land Area of the Six Nations Iroquois in New York State
By Doug George-Kanentiio

The aboriginal homeland of the Six Nations Iroquos (the Haudenosaunee) stretched from Lake Champlain and the Hudson River in the east, the Niagara River-Lake Erie in the west, Delaware River and the central Pennsylvania mountains to the south and the St. Lawrence River to the north.

Included in this region are not only large sections of New York but parts of Ontario, Quebec, Pennsylvania and Ohio. Within this area dwelt many tens of thousands of Iroquois along with refugees from dozens of other nations. Pequots, Nanticokes, French, English, Africans, Conestogas, Lenni Lenape, Hurons, Abenakis, Tutelos and many others built their communities within Haudenosaunee territory or immigrated to the Confederacy as families and individuals.

Within the actual borders of present day New York State the Confederacy held active jurisdiction to 4/5ths of the state’s current area or over 39,000 of its 49,576 square miles.

As defined by the Haudenosaunee, each member nation was given custodial responsibility over specific territories. Within this region the nations were to provide food, shelter, clothing and medicine for their citizens and visitors while living in a state of ecological balance with other species of life.

The Haudenosaunee believed their territory was as a longhouse, the ancestral housing style used by the Iroquois. Inside this long, rectangular building lived each nation, or as a family. Each “family” had its own hearth and gathered its own food but were bound to respond to the needs of their relatives while living in a state of tolerance and respect. No singular nation had the right to breach the peace of the longhouse by disruptive behavior.

The longhouse was on a east-west axis. Those who lived at its eastern entrance were the Mohawks, or the Keepers of the Eastern Door. They are also known as the People of the Flint.

Indigenous Mohawk land went north to the St. Lawrence River (including the Isle of Mont Royal now the city of Montreal) and south to the Delaware River. It’s boundaries were the Oswegatchie and Unadilla rivers in the west and Lake Champlain-Hudson River in the east. The total acreage within the State is 9,941,760 or 15,534 square miles.

This figure is arrived at, as are all others, by totaling the land area of each county within the ancestral regions of the nations, then adding to that number the area of towns and districts adjacent to the ancient boundary lines when a county straddles such borders. In all instances, oral traditions are the basis for determining the boundary lines, which in turn use rivers, lakes or natural land formations in defining territory.

It is this area which the St. Regis Tribal Council, an entity created by New York State in 1892 and imposed upon the Mohawks at Akwesasne, is seeking to "forever" cede to the State without any authority by the Mohawk people to do so. In exchange for surrendering millions of acres of aboriginal lands the Tribe is required to pay millions of dollars to the local counties and agrees that "federal trust" shall be a condition of any territory added to Akwesasne's current land base.

Immediately west of the Mohawk Nation were the Oneidas. Their principle communities were clustered southeast of Oneida Lake were smaller towns to the north and south. The Oneidas are known as the “younger brothers” to the Mohawks. They are also called the “People of the Standing Stone."

Their homeland went north-south from the St. Lawrence River to the Susquehanna and from West Canada Creek in the east to the middle of Lake Oneida and the Chittenango Creek in the west. The land area of the Oneidas consisted of 3,724,160 acres or 5,819 square miles.

Adjacent to the Oneidas were the People of the Hills or the Onondagas. Their natural borders were Oneida Lake-Chittenango Creek in the east, Lake Ontario-St. Lawrence River to the north, Susquehanna River to the south and Skaneateles Lake to the west. They retain aboriginal title to 2,670,720 acres or 4,173 square miles.

Along the great wetlands now called the Montezuma National Wildlife Refuge lived the People of the Pipe or the Cayuga Nation. Their homelands contained some of the most fertile of all the Haudenosaunee territory. The Cayugas had 1,998,720 acres (3,123 square miles) from Skaneateles Lake to Seneca Lake east-west and north from Lake Ontario to Pennsylvania.

The People of the Great Hill are known as the Seneca Nation. Their territory was from Seneca Lake to the Niagara River and from Lake Ontario to the Pennsylvania border and far beyond. Within New York they have 6,558,720 acres or 10,248 square miles of homeland.

The Tuscarora Nation, or the Shirtwearers, returned to Iroquois territory in the first decade of the eighteenth century (1710). They had villages on Oneida-Mohawk land along the Susquehanna-Delaware rivers and south of Oneida Lake. They were compelled to move to the Niagara region during the American Revolution.

It is important to note the above figures include only that area currently within the boundaries of New York and not land in other U.S. jurisdictions.

As of 1998 the Iroquois land base in New York consists of the following:
• For the Mohawks, 14,460 acres along the St. Lawrence in Franklin County.
• The Oneidas began the decade with 32 acres and have expanded to an estimated 5,000 in Oneida and Madison counties.
• The Onondaga Nation has 7,300 acres south of Syracuse in Onondaga County.
• The Cayugas have no land base in New York State as of April 1998.
• The Tuscaroras have a land area of 5,778 acres next to the city of Niagara Falls. East of their reservation is Tonawanda Seneca Nation territory with its 7,317 acres straddling Eire, Genesee and Niagara counties.
• South of Buffalo is the Cattaraugus Seneca territory of 17,025 acres and nearby Allegany consisting of 30,984 acres. Northeast of Allegany is the one square mile Oil Springs reservation of 640 acres.

The total land holdings for the Iroquois is 88,716 acres of the original 25,000,000, about 0.034 percent of the ancestral Haudenosaunee territory in New York State.

Doug George-Kanentiio is an Akwesasne Mohawk currently residing on Oneida Territory with his wife Joanne Shenandoah.

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