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Who are the Mohawk Indians?

Jessica Ellis
Updated May 17, 2024
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The Mohawk Indians are a Native American and First Nation tribe, who originally dwelt in the northeastern parts of North America. Part of the powerful Six Nation alliance, Mohawk Indians were primarily a farming culture. Today, Mohawk Indians maintain a vibrant culture that honors their long past while vigorously campaigning for a better future.

A more stationary group than the nomadic Plains Indians, the Mohawk were notable for their impressive longhouse dwellings. These wood-framed houses could hold extended families and were noted for their sturdy construction. Also distinct from many other Native American cultures, these longhouses were owned by a clan, rather than an individual. This inherent sense of community ownership permeated much of Mohawk culture and tradition.

Spectacular craftspeople, Mohawk Indians were known for the creation of beautiful bead belts, carved masks, and highly decorated musical instruments. Music and storytelling were vital parts of tribal life, a tradition that continues to this day. In addition to decorative arts, skilled craftspeople also made hunting weapons, canoes, and built the longhouses.

Women in Mohawk society enjoyed considerable power and freedom. A matriarchal society, life was run by clan mothers, who chose a group of men to serve as tribal leaders. Lineage was determined through the female line, and Mohawk trace their heritage to one of three original female clans known as Turtle, Bear, and Wolf. Women also were primarily in charge of agriculture, while men were tasked with hunting wild game.

Early Dutch settlers formed a tight alliance with the Mohawk Indians, leading to some benefits for the tribe. Mohawks fought fiercely against French settlers and their Native American allies the Algonquin, who had been enemies of the Mohawk for centuries. After a severe defeat by the French, the Mohawk agreed to conditions that included accepting Jesuit missionaries into the tribes. This led to some conversion to Christianity within the tribe; some Mohawk also agreed to move to settlements after converting.

As the flood of European immigrants became overwhelming, many Mohawk moved to the comparably empty lands of modern Quebec, where many still live today. Those who remained mostly stayed near their ancestral lands in New York, settling in for a hard fight against the frequently changing settlement governments. Today, Mohawks operate autonomous governments in both Canada and the United States.

The modern Mohawk tribes operate several reservations that have autonomous rule. Though broadly integrated into American and Canadian society, many Mohawk tribe members remain committed to preserving traditional values inherent to their culture. Like many autonomous tribes, some Mohawk reservations operate successful casinos that generate revenue for the improvement of reservations and the preservation of history and culture.

America Explained is dedicated to providing accurate and trustworthy information. We carefully select reputable sources and employ a rigorous fact-checking process to maintain the highest standards. To learn more about our commitment to accuracy, read our editorial process.
Jessica Ellis
By Jessica Ellis
With a B.A. in theater from UCLA and a graduate degree in screenwriting from the American Film Institute, Jessica Ellis brings a unique perspective to her work as a writer for America Explained. While passionate about drama and film, Jessica enjoys learning and writing about a wide range of topics, creating content that is both informative and engaging for readers.
Discussion Comments
By Sporkasia — On Nov 19, 2014

@Feryll - I agree with what you wrote about the importance of learning history on a broader scope rather than concentrating on one group of people. I like that this article points out some of the interesting facts about everyday Mohawk Indian culture. The Mohawk Indians are often portrayed as violent warriors, and this is how most people think of them. Of course this is only one aspect of these people.

I was particularly fascinated by the parts of this article that explained the influence of women in the Mohawk communities. If you believe much of what you see in movies then you would think that women were seen only as possessions by most Native Americans. Mohawk women appear to have been very influential and powerful.

By Feryll — On Nov 19, 2014

Where I grew up, there was a long history of Cherokee Indians in the area and in the community. I know Indians were displaced and forced onto Indian reservations in many parts of the United States when the European descendants took over, but fortunately this was not the case in all of the communities in the country.

I think the mixing and sometimes the messing of cultures benefits everyone. Understanding the history of other people allows you to interact and relate to them better in the present.

By Drentel — On Nov 18, 2014

I have been to a casino operated by a Mohawk tribe. I didn't know much about the history of this group of people. If you're not careful it's easy to miss the subtle differences among the Native American tribes, and in some cases, the not so subtle differences.

However, many of the tribal traditions are not followed by younger generations, so this makes them more difficult to identify also. Still, I think it's a shame that the only thing the average person knows about these people is that they had really impressive hairstyles that are still worn today by young people.

Jessica Ellis
Jessica Ellis
With a B.A. in theater from UCLA and a graduate degree in screenwriting from the American Film Institute, Jessica Ellis...
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