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Who are the Mohawk People?

By Grayson Millar
Updated May 17, 2024
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The Mohawk people are a Native American tribe historically located in what is now known as the Mohawk Valley in present-day upstate New York in the United States, though their territory expanded to include parts of present-day southeastern Canada. One of the initial five tribes that composed the Iroquois League of Nations, the Mohawks fought against the United States in both the American Revolutionary War and the War of 1812. A substantial Mohawk population remains throughout New York and in Quebec and Ontario, Canada. Mohawks own and operate casinos in upstate New York and were known in the 20th century for their work in the construction of many of New York City's skyscrapers, including the Empire State Building.

As a nation of the Iroquois League, the Mohawk people traditionally speak the Mohawk language of the Iroquoian language family. In the Mohawk language, the Mohawk people refer to themselves as Kanienkehaka which translate as "People of the Flint." Their name derives from their traditional region in the present-day Mohawk Valley, where they mined flint deposits to produce arrowheads and other tools.

In the early 17th century, the Mohawk people encountered Dutch colonists in what was then known as New Netherland. Mohawks entered into the business of fur trade with the Dutch and formed an alliance. They maintained an exclusive trade with the Dutch through battles with other nearby tribes, including the Algonquin, and originally were on peaceful terms with French colonists. This peace with the French lasted until 1666, when the French attacked the Mohawks before making a new peace agreement that was contingent upon the Mohawks welcoming Jesuit missionaries and converting to Catholicism.

When England drove the Dutch out of New Netherland in approximately 1674, the Mohawks became English allies, with many undergoing conversion to Protestantism, and they maintained hostile relations with neighboring Native American tribes. Mohawk allegiance to British colonists continued throughout the French and Indian War and the American Revolution. After the American victory in 1776, a large percentage of the Mohawk people was driven west from present-day New York and into what is now Canada. In alliance with the rest of the Iroquois League, the Mohawk people finally signed a treaty with the United States in 1794, though they again sided with the British in the War of 1812.

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Discussion Comments
By matthewc23 — On Oct 04, 2011

There are actually a lot of Mohawk people who live in present day New York City. There actually used to be a Brooklyn neighborhood that was almost exclusively Mohawks.

Since they were one of the Iroquois tribes, I would assume the Mohawk people lived in longhouses. I have always been interested in longhouses and how they were built. It is amazing they could construct something that durable out of wood and handmade rope.

What are some of the other customs of the Mohawk people? Do they have any interesting marriage customs? Also, have there been any famous people that were Mohawks or were descended from the Mohawk people?

By TreeMan — On Oct 03, 2011

@kentuckycat - I just finished reading a good book about the history of the Mohawk people. Originally, the five Iroquois tribes were one tribe, but then they split. They all kept the same language and a lot of the same customs, though.

One of the most interesting things I learned was the Mohawk tribes have two different chiefs. One is selected by the elders and one is elected by the tribe as a whole. The two different chiefs usually have different beliefs about the direction the tribe should take on different matters. The biggest one of these is whether or not the tribes should engage in running casinos.

By kentuckycat — On Oct 03, 2011

What other tribes lived in the same area as the Mohawks that they would have had conflicts with? The article mentions the Algonquin. Are there others?

Also, what exactly was the Iroquis League of Nations? Were there only five tribes or did it grow eventually? Did they all work together to support each other and avoid conflicts, or what was the purpose?

After the war of 1812, was any of the Mohawk tribe relocated to Oklahoma, or did most of them leave to go to Canada?

By cardsfan27 — On Oct 02, 2011

I didn't know the Mohawk tribe had such an important role in the early history of America. I have always thought it was interesting to read about how all of the different Native American tribes survived in their respective locations.

Being in New York, the Mohawks would have had to deal with very cold winters. They probably would have had an easier time finding food than some of the tribes of the southwest, though.

How many people still belong to the tribe today?

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