Monday, April 29, 2013

Tribes of the Huron-Iroquois Language

Iroquois photographed in 1918

At the outset of the sixteenth century, when the five tribes or "nations" of the Iroquois confederacy first became known to European explorers, they were found occupying the valleys and uplands of northern New York, in that picturesque and fruitful region which stretches westward from the head-waters of the Hudson to the Genesee. The Mohawks, or Caniengas—as they should properly be called—possessed the Mohawk River, and covered Lake George and Lake Champlain with their flotillas of large canoes, managed with the boldness and skill which, hereditary in their descendants, make them still the best boatmen of the North American rivers. West of the Caniengas the Oneidas held the small river and lake which bear their name, the first in that series of beautiful lakes, united by interlacing streams, which seemed to prefigure in the features of nature the political constitution of the tribes who possessed them. West of the Oneidas, the imperious Onondagas, the central and, in some respects, the ruling nation of the League, possessed the two lakes of Onondaga and Skeneateles, together with the common outlet of this inland lake system, the Oswego River, to its issue into Lake Ontario. Still proceeding westward, the lines of trail and river led to the long and winding stretch of Lake Cayuga, about which were clustered the towns of the people who gave their name to the lake; and beyond them, over the wide expanse of hills and dales surrounding Lakes Seneca and Canandaigua, were scattered the populous villages of the Senecas, more correctly styled Sonontowanas or Mountaineers. Such were the names and abodes of the allied nations, members of the far-famed Kanonsionni, or League of United Households, who were destined to become for a time the most notable and powerful community among the native tribes of North America. [Footnote: See Appendix, note A, for the origin and meaning of the names commonly given to the Iroquois nations.]
The region which has been described was not, however, the original seat of those nations. They belonged to that linguistic family which is known to ethnologists as the Huron-Iroquois stock. This stock comprised the Hurons or Wyandots, the Attiwandaronks or Neutral Nation, the Iroquois, the Eries, the Andastes or Conestogas, the Tuscaroras, and some smaller bands. The tribes of this family occupied a long, irregular area of inland territory, stretching from Canada to North Carolina. The northern nations were all clustered about the great lakes; the southern bands held the fertile valleys bordering the head-waters of the rivers which flowed from the Allegheny mountains. The languages of all these tribes showed a close affinity. There can be no doubt that their ancestors formed one body, and, indeed, dwelt at one time (as has been well said of the ancestors of the Indo-European populations), under one roof. There was a Huron-Iroquois "family-pair," from which all these tribes were descended. In what part of the world this ancestral household resided is a question which admits of no reply, except from the merest conjecture. But the evidence of language, so far as it has yet been examined, seems to show that the Huron clans were the older members of the group; and the clear and positive traditions of all the surviving tribes, Hurons, Iroquois and Tuscaroras, point to the lower St. Lawrence as the earliest known abode of their stock. [Footnote: See Cusick, History of the Six Nations, p. 16; Colden, Hist, of the Five Nations, p. 23; Morgan, League of the Iroquois, p. 5; J.V.H. Clark, Onondaga, vol. I, p. 34; Peter D. Clarke, Hist. of the Wyandots. p. I.]