The Iroquois Confederacy (Haudenosaunee, also known as the League of Peace and Power) is a group of First Nations/Native Americans. Based in what is now upstate New York at the time of the arrival of the Europeans, they now occupy territory in Ontario, Quebec and NY.
According to Francis Parkman, the Iroquois at the 17th century height of their power had a population of around 12,000 people. League traditions allowed for the dead to be symbolically replaced through the "Mourning War", raids intended to seize captives and take vengeance on non-members. This tradition was common to native people of the northeast and was quite different from European settlers' notions of combat.
In 1720 the Tuscarora fled north from the European colonization of North Carolina and petitioned to become the Sixth Nation. This is a non-voting position but places them under the protection of the Confederacy.
In 1794, the Confederacy entered into the Treaty of Canandaigua with the United States.
This union of nations began before European contact, replete with a Constitution recorded with special beads called wampum that served the same purpose as money in other cultures. Most Western anthropologists speculate that this Constitution was created sometime between the middle 1400s and early 1600s, but other scholars who account for Iroquois oral tradition argue that the event took place as early as 1100, with many arguing for August 31, 1142 based on a coinciding solar eclipse (see Fields and Mann, American Indian Culture and Research Journal, vol. 21, #2). Some Westerners have also suggested that this Constitution was written with European help, although most dismiss this notion as blatant racism.
The two prophets, Hiawatha and "The Great Peacemaker", brought a message of peace to related squabbling tribes. Those who joined in the League were the Seneca, Onondaga, Oneida, Cayuga and Mohawks. Once they ceased (most) infighting, they rapidly became one of the strongest forces in 17th and 18th century northeastern North America. The League engaged in a series of wars against the French and their Iroquoian-speaking Wyandot ("Huron") allies. They also put great pressure on the Algonquian peoples of the Atlantic coast and what is now subarctic Canada and not infrequently fought the English colonies as well.
The combined leadership of the Nations is known as the Haudenosaunee. It should be noted that "Haudenosaunee" is the term that the people use to refer to themselves. The word "Iroquois" comes from a French version of a Huron (Wendat) nameóconsidered an insultómeaning "Black Snakes." The Iroquois were enemies of the Huron and the Algonquin, who were allied with the French, due to their rivalry in the fur trade. Haudenosaunee means "People Building a Long House." The term is said to have been introduced by The Great Peacemaker at the time of the formation of the Confederacy. It implies that the Nations of the confederacy should live together as families in the same longhouse.
The Iroquois nations' political union and democratic government has been credited as one of the influences on the United States Constitution.