Why Are the Iroquois Important to American History?

The Iroquois Confederacy, also known as the Haudenosaunee, is an important part of American history. They were a group of Native American tribes that formed a powerful alliance in the 16th century. The Iroquois Confederacy played a significant role in shaping the political and social landscape of North America.

Origins of the Iroquois Confederacy

According to legend, the Iroquois Confederacy was founded by two men named Hiawatha and Deganawidah. Hiawatha was a Mohawk man who had lost his family in war and was seeking revenge.

Deganawidah was a Huron man who had experienced violence and wanted to bring peace to his people. Together they developed the Great Law of Peace, which formed the foundation for the Iroquois Confederacy.

The Great Law of Peace

The Great Law of Peace is a constitution that outlines the structure and function of the Iroquois Confederacy. It is based on principles such as equality, justice, and democracy.

The confederacy was made up of six tribes: Mohawk, Oneida, Onondaga, Cayuga, Seneca, and Tuscarora (who joined later). Each tribe had its own government and council but came together under a central government to make decisions that affected all members.

The Influence on American Government

The Iroquois Confederacy had a significant influence on American government. Benjamin Franklin attended meetings with members of the Iroquois Confederacy in 1751 and 1754. He was impressed by their system of government and suggested that it could serve as a model for the colonies to follow.

The concept of federalism – where power is shared between central government and individual states – is similar to how power was divided among tribes in the Iroquois Confederacy. The idea of checks and balances, where one branch of government has the power to limit another, was also present in their system.

The Impact on American Society

The Iroquois Confederacy also had a significant impact on American society. Their emphasis on equality and justice influenced movements such as women’s rights and civil rights. The Seneca Nation was one of the first Native American tribes to allow women to vote in tribal elections.

Their agricultural practices, such as the Three Sisters (corn, beans, and squash) method, were adopted by early colonists and are still used today.


The Iroquois Confederacy played a vital role in shaping American history. Their development of the Great Law of Peace influenced American government and their emphasis on equality and justice continues to impact American society today. The Iroquois Confederacy serves as a reminder that indigenous peoples’ contributions should not be overlooked or forgotten.