What is the Mohawk Tribe?

Sara Schmidt

One of the five founding tribes of the Iroquois League, the Mohawk tribe was originally known as Kanien'kehake. This translates to "people of the flint." Native Americans of New York State, most Mohawk people moved to Canada in the 1700s.

Like many Native American groups, the Mohawk used canoes for trading, fishing, and warfare.
Like many Native American groups, the Mohawk used canoes for trading, fishing, and warfare.

Most members of the Mohawk tribe live in Ontario and Quebec. The areas in which they live are known as the four first Nations. One reservation is partially located in the United States. The tribes are governed by their own council rather than by Canada or the United States. Other Mohawk tribe members continue to live in New York.

Modern Mohawk Native Americans speak English. Their native Mohawk language is a complex system. It is made up of many different sounds that are not used in the English language, and is therefore considered difficult to learn. While the Mohawk tribe was governed by the Iroquois Great Council, individual clans were run by tribal council members appointed by tribal matriarchs.

Mohawk tribes had a voice in the Great Council, with nine chiefs serving as representatives. Though chiefs were solely men, only women could elect them. In addition to ruling Mohawk clans, Mohawk women were in charge of property, family, and farming. Mohawk chiefs, however, were men, and they made military and trade decisions. Men were also responsible for hunting.

In terms of other responsibilities, members of Mohawk Native American tribes typically shared their roles. Men and women could both heal with medicine, tell stories, and perform music. Babies were usually carried by their mothers on cradleboards, which were perched on the mothers' backs. Children had their own tasks or chores to perform, though they also enjoyed playing with corn husk dolls, darts, and other games.

Longhouses were the most common type of home that the tribe lived in. These consisted of large, wooden buildings with sheets of elm bark used as walls. A whole Mohawk clan often lived in a single longhouse, which could stretch up to 100 feet (31 meters) long.

The name Mohawk was given to the tribe by the Algonquin people. Mohawk translates to man-eaters. Whether the name was literal, a symbolic demonstration of the tribe's ferocity, or an insult remains unknown. While some Mohawk people believe that their tribe never consumed people, others cite legends where their ancestors ate the enemies they killed in battle.

Many people may be familiar with the Mohawk tribe due to several pop culture references. The tribe is mentioned in the 1826 novel, The Last of the Mohicans, by author James Fenimore Cooper. A hairstyle known as the Mohawk is named after the tribe. It features a tall strip of hair across the center of the head with shaved sides, and is popular with many young people. Some famous Mohawk people include singer Jace Martin, writer Pauline Johnson, Saint Kateri Tekakwitha, wrestler Billy Two Rivers, and singer Robbie Robertson.

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Discussion Comments


The tribes of the Appalachian mountains have left their mark on various mountain names and sites. You can find evidence of their wars and folklore in many places. When we think about the previous history of these areas, we realize that this is not a "New World" which we live in, but one with a long and forgotten history of warfare.


The Mohawk language is hard to learn not just because of a complex pronunciation system, but also because of a complex agglutinative grammatical system which recurs throughout most Native American languages. The most difficult are probably the Northern languages related to Inuit. These can contain an entire sentence in one word, with various consonants representing grammatical and noun-related components.

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