The Iroquois, or Haudenosaunee, which means the “People of the Longhouse," inhabited the Upper Hudson and Mohawk River valleys before the arrival of European settlers. Traditional Iroquois territory extended from Schoharie Creek through the Mohawk Valley to the Genesee River in western New York. There is some debate regarding when the Iroquois Confederacy was established. Historians and archeologists agree that it was in existence by 1630 and possibly by 1536, but oral tradition of the Haudenosaunee state that the Confederacy was founded more than 1,000 years ago “on the last day that the green corn was ready.”

Going from east to west in what is today New York State, the original five nations were the Mohawk, Oneida, Onondaga, Cayuga, and Seneca. The Tuscarora Nation applied for and gained entrance to the League in the early 1700s. After the American Revolution, many moved to communities outside their original territory, but some Iroquois continue to live on their original lands. Although the Iroquois today live in seventeen communities, some great distances from each other, and while these seventeen communities have their own political structures and governing bodies, most Iroquois still consider themselves part of the Iroquois Confederacy.

Today, Iroquois artists still make traditional objects such as clay pots, pack baskets, and cradleboards. Making these things keeps the knowledge and ideas of their ancestors alive. Mohawk craftsman Preston Jacobs lives and teaches in Kahnawake, the Mohawk Reserve outside Montreal. He constructs and carves traditional cradleboards while his daughter Kaherawaks paints the designs. The cradleboard illustrated here was painted by his wife Nancy.


Magnifying Glass
Cradle Board
Preston and Nancy Jacobs, Kahnawake, Quebec, Canada
Wood, paint
Courtesy of Iroquois Indian Museum, 98:131
Magnifying Glass
Da Hoon Gu Gwa A Gwa, or Lacrosse
Thomas J. “Two Arrows” Dorsey
Gouache on composition board
Albany Institute of History & Art Purchase, 1942.93.7