How did the Iroquois nation gain strength from its contacts with white colonies?

Many contacts with the white colonies had a great impact on the Iroquois tribes in the 16 and 1700’s. The historical value of their land and the necessities of survival have greatly helped the Americans for their growing colonies. Although the Americans brought disease and destruction they also grew to respect the Iroquois tribes and in many cases created trade among them. The Americans have written treaties creating equality for their land and other resources. The Iroquois tribes played a major role in the beginning of the Americans when they came to a new land. The Iroquois tribes will forever be a part of our history.

As the Americans came to the new lands they did not have much knowledge of the land or what resources there were around them. The Iroquois Indians gave them the "lay of the land" by also showing them how to grow crops and build shelters. Early Euro-Americans voluntarily adopted methods, lifestyles, artifacts, and ideas from the indigenous people, often in order to survive. Indians in America provided half the modern world's domesticated food crops, numerous herbal medicines, clothing, transportation pathways and modes, crafts and artifacts, hygiene methods, and thousands of words including place names and ideas of governance that blended ideals of rugged individuality with concern for the common welfare (Jerri-Jo Idarius).

The Iroquois are not actually a single tribe of Indians, but rather an association of several tribes. This association consisted of the Mohawks, the Oneidas, the Onodagas, the Cayugas, and the Senecas. (Ohio History Central, 2005) Before the Europeans settled in the Americas the Iroquois were prospering and living off of the earth. The Iroquois diet consisted mostly of corn, beans, and squash. Men also left to go hunting and fishing, but their main occupation was warfare. (Sultzman) Contact with the Europeans allowed the already established Iroquois to expand their power as well as compete on the same level as them.

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Pre European contact Native Americans had very primitive forms of warfare because they would not gain too much land or resources from defeated tribes. They would fight to gain influence over tribes to spread their beliefs. When the Europeans came and brought with diseases and their need for pelts the way Iroquois perceived wars changed. (Campbell) Iroquois fought other tribes over land with the intent to become the main supplier of animal furs to the Europeans. The Native Americans were looking for a way to get European guns, and the easiest way was to trade food and furs for them. Guns dramatically changed how the Native Americans would conduct warfare for the remainder of their existence. Mohawk Indians used to fight in a close formation when fighting, but after the battle at Lake Champlain where several war chiefs were killed by French guns because of that formation they changed how they fought. They attacked and defended in a more spread out formation which helped to reduce their casualties. (Campbell) Not only were guns used offensively, they could also be used as defense. The Europeans would sometimes raid Native American villages and before obtaining guns the Indians were close to defenseless. With the addition to guns in their inventory the Indians were able to compete at the same level as the Europeans, which allowed them to keep their land to an extent. When the Iroquois were not able to obtain enough pelts for their needs, they would trade corn and tobacco to tribes in the north for pelts. This allowed them to not invade on other tribe's land while still gaining their stock of fur. (Stites, 1905)

After the English began trading weapons with the Indians wars started to break loose that needed the Iroquois to step up and fight for their land and families. By the 1680s war had resumed between the French and Iroquois. In 1687 the French launched another invasion of Iroquois territory, this time with a massive army of some 3000 soldiers and militia (Iroquois). The French burned Iroquois villages and crops, many Iroquois died of starvation in the subsequent winter. The Confederacy responded with a number of reprisal raids, killing colonists and burning French supplies as far east as Montreal. King William’s War began to take place between the English and French in 1688. The Iroquois allied with the English colonies, the Canadian Indians with the French, and both combatants engaged in brutal raid and counter-raid, resulting in indiscriminate slaughter of those unable to run away very quickly. As English power on the continent grew, English settlers began to encroach on Iroquois territory. In the French and Indian War (1754-1763), the Iroquois sided with the British against the French. The British were victorious, pushing the French right out of North America. This greatly increased British power over the native populations, including the Iroquois, who were totally dependent upon the British for weapons(Iroquois).

The American Revolution began in the 1770s. At first the Grand Council remained neutral, but by 1777 they decided to join the war on the side of the British. The Iroquois and Colonial forces engaged in bloody hit and run raids, burning villages and crops, killing the weak and unlucky on either side. The American Revolution ended in 1783. The treaty between the United States and Great Britain ceded all Iroquois territory to the United States, ignoring the unfortunate fact that a sovereign nation happened to already be living on that land. (Iroquois- Wiki)

The Iroquois Confederacy ended with the end of the American Revolution. A group of Iroquois moved north into Canada, onto land given [to] them by Britain in gratitude for their help in the American Revolution. Others chose to stay in upstate New York, trying to maintain their tribal existence in the face of American colonial and cultural imperialism. Many still survive today despite some two centuries of terrible hardship (Iroquois-Wiki).
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After further researching the history of the Iroquois Indians, I found the title of this paper to be something of an oxymoron. It seems that all contact with white colonists, whether French, Dutch, or British, resulted in some sort of loss for the natives. Where the Iroquois and Huron tribes had originally traded mutually, the fur trades put an end to this and caused wars. The Huron nation traded fur with the French and the Iroquois traded fur with the Dutch. Fierce competition for furs resulted in the Beaver Wars which lasted approximately seventy years. Had the colonists not arrived, the natives would not have warred over pelts they needed to trade for guns.
Another omen of the white man was the rampage of smallpox. This disease wiped out half the population of the Hurons and devastated the population of the Iroquois. It swept through in the 1630’s and 40’s and then repeated itself in successive centuries. With such astounding losses the Iroquois Confederacy went on tirades to conquer neighboring tribes and adopt survivors into their own nation for the sole purpose of repopulating their confederacy. Even though they were ‘adopted in’ by the Iroquois, many of these were still thought of as second class people. There is also some speculation that certain British officials may have given the natives blankets and handkerchiefs infested with smallpox virus.
Then there was the issue of deceit and theft. In the 1600’s they traded fur for guns and could stand against the French. In the 1700’s they had to decide who to align with as they worried about keeping their sovereignty and their homeland because they could no longer defend against the onslaught of colonist’s greed for land. Eventually their land was taken and their confederacy dispersed; tribes moved to Canada, Wisconsin, Oklahoma and other places.
So yes, the acquisition of guns and weapons made them a stronger tribe. Which they then capitalized on and conquered the Hurons and other neighboring tribes. But in the end it was to no avail, as the great Iroquois nation and all other natives eventually lost everything that was sacred to them.

[1] “Iroquois History” by Lee Sultzman. Web. 4-16-2011.

[2]Population History of Indigenous People of Americas


[1] Ohio History Central. "Iroquois Indians - Ohio History Central - A Product of the Ohio Historical Society." Ohio History Central - An Online Encyclopedia of Ohio History - Ohio Historical Society. Web. 05 Mar. 2011. <>.
[2] Sultzman, Lee. "Iroquois." //Iroquois History//. Web. 05 Mar. 2011. <>.
[4] Stites, Sara Henry. Economics of the Iroquois. Lancaster, PA: New Era Printing, 1905. Print.
[5] Idarius, Jerri-Jo. "Our American Heritage, The Iroquois Confederacy." Sojourn Magazine Winter 1998 (707) 964-1674. Web. 06 Mar. 2011. <[[|]]>
[6] "Wiki." Iroquois. Web. 06 Mar. 2011. <>