An Ancient Bond with the Land

People of the Longhouse

Keeping the Fire Burning

The traditional life of the Iroquoian peoples has changed dramatically in the last 400 years as a result of warfare, disease and the encroachment of non-Native settlers. These events, as well as urbanization, have greatly affected the economic basis of today's Iroquoian societies. However, people have steadfastly maintained key traditional values, including a strong attachment to the land, and a social structure based on clans and female lineage.

The "Three Sisters" - corn, beans, and squash - continue to nurture the spirit and the body, and still have a central place in the world-view of Iroquoian peoples. Women continue to play a major role in Iroquoian societies.

Longhouses continue to be a part of Iroquoian life. Although no longer residential units, they still provide a focus for ceremonies, celebrations and political debate. Contemporary longhouses are modern buildings made of steel, brick and lumber, rather than the traditional poles and bark.

Clan Mothers of Oka  ( 5 minutes 56 seconds )

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Senior women called Clan Mothers continue to appoint men to positions of responsibility in traditional councils. Women were front and centre during the 1990 "Oka Crisis," a confrontation between Iroquois people from Kanehsatake and the Quebec and Canadian governments over the issue of land. A key Iroquois precondition to any negotiations was the free movement of Clan Mothers between communities and the besieged Iroquois at Oka.

Credits for Clan Mothers of Oka
© Canadian Museum of Civilization, First Peoples Hall, Zone 3, Contemporary Epilogues

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"Our instincts kicked in and we said the women have to go to the front because it's our obligation to do that, to protect the land, to protect our mother. And I remember looking at the faces of the SWAT team and they were all scared, they were like young babies who had never met something so strong, who had never met a spirit, because we were fighting something without a spirit; there was no thought to it, they were like robots."

Ellen Gabriel

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