The Onondaga people (Onondaga: Onöñda’gaga’, Hill Place people) are one of the original five constituent nations of the Iroquois (Haudenosaunee) Confederacy in northeast North America. Their traditional homeland is in and around present-day Onondaga County, New York, south of Lake Ontario. They are known as Gana’dagwëni:io’geh[what language is this?] to the other Iroquois tribes. Being centrally located, they are considered the "Keepers of the Fire" (Kayečisnakwe’nì·yu’ in Tuscarora) in the figurative longhouse that shelters the Five Nations. The Cayuga and Seneca have territory to their west and the Oneida and Mohawk to their east. For this reason, the League of the Iroquois historically met at the Iroquois government's capital at Onondaga, as the traditional chiefs do today.
|Regions with significant populations|
|United States (New York)||Unknown|
|Canada (Ontario)||856 (2019)|
|English, Onondaga, Other Iroquoian languages.|
|Longhouse, Handsome Lake, Gai'hwi:io, Kanoh'hon'io, Kahni'kwi'io, Other Indigenous Religion|
|Related ethnic groups|
|Seneca Nation, Oneida Nation, Tuscarora Nation, Mohawk Nation, Cayuga Nation, other Iroquoian peoples|
In the United States, the home of the Onondaga Nation is the Onondaga Reservation. Onondaga peoples also live near Brantford, Ontario on Six Nations territory. This reserve used to be Haudenosaunee hunting grounds, but much of the Confederacy relocated there as a result of the American Revolution. Although, the British promised the security of Haudenosaunee homelands, the 1783 treaty of Paris ceded the territory over to the United States.
According to oral tradition, the Great Peacemaker approached the Onondaga and other tribes to found the Haudenosaunee. The tradition tells that at the time the Seneca nation debated joining the Haudenosaunee based on the Great Peacemaker's teachings, a solar eclipse took place. The most likely eclipse to be recounted was in 1142AD, which was visible to the people in the land of the Seneca.
This oral tradition is supported by archeological studies. Carbon dating of particular sites of Onondaga habitation shows dates starting close to 1200AD ± 60 years with growth for hundreds of years.
In the American Revolutionary War, the Onondaga were at first officially neutral, although individual Onondaga warriors were involved in at least one raid on American settlements. After Americans attacked on their main village on April 20, 1779, the Onondaga later sided with the majority of the League and fought against the American colonists in alliance with the British. After the United States was accorded independence, many Onondaga followed Joseph Brant to Upper Canada, where they were given land by the Crown at Six Nations.
On November 11, 1794, the Onondaga Nation, along with the other Haudenosaunee nations, signed the Treaty of Canandaigua with the United States, in which their right to their homeland was acknowledged by the United States in article II of the treaty.
In 1816, 450 Onondaga were living in New York, 210 of whom lived on Buffalo Creek Reservation.
The Onondaga Nation was crucial in forming the Iroquois League which led them to be very well revered by their peers. The "Tree of Peace" was planted on Onondaga Land. Onondaga has been regarded as the capital of Iroquois land. The Onondaga were known as the Central Fire-Keepers of the Confederacy. The Onondaga were known as the guardians or watch keepers of the league. They were keepers of the law in order to preserve traditions and institutions. The culture hero Hyenwatha was an Onondaga Indian. He was essential in the early organization of the league. The title of Thadodaho was always held by an Onondaga chief. He was to be the chief arbitrator of the Lords of the Confederacy. The Onondaga maintained the largest number chieftainship titles as well as the largest number of clans among the Iroquois. Handsome Lake, the Seneca prophet who was the author of the scripture that's about the new religion of the Iroquois died at Onondaga.
The Onondaga practice the sprinkling of ashes when juggling the treatment of the sick. They also do a public confession of sins upon a string of wampum (shell beads). The wampum is employed in all matters of public importance. Their funerals were known to be quiet and solemn, with the women covering their faces. There were also special events such as the Planting Feast which would happen in May or when the Onondaga believed the ground was ready. This was three days for penitential and religious services. One day for the children's dance, and one each for the Four Persons, the Holder for the Heavens, the Thunder, and for gambling. The Strawberry Feast comes when the berries are ripe. This day there are dancing for the Thunder and a feast of strawberries. The Green Bean Dance comes when the green beans are fit for use. This day there are dances for the Thunder and a mixture of war and feather dances. The Green Corn dance always comes after the Green Bean dance. This day there are three days for religious services, one for the children, one for the Four Persons, one for the Holder of the heavens, and one for the Thunder with the feast. The Onondaga's Thanksgiving feast in October closely resembled the Green Corn Dance.
The Onondaga peoples place great emphasis on giving thanks, and this is reflected in their ceremonies. Ceremonial songs would be performed in the longhouse, and danced to in a counter-clockwise direction, since this is the life providing direction of Mother Earth, moon, and stars. The more spirited the singing and dancing, the more thanks is given to the Creator. The Onondaga peoples rely on the lunar calendar for their ceremonies that occur, and there are faith-keepers responsible for initiating the ceremonies based on the different moons.
Some factors that defined pre-colonial Onondaga life were:
- a continued placement of villages on defensive high points away from rivers and the presence of defensive earthen embankments
- a gradual evolution of pottery vessels and smoking pipe forms and decorations
- a gradual evolution of stone and bone tools and implements
- continuity in subsistence systems
- continuity of house forms and inferred communal living
- the continued use of human face motifs
- evidence for bear ceremonialism and cannibalism
The Onondaga in New York have a traditional form of government, with chiefs nominated by clan mothers, rather than elected. The Onondaga follow the Haudenosaunee matriarch clan system. Only an Onondaga woman can provide Onondaga children. Members of a clan are considered to be family, even if members in the clan are from different nations. When it comes to marriage, partners must be from outside the clan. Onondaga peoples believe it is their duty to help and support their clan in tough times, sickness, and death.
On March 11, 2005, the Onondaga Nation in the town of Onondaga, New York, filed a land rights action in federal court, seeking acknowledgment of title to over 3,000 square miles (7,800 km2) of ancestral lands centering in Syracuse, New York. They hoped to obtain increased influence over environmental restoration efforts at Onondaga Lake and other EPA Superfund sites in the claimed area. The Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit rejected the Onondagas' claim in 2012, and the Supreme Court in 2013 declined to hear an appeal.
The Onondaga very much enjoyed sports and physical activity. Lacrosse and foot races were always known to be favorites of the Onondaga people. They also adopted many games from European settlers such as mumble the peg, marbles, some games of ball, pull away, and fox and geese in the snow. Hide and seek and blindman's bluff were played but no games with song.
- Leon Shenandoah (1915–1996), Tadodaho
- Oren Lyons (Lives at Onondaga and holds a Faithkeeper title, but is Seneca)
- Day Starr Artist and activist, Wolf Clan (1947-2020)
- Tom Longboat (Six Nations)
- Canassatego, Hiawatha, Tadadaho of the Iroquois Confederacy
- Tadodaho Sidney Hill
- Samuel George, (Hononwirehdonh, or 'Great Wolf'), (1795–1873; chief from 1850 to 1873)
- Lyle Thompson (professional lacrosse player), (1992-)
- Gail Tremblay (poet)
- Tonya Gonnella Frichner lawyer and activist (1947-2015)
- Eric Gansworth (poet, novelist and visual artist)
- Erik J. Sorensen (chemist)
Other spellings encounteredEdit
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- "Current Clan Mothers." Haudenosaunee Confederacy. Retrieved 11 Sept 2012.
- Onondaga Reservation, New York United States Census Bureau