The Iroquois Confederacy

Current Sign Text

The northeast shore of Onondaga Lake has traditionally been recognized as the site of the founding of the Iroquois Confederacy in the late 16th century. Hiawatha, revered by the Iroquois as "the Peacemaker," was responsible for bringing together the Five Nations in a political and military league.

The Confederation allowed the Iroquois to develop the most sophisticated political system in North America by the time European colonization began. The military power of the Iroquois expanded as well. At its peak in the late 17th century, the Confederacy was able to assert itself over native peoples from New England to the Mississippi and from the St. Lawrence Valley to Virginia. The Iroquois remained a significant power in North America until their defeat in the American Revolution. The strength of the Confederacy forged by Hiawatha is still evident. Despite military defeat and the loss of their lands, the Iroquois nations continue to hold council in Onondaga County as they have for nearly 400 years.

Suggested New Text Composed with the help of Onondagas and our committee consultants.

The northeast shore of Onondaga Lake is the birthplace of the United States' form of government. The Peacemaker and Aionwatha, also known as Hiawatha, with the assistance of a great woman leader Jigonhsasee, brought together the warring nations of Mohawk, Oneida, Cayuga, Seneca, and Onondaga nations in peace to form the Haudenosaunee ("People of the Long House") Confederacy, as an alliance of sovereign native nations. They accepted the Tuscarora nation between 1712 and1722 and became the Six Nations. The confederacy acknowledged the independent sovereignty of each nation yet allowed for collaborative decisions among all the nations. This democratic system of government was developed centuries before the Europeans arrived.

Also referred to as the Iroquois Confederacy or as Six Nations, the Haudenosaunee were allied with native peoples from New England to the Mississippi and from the St. Lawrence Valley to Virginia. They were a significant political and economic alliance in North America, negotiating treaties with other nations, managing extensive trade routes, and impacting relationships between the Dutch, French and English colonists and other indigenous peoples. Their power was formidable. This form of representative government served as a model for the structure of the United States. The strength of the alliance formed by the Peacemaker remains strong. The Haudenosaunee continue today with one of the oldest forms of representative government in the world, still meeting in a Grand Council at the Onondaga Nation, 10 miles south of here.

Problematic issues

- Naming people (Iroquois) rather than using their own name for themselves is a form of taking ownership over, negating or making them less human in some way.

- While the exact date of the Confederacy's founding is unknown, is was long before the "late 16th century".

- Hiawatha was not the Peacemaker. He and Jigonhsasee, who is omitted, helped the Peacemaker.

- It was not a "political and military league" but a peaceful alliance.

- The Haudenosaunee are described in militaristic terms rather than economic and collaborative. They did not "assert" themselves over others but rather allied with other natives like countries do today.

- The Confederacy remained neutral in the American Revolution. A number of individuals/groups chose to participate on both sides.

- The citizens of the Confederacy were driven west in a Clinton/Sullivan's "scorched earth" campaign. Since they were not at war with the colonies, they were not defeated in the Revolution.

- Council has been held at Onondaga for centuries not "nearly 400 years".


Onondaga Lake Park, Located approx. 1 mile from the Salt Museum along the walkway close to the water.


Onondaga Lake is important to the Onondaga for its spiritual value. Whether the Confederacy was founded or the White Pine was planted on its shores is unknown.

Indigenous Place Names for Site

Circumstances of Marker Placement

Probably around 1948 on the occasion of Syracuse's Centennial Celebration (needs further verification)

Additional Information

NOON is hoping to work with Onondaga Lake Park to replace this sign. If you can help, please contact us.


Onondaga Nation citizens

Review Details

Sue Eiholzer, 2010-10