Cultural Preservation

The Kanienkehaka, or Mohawks as we are known in English, have managed to preserve, maintain and foster a unique culture for thousands of years. This dynamic culture has survived, despite the oppressive odds brought about with the arrival of Europeans in what is now known as North America. In America and Americans, noted author John Steinbeck wrote, "The Indians survived our open intention of wiping them out, and since the tide turned they have even weathered our good intentions toward them, which can be much more deadly."

Generic terms like Indian, American Indian, Native American or Aboriginal people are used today. The Iroquois people prefer to be known by their specific nation names, thus Mohawks should be referred to as Mohawks or Kanienkehake People of the Flint.

The Kanienkehaka/Mohawks constitute one of six nations within the Iroquois Confederacy. The others are the Oneidas, Senecas, Cayugas, Onondagas and the Tuscaroras. Scholars and historians credit the Iroquois Confederacy as being the model upon which of the Constitution of the United States is based.

Archaeological findings at Garoga in Fulton County have confirmed that Mohawks have occupied lands, now known as New York State, since at least 1600 A.D.

The contributions of the Iroquoian people to European survival on this continent is significant. Research shows the Mohawks were experts in the fields of hunting, trapping, fishing and agriculture, contributing many, many different species of fruits, vegetables, spices and herbs to today's menu. Without these contributions it is safe to say the lifestyle of the Europeans in North America would not have developed as rapidly as it did.

Mohawk people of today have combined centuries-old ways of living into 20th century everyday life. The values of historical culture still remain present in daily life. A distinctive heritage, language, ceremonies and traditional beliefs are still revered and maintained. The code of everyday living, "The Great Law", has been kept alive by verbal teachings and continued practices for hundreds of years. People still honor the traditional system of Chieftainship, Clan Mothers and Faith Keepers.

The system of clans, or family lineage, is still kept intact. Among the Iroquois, descent and consequently clan membership are traced through the mother's family line only.

The Mohawk people strongly believe in perpetuating their language, songs, dances and special ceremonies in the old way within traditional Longhouses. Failure to keep sacred this tradition would be in violation of the teachings passed on by the Creator.

Mohawk people recognize that we belong to a very distinct society, and as unconquered people living in a nation within a nation will continue to exist and hold steadfast to our culture and traditions within today's modern society.

Catalog of Mohawk Collections at the National Museum of the American Indian, Smithsonian Institution (pdf - 59.12 MB). Warning, very large file, 1,461 pages.