Eastern Woodlands Study Guide

The materials on this page are intended for use by students enrolled in ANTH 329 North American Indians. This page and its references are periodically up-dated.

Reading Assignments

Gill 1982: 20-22, 69-71 and 116-121

Oswalt and Neely 1999:404-444


The primary focus of this section will be on the Iroquois of New York and the Eastern Woodlands culture area. Additional references will also be made to the Menomini people. The term "Iroquois" is derived from an Algonquian word, "real adder," and is in reference to a confederation of tribes, including the Cayuga, Mohawk, Oneida, Onondaga and Seneca. The Tuscarora and Delaware also joined the League at various times. The ethnography of the Iroquois is based primarily on the Mohawk and Seneca peoples.

The Eastern Woodlands culture area encompasses the area of the New England states in the north down to Virginia in the south and east into the Ohio valley and the lower Great Lakes.

The Iroquois lived in sedentary villages close to their cultivated crops, building dome-shaped wigwams or longhouses. They are known for their sophisticated political confederation, "the League of the Iroquois." Wearing vision-inspired masks, healing was often conducted by members of the False Face Society.

Self-Study Guide Questions

  1. Discuss the roles of women and men in Iroquois society. Why is it more appropriate to label this society "matrifocal" rather than "matriarchical?"
  2. What role did "dreams" play in traditional Iroquois culture?
  3. Discuss the role and significance of the "League of the Iroquois." What was its origin, structuring and functioning? What was the role of the "sachems?"
  4. Compare traditional Iroquois "warfare" and treatment of captives with that of the Crow and European.
  5. Discuss the role and significance of "False Faces" in Iroquois and Seneca culture.
  6. What are the major traditional cultural characteristics distinguishing Hopi, Navajo and Iroquois societies? How is each people unique from the other two? Among the broad cultural expressions, consider where appropriate: oral traditions, religious concepts and ceremonialism, kinship and social organization, intertribal relations, and subsistence patterns.
  7. Compare and contrast the "life-cycle" experiences of the Iroquois, with those of the Hopi and Navajo.
  8. Who are the "skywalkers" and how did they come about?

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