Annenraes, Onondaga Chief, calls an Iroquois Confederation War Council
Some months earlier.
When Annenraes was young, if a man from another tribe killed someone, presents to the bereaved would prevent further bloodshed. If no reparation were forthcoming, small wars of revenge would be held until calm heads prevailed, presents and were exchanged. Then the killing stopped. Things were different now.
He went to the river near the village and prayed that the Spirit would guide his Onondaga Nation and the others of the Confederacy. Annenraes lifted his muscular arms laced with the scars of old wounds. Looking over the water he frowned. His face was held in an almost permanent quizzical expression as if he was trying to assess something. Most times he was; he had seen more changes in his lifetime than ten generations before him. His face was flawless except for a black-scarred area just under his left eye where a Huron had burned his cheek after having captured him in a large but abortive Iroquois attack. He painted a black circle around the scar making him look more ferocious when he went into battle.
The Huron had kept him over the winter thinking that he might be advantageous in a peace conference. They were correct. One day, leaving the Huron as an emissary, he convinced a party of three hundred Onondaga en route to avenging the loss of the previous year he convinced them to turn back. At that time, trusting in the possibilities of a treaty that said the Huron would share the land, he believed the French promises.
He had been wounded again, later, in a war party to quell the troublesome Erie nation to the far west of the Longhouse door. The Cat people, as the Erie were called because of the presence of many cougars in their territory, shot him with a poisoned arrow. His companions left him for dead because everyone claimed no one ever recovered from this poison. But the Erie recognized him and administered an antidote in the hope that he would be useful to them in negotiations. He escaped from them after another year, however, and the Erie lost their chance.
Annenraes had been a captive and captor. He had watched, listened and learned. Now it was time to act.
Annenraes was of the Hawk clan, one of many Iroquois clans– the Wolf, Bear, Beaver, Turtle, Heron and others. Every person belonged to a clan from the mother’s line; they were filtered throughout the Confederacy interlacing all nations. Even the adopted Indians of other tribes were assimilated in this way, having been assigned a clan and made part of a family replacing sons and brothers of the tribe who had died in battle.
The chief had sent out runners weeks earlier, and he expected a grand council. He would greet old friends, hear stories of minor skirmishes, of victories and defeats, of the deaths of comrades, of the capture of some enemies and the adoption of others, of wounds inflicted and received, of abductions and escapes.
For several days, the Onondaga village, which was in the middle of the five nations, in the territory south of the great lakes, would take on the air of a city. Stream after stream of Iroquois would arrive: the Mohawk and Oneida from the east, the Cayuga and Seneca from the west. Each nation sat on or near a river or a lake such as Lake Champlain, the site of the first Iroquois humiliation at the hands of the French when Champlain had arrived. Each occupied a vast stretch of land about 200 miles apart from the Hudson River to Lake Erie. The Mohawk lived at the eastern ‘door’, and then the Oneida, the Onondaga, the Cayuga and finally the Seneca at the western door.
They would come to smoke the council pipe and to debate minor issues among themselves. But principally they came to discuss the central question for which Annahotaha, the Onondaga chief in his role as Confederacy leader had called the annual meeting. The confederacy, formed one hundred years before this time, was at work.
Years before, in 1648, the agenda had been to eliminate Huronia, the area on and near Georgian Bay around today’s Midland in 1649. Huronia was the center of Huron life, a collection of small and large villages holding hundreds of people. St. Louis, St. Ignace, a few others, and the largest, Ste. Marie, which held about 60 priests and donnés, literally “given ones,” laymen who volunteered their time and lives to convert the Indians to Christianity.
It was decided then to crush the Huron because the trade wars had become too troublesome. Beaver had been diminishing in Iroquois territory, and they had found it necessary to move up into Huron and Algonquin lands to get the furs to see to the British. They succeeded in this quest. Much of the Huron nation was destroyed at that time, 1649 in the calendar of the Black Robes.
The Iroquois called their government the Longhouse Confederacy because the five nations ranged across the territory like families in a typical village longhouse. Each “grasped the hands of the sister nations so firmly that even a falling tree should not sever them” in the words of Hiawatha, who joined these nations a century earlier.
In the centuries before, the nations were, much of the time, locked in a bloody and endless warfare. Deganawidah, the Determined Man, saw this as evil and destructive and wandered from nation to nation, urging serenity and cooperation. He had a vision in which the five nations were drawn together. The Iroquois must cease fighting each other and live in harmony and justice by forming a government of law, he said.
They finally acted upon this wisdom, and now the Iroquois did not fight amongst themselves unless it was personal or perhaps a family matter. Now they fought only the Huron and the French.
For this and all like meetings of the Confederacy, no matter in whose lands they occurred, the host nation’s hunters and gatherers went out to procure meat that the women prepared for magnificent feasts.
For a day or so the various nations’ members held councils on matters of importance to different groups such as women, old chiefs, young traders, and others. Each group later sent representatives to the supreme council.
There was much debate but no anger. No one interrupted. Each spoke in turn, supporting his opinion with whatever facts or reasoning he could command. Each did this by stating the point under discussion in full to prove he understood it, to reinforce the point in the minds of the listeners or to correct a detail. Each speaker summarized the points made before him adding his comments to the skein.
This year the main topic of the gathering was to be the problem of the French.