The Mohawk Indians were a part of the Iroquois Nation and resided along the areas of what are now Lake Ontario and the St. Lawrence River. Their native homeland extended through parts of New York near the Mohawk River and into what are now the mountains of Vermont. Today, many of the remaining Mohawk Indians live in Canada.
Known as the “Keepers of the Eastern Door,” the Mohawk Indians protected their corner of the Iroquois Nation with the ferocity they were known for in battles. It was this reputation in battle that earned them the “Mohawk” name. Originally, their tribe name was “Kanienkeh,” but white men who faced them in battle borrowed a word from another Indian tribe which was loosely translated to mean “man eater” or “eater of living things.”
Like many other Indian tribes, the Mohawk hunted their food. Deer, rabbit and bear were among animals they hunted for food as well as their pelts. The female Mohawks tended gardens and raised a variety of vegetables like corn and beans. The Mohawk Indians were also among the first natives who encountered the British and other Europeans who sailed to America to create a new life. Unfortunately, their numbers greatly decreased, because of the many diseases that these new settlers brought over from the Old World. Smallpox, measles and the flu were devastating to the Mohawks who had no immunity.
The Mohawk Indians were part of what was known the League of Six Nations. They, along with other tribes soon split over bitter differences on who they would support during the American Revolutionary War in the late 18th century. The Mohawk Indians along with several other tribes ended up fighting alongside the British in the war. After the war and many deaths, most of the remaining Mohawks moved to what is now Canada.
Since the late 18th century the Mohawks have found their niche working in the steel industry as well as construction and wood. Today, there are over 9,000 people who claim direct Mohawk ancestry that live around the New York – Canadian border area.
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