Onondaga Nation

Variant name:

Onandauges; Onondagaes; Onondages; Onondagos

Description:

The Onondaga Nation, one of the original Five Nations of the Haudenosaunee (Iroquois) Confederacy, has its traditional lands on Onondaga Lake in central New York State, just south of Lake Ontario. Their name means "people of the hills." Around 1450, Onondaga was the site of the founding of the Confederacy, when Hiawatha and Deganawidah, the Peacemaker, persuaded the warlike Onondaga chief Tadodaho to accept the Great Law of Peace. Because of its central location, with the Cayugas and Senecas to the west and the Oneidas and Mohawks to the east, Onondaga is where the Haudenosaunee's government historically met and still meets today. Thus, the Tribe is known as the "Keepers of the Fire." By 1677, the Haudenosaunees allied with the English through an agreement known as the Covenant Chain, and together fought the French and their Huron allies, historical enemies of the Confederacy. During the Revolution, the Onondaga Nation was initially officially neutral, but after the Continental Army attacked their main village on April 20, 1779, they sided with the majority of Haudenosaunees and allied with Britain. After the British defeat, many Onondagas followed the Mohawk leader Joseph Brant to Six Nations, Ontario. In 1794, the Onondagas and other members of the Confederacy signed the Treaty of Canandaigua with the US, insuring their right to their homelands. During the 1760s, Wheelock sent several missionaries to the Onondaga Nation as the governing council of the Haudenosaunees, but failed to get tribal approval to station a missionary with them or recruit students. Samuel Ashpo, a Mohegan Indian educated at Wheelock's school, visited Onondaga in 1764, with moderate success. Then, in 1768, Wheelock sent his son Ralph with offers to preach and to recruit students, but the Onondaga chiefs found Ralph's imperious manner insulting, and declined to give a definite answer. At that meeting, an infuriated Onondaga chief shook Ralph by the shoulder, complained of the mistreatment of their children, and said: "Learn yourself to understand the word of God, before you undertake to teach & govern others" (McCallum 287). In 1774, Joseph Johnson, who was probably Ralph’s interpreter at the explosive 1768 conference, confirmed the chiefs' disaffection but hoped to begin preaching to the Onondagas the following year, which would give him access to the other Tribes. The Onondagas, however, remained opposed to Protestant missionaries until the 1830s.

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Sources:

http://www.newworldencyclopedia.org/entry/Onondaga_%28tribe%29; McCallum, James, ed. The Letters of Eleazar Wheelock's Indians. Hanover: Dartmouth College Publishing, 1932; Calloway, Colin. The Indian History of an American Institution: Native Americans and Dartmouth. Hanover: Dartmouth College Press, 2010; Fisher, Linford. The Indian Great Awakening: Religion and the Shaping of Native Cultures in Early America. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2012.