Indigenous People

Camillus is situated upon lands that originally were the home of the Haudenosaunee (pronounced hoe-dee-no-SHOW-nee) Confederacy of indigenous peoples. These native Americans were called the Iroquois Confederacy by the French and the League of Five Nations by the English, however, the alliance is properly called the Haudenosaunee Confederacy, meaning People of the Long House. One of the five nations that comprised the Haudenosaunee, the Onondaga (the People of the Hills) lived on the Central New York lands that later became part of the Town of Camillus. The Onondaga were the Keepers of the Fire in the Haudenosaunee Confederacy, as they lived in what was regarded as the capital of the Confederacy. Together with the Cayuga and Seneca Nations to the west and the Oneida and Mohawk Nations to the east, the Onondaga convened Grand Council meetings, which still take place today within present-day Ononodaga County, near Camillus.

Often described as the oldest, participatory democracy in existence, the Haudenosaunee Confederacy’s constitution is believed to have served as a model for the United States Constitution. Its unique system of government blends law with foundational values. For the Haudenosaunee, law, society and nature are equal pillars of their culture, each playing a vital role in their community.

People of the Long House

People of the Long House

The sense of community valued among the Haudenosaunee nations is mirrored most perfectly in the long house. Long houses, sometimes called bark houses, were a distinctive form of communal housing.

The long cylindrical structures were built to accommodate large extended families often measuring up to 200 feet long and 18 feet wide. Built using saplings set calf-deep into the ground at three-foot intervals, the frames extended 18 feet tall and curved at the top. Cord made from wood fibers bound thick sheaths of bark stripped from elm trees to be used as shingles for the walls and roof. Doors at either end were made from bark or hide.

The Clan System

Among the Haudenosaunee are groups of people who come together as families called clan. As a matrilineal society, each clan is linked by a common female ancestor with women possessing a leadership role within the clan. The number of clans varies among the nations with the Mohawk only having three to the Oneida having nine. The clans are represented by birds and animals and are divided into the three elements: water, land and air. The bear, wolf and deer represent the land element, the turtle, eel and beaver represent the water element and the snipe, hawk and heron represent the air element.

To learn more about the Haudenosaunee Confederacy, visit the HCCC website. You can find curriculum and teaching information in the Educator's Guide to Haudenosaunee Confederacy