Grade Levels: K-3

This page contains information to support educators and families in teaching K-3 students about the Iroquois. The information is designed to complement the BrainPOP Jr. movie Iroquois. It explains the type of content covered in the movie, provides ideas for how teachers and parents can develop related understandings, and suggests how other BrainPOP Jr. resources can be used to scaffold and extend student learning.

Help children understand that native people had been living in North America long before Europeans arrived and established settlements and colonies. This movie will explore the culture, traditions, and history of the Iroquois people, also known as the Six Nations or the Haudenosaunee. This topic touches on a painful time in history, so we recommend having plenty of open discussions and addressing children’s fears and concerns.

Explain to children that the Iroquois are made up of six different nations that share similar customs and languages: the Seneca, Cayuga, Onondaga, Oneida, Mohawk, and Tuscarora. Together they’re known as the Six Nations but they refer to themselves as the Haudenosaunee, which means, “They are building a longhouse.” The Iroquois predominantly lived in the area that is now New York State, though today the Iroquois live all around the United States and Canada.

Help children understand what life was like for the Iroquois long ago, before the settlers began arriving in the 1600s. The Iroquois lived in longhouses, which were long, proportionally narrow buildings made of wood and covered by animal skins or bark. Large extended families lived together in a longhouse. Sometimes there could be sixty or even a hundred people in one longhouse. As families grew, they added on to the building. Help children imagine what it would be like to live with a big family under one roof.

The Iroquois people worked together to help the whole tribe. The men predominantly hunted and protected the tribe. They trapped animals and fished and used bow and arrows, spears, and blowguns to hunt bear, beavers, deer, muskrats, rabbits, and moose. Iroquois men made agreements with other tribes and established alliances. Iroquois women cared for children and owned the land. They were responsible for farming and decided how their land and its resources would be used. Women could not become the sachem, or chief, of the tribe, but they were responsible for nominating a sachem and ensuring that he fulfilled his responsibilities. They could also remove a sachem. Help children understand that Iroquois women had these rights long before female settlers could own land or vote.

Review with children that wampum are beads made out of shells. Many northeast nations used wampum as a form of currency or as part of religious ceremonies. The Iroquois made wampum belts to honor important events and people. Using the shells, they created a pattern that told a story that was read out loud by an elder. The Iroquois, like many Native American groups, had a rich oral tradition and passed on stories, customs, and traditions.

Each season the Iroquois held and continue to hold ceremonies that honor the harvest and their spirits. They honor maple trees for their sap, celebrate the first strawberries of the season, and commemorate the corn harvest. During some sacred rituals, special leaders wore “false faces,” or masks, to heal sick tribe members. The False Face Society is a group of spiritual leaders who use masks to invoke a spirit figure to redirect negative energy and heal the sick.

Help children understand how life for the Iroquois changed when settlers arrived. In the 1600s, the Iroquois began trading with European settlers. They traded their crops and furs for metal axes, rifles, and gunpowder. Relations were mostly peaceful, though somewhat distrustful. The settlers began encroaching on Iroquois lands and spread diseases such as smallpox, and many Iroquois people fell ill or died.

Trade with the settlers was important to the Iroquois. In the mid 1600s, the Iroquois nations began taking over the land of other native people to control trade. With support from the British and Dutch, the Iroquois fought the French-backed Algonquin people and expanded into the Great Lakes area.

In the mid 1700s, the French and British settlers warred over territory, known as the French-Indian War or the Seven Years’ War. The Iroquois nations supported the British and the colonists, hoping they would be favored after the war ended. The British and colonists won, but settlers began taking over Iroquois land.

During the American Revolution, some Iroquois nations supported the British while others supported the colonists. This marked a great divide between the Iroquois people. Then in the 1800s, native people, including the Iroquois, were forced off their land to reservations or special territories. Many traveled hundreds or even thousands of miles to places far from their homeland. Help children understand that this was a dark time in history, a time when the settlers did not see native people as equals and impinged on their rights.

Explain to children that the Iroquois still carry on their traditions today and pass customs down through the generations. While some traditions have changed to adapt to today’s society, others have remained largely similar. Folktales and stories are still passed on through a rich oral tradition, and elders and leaders share their knowledge with the younger generations.

Filed as:  Iroquois, K-3, Social Studies