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Native American Facts For Kids was written for young people learning about the Onondagas for school or home-schooling reports. We encourage students and teachers to visit our Onondaga language and culture pages for in-depth information about the tribe, but here are our answers to the questions we are most often asked by children, with Onondaga pictures and links we believe are suitable for all ages. Photographs are the property of the sources we have credited.
|Yes, the Onondaga nation was one of the original members of the Iroquois League, or Kanonsionni in their own language ("league of clans.") The other member nations were the the Senecas, Cayugas, Oneidas, and Mohawks. Later a sixth tribe, the Tuscaroras, joined the confederacy. Today these long-term allies refer to themselves as the Haudenosaunee ("people of the longhouse") or Six Nations.|
|They do the same things any children do--play with each other, go to school and help around the house. Many Onondaga children like to go hunting and fishing with their fathers. In the past, Indian kids had more chores and less time to play, just like early colonial children. But they did have corn husk dolls, toys, and games, such as one game where kids tried to throw a dart through a moving hoop. Lacrosse was a popular sport among Onondaga boys as it was among adult men. Onondaga mothers, like many Native Americans, traditionally carried their babies in cradleboards on their backs. Here is a page of Indian cradle board pictures.|
Iroquois longhouse sketch
|The Onondaga people lived in villages of longhouses, which were large wood-frame buildings covered with sheets of elm bark. These longhouses were up to a hundred feet long, and each one housed an entire clan (as many as 60 people.) Here are some pictures of an Iroquois longhouse like the ones Onondaga Indians used, and a drawing of what long houses looked like on the inside. Today, longhouses are only used for ceremonial purposes. The Onondagas live in modern houses and apartment buildings, just like you.|
Onondaga men wore breechcloths with leggings. Here is a website with more information about the
Onondaga women wore wraparound skirts with shorter leggings.
Men did not originally wear shirts in Onondaga culture, but women often wore a long tunic called an overdress.
The Onondagas usually wore deerskin moccasins on their feet.
In colonial times, the Onondaga tribe adapted European costume like cloth shirts and blouses, decorating
them with beadwork and ribbon applique. Here is a webpage
about traditional Iroquois dress, and here are some photographs
and links about North American Indian clothes in general.
The Onondagas didn't wear long headdresses like the Sioux. Men wore traditional Iroquois headdresses, which were feathered caps with a different insignia for each tribe. (The Onondaga headdress has one eagle feather standing straight and one trailing behind.) Women sometimes wore beaded tiaras. In times of war, Onondaga men often shaved their heads except for a scalplock or a crest down the center of their head. This style is popularly known as a Mohawk haircut, but warriors in all the Iroquois tribes wore their hair this way. Sometimes they would augment this hairstyle with splayed feathers or artificial roaches made of brightly dyed porcupine hair. Here are some pictures of these different kinds of American Indian headdress. Onondaga women only cut their hair when they were in mourning. Otherwise they wore it long and loose or plaited into a long braid. Men sometimes decorated their faces and bodies with tattoo art, but Onondaga women generally didn't paint or tattoo themselves.
Today, some Onondagas still wear moccasins or a beaded shirt, but they wear modern clothes like jeans instead of breechcloths... and they only wear feathers in their hair on special occasions like a dance.
|Sometimes--the Onondaga Indians did use birchbark boats for fishing trips, but usually preferred to travel by land. Originally the Onondaga tribe used dogs as pack animals. (There were no horses in North America until colonists brought them over from Europe.) In wintertime, the Onondagas used laced snowshoes and sleds to travel through the snow.|
|The Onondaga Indians were farming people. Onondaga women planted crops of corn, beans, and squash and harvested wild berries and herbs. Onondaga men hunted deer and elk and fished in the rivers and the shores of Lake Ontario. Onondaga Indian recipes included cornbread, soups, and stews, which they cooked on stone hearths. Here is a website with more information about Indian farming.|
Iroquois war club
Onondaga hunters used bows and arrows. Onondaga fishermen used spears and fishing poles.
In war, Onondaga men used their bows and arrows or fought with clubs, spears and shields.
Here are pictures of a ball headed war club
like the ones used by the Onondagas.
Other important tools used by the Onondagas included stone adzes (hand axes for woodworking), flint knives for skinning animals, and wooden hoes for farming. The Onondagas and other Iroquois were skilled woodworkers, steaming wood so that it could be bent to make curved tools. Some Iroquois artisans still make lacrosse sticks this way today.
|The Onondaga and other Iroquois tribes were known for their tribal masks, which are considered such a sacred art form that outsiders are still not permitted to view many of these masks. Beadwork and porcupine quill work are more common Onondaga crafts. The Onondagas also crafted wampum out of white and purple shell beads. Wampum beads were traded as a kind of currency, but they were more culturally important as an art material. The designs and pictures on a wampum belt often told a story or represented a person's family.|
Iroquois water drum
|The two most important Onondaga instruments are drums and flutes. Iroquois drums were often filled with water to give them a distinctive sound different from the drums of other tribes. Most Onondaga music is very rhythmic and consists mostly of drumming and lively singing. Flutes were used to woo women in the Onondaga tribe. A young Onondaga man would play beautiful flute music outside his girlfriend's longhouse at night to show her he was thinking about her.|
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