Life in the Longhouse

Haudenosaunee Primer Video #3

Digging In

Digging In: Facilitating Dialogue and Action
Key Themes and Terms
  • Longhouse
  • Clan
  • Matrilineal
  • 'Good Mind'
  • Sustainable Villages
  • Mound Agriculture
  • Ceremonies
  • Songs
  • Nixtamalization
  • Passenger Pigeon
Catalyzing Connections

  • Description: What do you see/hear/feel watching the video?
  • Personal Connection: How do the stories told connect to your personal experience?
  • Common Themes: What are the social issues/themes that emerge from our personal stories? Is there a common issue that is shared among us?
  • Social Analysis: How did this come to be? What are the historical and social processes that created this situation?
  • Planning for Action: What can be done? What can we do?

  • How does the longhouse reflect the values and way of living of the Haudenosaunee?
  • What understanding of nature and human-animal relations is reflected in the clan system?
  • Why does Rick say that the Haudenosaunee had the first sustainable villages? How did moving around contribute to their sustainability?
  • How does mound agriculture, or the ‘three sisters’, represent both sound agriculture and a model for social relations?
  • What was the basis of food security for the Haudenosaunee pre-contact? How did the early colonizers threaten that security?
  • Rick suggests that animals were ‘a virtual hardware store’ of useful items. What are some of the uses he names? Investigate other animals and name how they could be harvested and transformed for multiple purposes.
  • The passenger pigeon was one of many beings that became extinct through processes of colonization. Research the story of the passenger pigeon. What other extinctions can you identify?

Hands-On Activities

Rick describes the process of nixtamalizing corn to bring out its greatest nutritional value. Have one person or the group try this process with either limestone or wood ash.

Rick recalls the songs sung while pounding corn. Ceremonies, songs and stories accompanied all aspects of the food cycle – whether for growing, gathering, hunting or fishing. Do group research on songs that relate to food activities in your area, and practice it together.

In the hunting practices of the Haudenosaunee, nothing of the animal was wasted. If your group includes carnivores, prepare a meal (or two or three) from a whole chicken (or other animal). See how many different kinds of dishes you can make from one animal. Talk about how the modern supermarket robs us of this knowledge and experience.

Digging Deeper

Digging Deeper: Resources for Further Research and Action

(People of the Long House)


Conversations in Cultural Fluency video created to accompany a series of lectures produce by Deyohaha:ge and Six Nations Polytechnic, with Thru the Red Door:

Books and Articles
  • Education Office, National Museum of the American Indian. “Haudenosaunee Guide for Educators.” Washington, DC: Smithsonian Institution, 2009.

    Offers sections on the confederacy, the Peacemaker Story, the clan system, longhouses, wampum, games, and relationship to the natural world. Includes discussion questions, hands-on activities and resources.

  • Wall Kimmerer, Robin, Braiding Sweetgrass: Indigenous Wisdom, Scientific Knowledge, and the Teaching of Plants. Minneapolis: Milkweed Editions, 2014, see sections on Three Sisters (134) and the honorable harvest (180).

The Earth to Tables Legacies collaborator Rick Hill has created three videos of his power point presentations introduce us to the history, philosophy and food legacies of the Haudenosaunee, also known as the Iroquois Confederacy (French) or (in English) the Six Nations (Mohawk, Oneida, Onondaga, Cayuga, Seneca, and Tuscarora). Watch the third video here:

The Haudenosaunee are “people of the Longhouse”, a way of living under one roof, a metaphor for life. Rick suggests the longhouse reflects the characteristics of the culture: its clan-based system, matrilineal descent, cooperation, respectfulness, and peacefulness.

Haudenosaunee villages remained sustainable by moving every few years in an economy based on hunting, gathering and cultivating through mound agriculture (exemplified by the three sisters). Rick shows us evidence of a tremendous biodiversity of corn, of beans, of squash, a diversity that has been lost in the industrial food system and in our diets.

This video offers very practical information about the planting, harvesting, and cooking of traditional Haudenosaunee food. We also see the centrality of gathering nutritious foods such as mushrooms, berries, nuts (and their essential oils).

Ultimately these tasks were shared, so that different families would bring different skills and foods to a cooperative living within the longhouse. Rick concludes that this should not be seen as a thing of the past, but rather as a way of life in the future.