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Traditional Mohawk Nation Daily and Ceremonial Clothing

Updated on March 10, 2016
Patty Inglish, MS profile image

A descendant of Mohawk Nation and trained in anthropology, Patty has researched and reported on Indigenous Peoples for over four decades.

Traditional female dress, infant on a cradle board, male warrior attire in the War of 1812-1814, and member of the False Face Society in ceremonial dress.
Traditional female dress, infant on a cradle board, male warrior attire in the War of 1812-1814, and member of the False Face Society in ceremonial dress. | Source

Ethnic Clothing In the Family

Perhaps you have Native American heritage and enjoy discussing the cultures and clothing of the Indigenous People from whom you descend. If you have a chance, visit the Museum of the American Indian at the Smithsonian in Washington, DC. It has free admission and offers exhibits of clothing from many nations, bands, and smaller groups. You may also have relevant museums near your hometown in the meantime.

The photo above features daily attire similar to that of any of the Iroquois Confederacy nations from 1800 to after the War of 1812 - 1814. These nations include the Mohawk, an ancestor of which I have been able to trace back to the Siege of Fort Pitt in Pennsylvania in the 1700s during the Fench and Indian War.

His last name was Taylor - his mother was Mohawk and his father at least part English. He translated for the British, the French, and other Native Americans at the battlefield for at least two months one summer, so he was helping American enemies at the time.

This ancestor of mine probably wore a combination of French, British, and native clothing and many of the native people did this as they became friendly with Europeans.

Some Mohawk Perimeter Points, circa 1600s - 1800s

show route and directions
A markerSix Nations Reserve, Ontario -
Six Nations Tourism, 2498 Chiefswood Rd, Ohsweken, ON N0A 1A0, Canada
get directions

B markerSt. Regis Mohawk Nation, Hoganbsburg NY -
Saint Regis Mohawk Tribe, 412 Highway 37, Hogansburg, NY 13655, USA
get directions

C markerMohawk Nation Council Of Chiefs, Akwesasne Mohawk Territory, Rooseveltown, NY -
Rooseveltown, NY 13662, USA
get directions

HQ of the Traditional Mohawk is located just 2 mi. west of the St. Regis Mohawk on Rt 37 in NY. The traditional group is not federally recognized.

D markerAllegheny and Monongahela Rivers -
Three Rivers Heritage Trail System - Monongahela Wharf, Pittsburgh, PA 15222, USA
get directions

Seige Of Fort Pitt, French and Indian War. Battle Dates June 22, 1763 – August 20, 1763.

E markerGibson, Ontario -
Gibson, ON L0L, Canada
get directions

Most of this band moved to Oklahoma.

F markerBay of Quinte -
Bay of Quinte, Quinte West, ON, Canada
get directions

G markerAlbany, New York -
Albany, NY, USA
get directions

The Mohawk allied with the Dutch here at Fort Orange and likely received their first firearms in the 1700s.

Famous People from Six Nations Reserve, Ontario

Jay Silverheels - The original Tonto in TV's The Lone Ranger.

War Chief Flying Don Eagle - A popular professional wrestler known for the flying drop kick and for mentoring other members of the reserve in their wrestling careers. He lived in Columbus, Ohio for several years and was part of Al Half Wrestling, broadcasted on TV every Saturday from Veteran's Memorial Hall located on the Scioto Mile in Downtown Columbus.

Graham Green - Actor known for Dances With Wolves, The Red Green Show, and many independent films.

Mohawk, Cherokee, Furs and Deerksins

The Mohawk and the rest of the Iroquois were far spread at one time, from approximately Montreal, Quebec across to eastern Ontario Province, and down into much of what became New York State. Some Mohawk bands were found to have traveled southward into Pennsylvania and from there, westward into Southern Ohio. The Cherokee Nation eventually came out of the general area of New York and migrated southward into the area of North Carolina.

During these movements, Europeans in several waves from France, the UK, Germany, and other of the Old World countries migrated from the American East Coast along Native American trails, eventually forging wagon trails into Southern Ohio.

Adding together migrating Mohawk, a few Cherokee-related people, and European immigrants from Virginia and Pennsylvania, my parents' families were well established in Eastern and Southern Ohio by the American Civil War began. Part of Elvis Presley's family on his mother's side was in Southern Ohio, as was part of President Barack Obama's family on his mother's side, and part of my mother's family. This led to many people, including myself, being related to both of the celebrities as distant cousins.

Four Mohawk Kings In Canada

Four Mohawk Kings
Four Mohawk Kings | Source

The Four Kings

In the potraits above, you can see that each man is wrapped by a blanket, traditional to many native tribes. Each carries a weapon as well. The weapon to the extrme left is the Mohawk club, often used by other Iroquois as well.

It has a large ball at one end of a slightly curved shaft, making a swing of the club powerful enough to spit a man;s skull in one try. It reminds me of the Old Testament jawbone of an ass, but is usually of wood or sometimes, animal bone - a thighbone and hip ball joint of a large animal would do the trick.

Winters are traditionally cold in Quebec, Ontario, and the Northern USA, so the Mohawk wore furs and deerskins during that season. Fires in their wooden longhouses helped to warm them and they did not live in tents.

Furs and skins were taken from animals killed for food, while other parts of the wildlife taken were turned into tools.

In Ohio ("Big River"), the skins and furs were used from bison, deer, badgers, bears, beavers, porcupines, rabbits, racoons, wolves, and wild birds and fish. An Algonquian storyteller in Western Ohio tells me that the average salmon in Ohio was a long as a man's arm when the white man first arrived in Ohio. Now, it's difficult to find an Ohio salmon. We also have no Native American reservations. We do, however, have small bison herds that have been reintroduced into the state since the early 1900s.

Nót-to-way, a Chief, 1835–36; Iroquois/Haudensaunee (People of the Longhouse)
Nót-to-way, a Chief, 1835–36; Iroquois/Haudensaunee (People of the Longhouse) | Source

Daily Wear of the Mohawk in the 1800s

In the winter, men wore hand sewn deerskin trousers and shirts, a deerskin loincloth over the trousers, and a blanket woven of bison hair or other animal fibers, or furs, such as a bearskin. Shirts and trousers or leggings sometimes featured ribbons or fringes. Occasionally, they might have an outer coat made of deerskin, but I have seen very few of these displayed anywhere.

As the Mohawk became friendly with the British and the French (great trappers, they), they traded skins and furs for clothing made of cloth. A native man might wear deerskin trousers and shirt under a cloth coat and add a European hat and boots. Both native men and women adopted a greater number of European clothing articles as they intermarried and became active in the settlers' businesses.

In the native village of the longhouse, men and boys likely discarded shirts in the summertime. Painted and photographic portaits I have viewed of Native Amerians working with the French and British around the Great Lakes during wartime show the natives fully clothed.

Traditional head covering for Mohawk men were simple, usually consisting of a section of anial fur to which were attached a few long features and some dyed quills. This headpiece was attached into a patch of hair left on the crown of the head after all the rest was plucked out with pincers made of porcupine quills. The men also plucked all their facial hair.

Some men left a short strip of hair down the entire center of the head, this hair strip called a roach. At pow wows today, we often see roaches made of longish fur and a lot of decorative additions. They look good during dance competitions.

Traditional footwear was always a moccasin, made of deerskin or bison hide, and sometimes ornately beaded. It is almost amusing today that American moccasin manufacturers argue about who has the right to sell their branded shoes in Target stores, totally ignoring the native inventors of the fashion.

My mocassins are still in their shoebox. While American made, they are of split cowhide, and would deteriorate quickly if worn outside. They make good indoor slippers, but I don't want to wear them out and I don't want another pair that would likely be of man-made materials.

Wampum Belts Made of Carved Shells

Wampum belt with flag of the Iroquois Confederacy, circa 1886. Usually worn by men and used as currency.
Wampum belt with flag of the Iroquois Confederacy, circa 1886. Usually worn by men and used as currency. | Source
Click thumbnail to view full-size
St. Regis Indian Show Company, 1894.Wampum belts, 1871. Joseph Snow (Hahriron), Onondaga; George Johnson (Deyonhehgon), Mohawk; John Buck (Skanawatih), Onondaga, John Smoke Johnson (Sakayenkwaraton), Mohawk; Isaac Hill (Kawenenseronton), Onondaga; John Johnson (Kanonkeredawih), Seneca.
St. Regis Indian Show Company, 1894.
St. Regis Indian Show Company, 1894. | Source
Wampum belts, 1871. Joseph Snow (Hahriron), Onondaga; George Johnson (Deyonhehgon), Mohawk; John Buck (Skanawatih), Onondaga, John Smoke Johnson (Sakayenkwaraton), Mohawk; Isaac Hill (Kawenenseronton), Onondaga; John Johnson (Kanonkeredawih), Seneca.
Wampum belts, 1871. Joseph Snow (Hahriron), Onondaga; George Johnson (Deyonhehgon), Mohawk; John Buck (Skanawatih), Onondaga, John Smoke Johnson (Sakayenkwaraton), Mohawk; Isaac Hill (Kawenenseronton), Onondaga; John Johnson (Kanonkeredawih), Seneca. | Source

Individuals In the Above Photo

Black Eagle, Jake Paul, Mary Ann Black Eagle (wearing tiara), Chief Running Deer, Philip Big Tree, Lily Deer.

The group had agreed to sell all of their fancy Mohawk baskets through W.S. Tanner. he also sold picture postcards of them, the one above being 35¢ in 1894.

Mohawk Hoop Dance with 18 Hoops

Mohawk Cradleboard Artist Paints His Works

  • Video Credit: Mountain Lake PBS - YouTube

    "Spotlight" - Native American Artistry. Produced by Paul Larson. Mohawk cradleboard maker Babe Hemlock talks about upholding native traditions and going beyond them. Cradleboards are protective baby carriers, once popular with Native Americans.

Cherokee cradleboard. evidence suggests the Cherokee are related to the Mohawk Nation.
Cherokee cradleboard. evidence suggests the Cherokee are related to the Mohawk Nation.

Women's Wear Daily

Women often wore deerskin leggings with a circular deerskin skirt over them, with beaded mocassins. They did the sewing with animal fibers and needles made of porcupine quills.

Mohawk women and girls also used naturally dyed quills for the decorative craft now called quilling, which is taught in craft workshops today. Often, today's quilling is done with paper strips, rather than quills. Porcupine quills were also used in jewelry, such as wampum belts (used for currency), breastplates, and wide necklaces, with beads, feathers, and animal bones/teeth/claws added.

Animal fibers were woven into blankets, bison hair being extremely warm and long lasting. Animal gut was worked into thread for sewing and beading.

Women of the Mohawk Nation also made traditional tiaras of beaded cloth that were moderately tall in front.

Women wore deerskin shirts in the winter, often beaded or quilled. Some sources state that women and girls wore no shirt at all in the warmer months, but I cannot confim that with native sources. I have read about a circular poncho that females were to have worn, but I cannot find any of those among the native groups I have visited.

Mohawk Cradleboards

The Mohawk cradleboard is different from other cradleboards. It is made of wood that is either carved in patterns or painted with meaningful pictures. Cloth and furs are added to protect a baby. You can see several in the Youtube video above.

The Cherokee cradleboard below is similar, although more focused on skin, furs, and feathers. It is made by a current Native American artist.

Rabbit Dance For Weddings


© 2013 Patty Inglish


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    • MsDora profile image

      Dora Isaac Weithers 4 years ago from The Caribbean

      Very interesting, Patty. The daily wear is getting closer to what is now trendy. I cannot see the Hoop and Rabbit Dances, but the information describes the Mohawk as people of purpose. They know what they're about. Thanks for this presentation.

    • Patty Inglish, MS profile image

      Patty Inglish 4 years ago from North America

      MsDora - Thanks for reading; sorry the videos don't play for you and I hope it's a temporary glitch.

      By the time the hoop dancer has picked up all 18 hoops, he is dancing inside a sphere made of hoops. Pretty interesting.

      The rabbit dance looks like a two-step with a kind of a low hop, kind of romantic and looks like a good dance for a wedding celebration. I like their ideal for marrying for life, taking the relationship seriously.

    • marieryan profile image

      Marie Ryan 4 years ago from Andalusia, Spain


      I am very happy to have read this article, so well written and well-presented. It must be inspiring for you to write about native american heritage. It is a topic that unfortunately I have not read much about...until today and now I'm hooked. You made a fascinating article and I am looking forward to reading all your hubs on this topic. I especially liked the photographs.

    • Patty Inglish, MS profile image

      Patty Inglish 4 years ago from North America

      Hi marieryan - Thanks for reading all the way from Spain!

      Hubs like this one give me a chance to write more in-depth about some of the Native Americans I admire. There are always surprises and I like that. New related videos are added to the Internet every day and they help clarify the stories of these peoples, so that makes it all more interesting. Johnny Depp's portrayal as Tonto in the new "Lone Ranger" film provided more excitement about the whole topic! -- I'll be adding more Hubs soon.

    • Mark Monroe profile image

      Mark Monroe 3 years ago from Dover De


      Excellent Hub. Too many people have an image of Native American dress as drab with no imagination which was not the case.

      Thank you


    • Patty Inglish, MS profile image

      Patty Inglish 3 years ago from North America

      Right you are! The colors and styles are stunning and that is one reason to visit the pow wows across the nation. The dace competitions are exiciting and lovely to watch with all the clothing styles.

    • Patty Inglish, MS profile image

      Patty Inglish 3 months ago from North America

      I want to thank West Chester Pennsylvania school students for reading this Hub and enjoying its contents.

      Best wishes to you all for success during the remaining school year!

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