Traditional Mohawk Nation Daily and Ceremonial Clothing
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
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.
Seige Of Fort Pitt, French and Indian War. Battle Dates June 22, 1763 – August 20, 1763.
Most of this band moved to Oklahoma.
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
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.
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
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.
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.
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
Additional Culture and Background Of Mohawk Nation
- Native American Nations: Beautiful People of the Northeastern United States
Many Native American Nations lived in the Northeastern US sometime in the last 250 to 14,000 years. They migrated from Alaska and the Pacific Northwest, only to eventually harsh winters here as well.
- Speakers of the Iroquoian Language Group In the Diaspora
The Cherokee are related to the Iroquois Nations through links in North Carolina before the Trail of Tears.
- The Kahniakenhaka Mohawk Nation Council vs. the St. Regis Council
The official, long-standing indigenous Mohawk Nation Council of Chiefs (MNCC) represents the Sovereign Nation of the Mohawk (separate from the US Government) that still exists in America. The nation is called Kahniakenhaka.
© 2013 Patty Inglish
More by this Author
Were any of you in grades K-12 during the 1960s or 1970s? Do you remember what you wore to school? The East and West Coasts were probably more fashionable and relaxed in dress codes in those days, but some of the...