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"Hiawatha" by Thomas Eakins.

Hiawatha (also known as Ayenwatha, Aiionwatha, or Haiëñ'wa'tha; Onondaga)[1] is a legendary Native American leader and co-founder of the Iroquois confederacy. Depending on the version of the narrative, Hiawatha lived sometime between the 12th and 13th centuries and was a leader of the Onondaga or the Mohawk, or both. According to some versions, he was born an Onondaga, but also adopted into the Mohawk.

Hiawatha was a follower of The Great Peacemaker, a Huron prophet and spiritual leader, who proposed the unification of the Iroquois peoples, who shared common ancestry and similar languages. The Great Peacemaker was a compelling spiritual presence, but was impeded in evangelizing his prophecy by foreign affiliation and a severe speech impediment. Hiawatha, a skilled and charismatic orator ,[citation needed] was instrumental in persuading the Senecas, Cayugas, Onondagas, Oneidas, and Mohawks, to accept the Great Peacemaker's vision and band together to become the Five Nations of the Iroquois confederacy. Later, the Tuscarora nation joined the Confederacy in 1722 to become the Sixth Nation.

Hiawatha Belt[edit]

The Hiawatha Belt

The Hiawatha Belt is made of 6,574 wampum beads - 38 rows by 173 columns, and has 892 white and 5,682 purple beads. The purple represents the sky or universe that surrounds us, and the white represents purity and Good Mind (good thoughts, forgiveness, and understanding). The belt symbolizes these Five Nations from west to east in their respective territories across New York state: Seneca (keepers of the western door), Cayuga (People of the Swamp), Onondaga (Keepers of the Fire), Oneida (People of the Standing Stone) and Mohawk (keeper of the eastern door)—by open ‘squares’ of white beads with the central figure signifying a tree or heart. The white open squares are connected by a white band that has no beginning or end, representing all time now and forever. The band, however, does not cross through the center of each nation, meaning that each nation is supported and unified by a common bond and that each is separate in its own identity and domain. The open center also signifies the idea of a fort protected on all sides, but open in the center, symbolizing an open heart and mind within.

The tree figure signifies the Onondaga Nation, capital of the League and home to the central council fire. It was on the shores of Onondaga Lake where the message of peace was “planted” and the hatchets were buried.[citation needed] From this tree, four white roots sprouted, carrying the message of unity and peace to the four directions.

The Hiawatha Belt has been dated to the mid-18th century. Near its center, it contains a bead made of colonial lead glass. It is believed the design is as old as the league itself, and that the present belt is not the original.[2]

The Hiawatha Belt forms the basis of the flag of the Haudenosaunee Confederacy, created in the 1980s. It is the central device in the design on the reverse of the U.S. 2010 Native American dollar (also known as the Sacagawea dollar. It is also included in the logo of the Hamilton Nationals, a Major League Lacrosse team.

Popular culture[edit]

  • In 1940, plans for a film about the historical Hiawatha by Monogram Pictures were scrapped. The reason given was that Hiawatha's peacemaker role could be seen as communist propaganda.[3][4]
  • A film was released in 1997 based on the Longfellow poem. It was a joint production of the U.S. and Canada, filmed in Ontario, Canada.[5]
  • Hiawatha is the leader of the Iroquois in Age of Empires III, Civilization III, and Civilization V.
  • British band Everything Everything released the song Hiawatha Doomed as an iTunes bonus track for their album Man Alive. Hiawatha is one of the lead tribes in Mississauga.
  • The 26.66-mile (42.91 km) Hiawatha bike trail in northern Idaho and Montana is over a former railroad right-of-way on old bridges and through old tunnels.[6]
  • A 52-foot (16 m) tall, 16,000 lb (7,300 kg) fiberglass statue of Hiawatha was built in 1964 and stands in Ironwood, MI. It is billed as the "World's Tallest and Largest Indian".[7]
  • Hiawatha National Forest is a 894,836-acre (362,127 ha) National Forest in the Upper Peninsula of Michigan.[8]
  • Amtrak, a railroad serving the continental United States and parts of Canada, has a train called "Hiawatha" which runs several times daily between Chicago, IL and Milwaukee, WI.[9]
  • Hiawatha is the subject of British glam rock The Sweet's 1972 hit, "Wig-Wam Bam", which tells a story of how he is seduced by Minnehaha.
  • The Island of Hiawatha is the former name of the Toronto Islands.[10]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Bright, William (2004). Native American Place Names of the United States. Norman: University of Oklahoma Press, ISBN 0-8061-3576-X pg. 166
  2. ^ "Proceedings", American Philosophical Society (vol. 115, No. 6, p. 446)
  3. ^ Wallechinsky, David (1975). The People's Almanac. Garden City: Doubleday. ISBN 0-385-04060-1.  p. 239
  4. ^ Digital History: Post-War Hollywood
  5. ^ The Song of Hiawatha film http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0120163/?ref_=nm_flmg_dr_1
  6. ^ Hiawatha Trail
  7. ^ Hiawatha statue description from Roadside America http://www.roadsideamerica.com/story/11874
  8. ^ Hiawatha National Forest http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Hiawatha_National_Forest
  9. ^ Amtrak Route Hiawatha Retrieved 2013-5-3
  10. ^ http://peoplemaps.esri.com/toronto/

Further reading[edit]

Juvenile audience.

External links[edit]