BC Social Studies Lesson Plans

The Haudenosaunee People and Confederacy

Grade K-3


The Haudenosaunee People and Confederacy

Big Idea

People from diverse cultures and societies share common experiences and aspects of life.

Essential Question

How did a democratic self-government unite diverse nations in the Haudenosaunee Confederacy?

Learning Standards Content

Students are expected to know the following:

  • governance and social organization in local and global indigenous societies

Curricular Competencies

Students are expected to be able to do the following:

  • Explain why people, events, or places are significant to various individuals and groups

Core Competencies

I can name the Six Nations and show their traditional territory on a map.

I can ask questions and draw conclusions about the Confederacy and the symbols that represent Iroquois values.

I can practice cooperation when I work with others and use consensus to solve a problem.

First People's Principles of Learning

Learning is embedded in memory, history and story.
  • Tell students that they are going to learn about a group of people called the Haudenosaunee. The Haudenosaunee are sometimes called the Iroquois, Five Nations (originally) or Six Nations because they are made up of 6 different groups of First Nations peoples who joined together to form a confederacy. 
  • Explain that a confederacy is a group of people who cooperate to achieve common goals.
  • Using a Think Pair Share strategy, ask students to think of a time that they cooperated with others in order to achieve a goal.
  • Show the BrainPOP Jr. video: Iroquois (5:04).
  • Have students share with a partner: What was one interesting thing you learned from the video? What is one thing you would like to learn more about? Remind students to listen carefully to what their partner says so they can share it with the class. 
  • Choose a few students to report out. (For example, “My partner, Alex, thought that ________was really interesting and would like to learn more about ___________.” 
  • Record responses on chart paper and use check marks to show that a response has been shared by more than one student.

Part 1: A Unique Woodland Culture

  • Provide each student with a copy of the handout “The Haudenosaunee--A unique woodland culture”.  The first side shows a map of North America. Refer back to the video and remind the students that the Iroquois lived in the northeastern woodland area south of the Great Lakes in what is present-day New York State. Many Iroquois still live in New York today as well as in southern Ontario and Quebec. 
  • Have the students use a red pencil crayon to shade the area on the map which shows where the Iroquois lived. 
  • Label the second side of the handout with the names of the Six Nations (Seneca, Cayuga, Onondaga, Oneida, Mohawk and, later, the Tuscarora). Tell students that when it was originally formed in the 1500s, there were only five nations in the Confederacy. About 200 years later, Tuscarora became the sixth nation.
  • Explain that the Iroquois had a strong connection to nature and to the animals of the woodlands in which they lived. The Iroquois belonged to clans (family groups) related to a central woman called the clan mother. Women owned everything in the clan. Clans were named after some of the animals of the woodland. Ask the students to name some woodland animals that the Iroquois may have named their clans for. (turtle, bear, wolf, hawk, deer, heron, beaver, etc)


Part 2: The Three Sisters

  • Provide students with the handout “The Three Sisters”.
  • Using the video The People of the Longhouse, show the intro (00:00 - 00:17) and then skip forward to show 04:31 - 05:47.
  • Point out that girls worked with their mothers to tend fields, gather and prepare food. They also helped their mothers use deerskin to make clothing and moccasins, wove baskets from strips of wood and learned how to plant and harvest crops. The boys learned to make bows and arrows and other tools as well as learned skills to help them become good fishermen and hunters. The men cleared fields for crops, built the longhouses and often went on long hunting and fishing trips. 
  • Have students use the information from the video to complete the first side of the handout.
  • Point out that the Iroquois believed that each person was given a gift at birth. Once that gift was revealed to them, it was their responsibility to master the gift for the benefit of their community. 
  • Ask: What do you think your gift would be? How could you use it to help your community? Have students record their ideas on the second side of the handout.

Part 3: People of the Longhouse

  • Tell students that they will be learning about Iroquois homes. Remind them that some First Nations groups were nomadic (they moved around in order to find food/depending on the season). Connection: what other First Nations groups have we learned about that are nomadic? What types of homes did they live in? (teepees, etc that were not permanent and could be easily moved) 
  • Ask the students if they know the word that means the opposite of “nomadic” (sedentary). The Iroquois are considered sedentary. This means that they stayed in one place. 
  • Ask: How could we guess that the Iroquois stayed in one place? (Longhouses are huge and probably took a long time to build so they were not easy or practical to move. Also, we know that the Iroquois were mainly farmers so they would stay near their crops rather than moving around to find food. In fact, they would only move on every 10-20 years.)
  • Show the video Life in a Longhouse (2:50).
  • Provide each student with a copy of the handout “The Haudenosaunee: People of the Longhouse”,
  • Have the students work with a partner to complete the vocabulary activity on the handout.
  • Show the video The Building of the Iroquois Longhouse (11:00).
  • Pause to draw students’ attention to some of the design features and to discuss the process as they watch.
  • Ask: What do you think it would be like to live in one huge house with 100 or 200 other people? What would be the benefits of living with others in a communal home such as a longhouse? Can you think of any drawbacks? Hint: What Iroquois value did we learn about that would make living together easier? (Cooperation)

Part 4: The Six Nations Confederacy

  • Ask: What is a symbol? Show some other easily recognizable symbols and ask the students to identify them (flags, poppy, stop signs, etc). Ask: What are some symbols of Canada? (Maple Leaf, beaver, hockey stick…) 
  • Provide each student with a copy of the handout “The Haudenosaunee: The Six Nations Confederacy”.
  • Have students consider what symbol represents them and complete the first page of the handout by drawing and writing about a symbol that represents them.
  • Have some or all students share with the class what they chose as a personal symbol.
  • Review the names of the Six Nations. Discuss the symbols of the Six Nations on the handout.
  • Tell this version of the story of “The Peacemaker”: Before the Europeans came, the Iroquois nations were often at war, fighting over hunting lands. One day a man came to the Iroquois in the 1400s or 1500s and told them that their nations needed to work together to prevent wars and that by uniting together, they would become stronger and keep their people safe. Women were the first people to accept this idea and they became the leaders of their communities. The story says that the people uprooted the tallest pine tree and threw all their weapons into the hole where an underground stream carried them away. They then replanted the “Great Tree of Peace” and four white roots spread out in all four directions. The chiefs of each tribe formed a council and sat beneath the tree to create the laws that would govern the nations.
  • Show the video The Peacemaker's Journey and The Great Law of Peace (4:12). 
  • On the second page of the handout, look at the image of the Tree of Peace and discuss what the students think the different parts symbolize. (Eagle - can see far and warn the people of the Confederacy of any danger. Tree branches - represent the protection of the nations under the Great Law of Peace. Roots - represent peace and strength. They spread out in the four directions: north, south, east and west. The roots lead anyone or any nation willing to follow the Great Law of Peace to the shelter under the tree. The weapon - shows that the Iroquois will not fight against each other. They have thrown the weapons of war into the depths of the earth.)
  • The Great Law of Peace established an alliance among the nations. An alliance is an agreement among nations to support one another. 
  • Look at the map of the original Five Nations on the handout “The Haudenosaunee: A unique woodland culture”.
  • Remind the students that the Tuscarora joined the Confederacy in the early 1700s. Until then there were only five nations.
  • Tell the students that each nation in the confederacy had a role. For example, the Mohawk were the “Keepers of the Eastern Door”. They defended the confederacy from the east. Ask: based on the map, who would have defended the confederacy at the “Western Door”? (Seneca). One nation was charged with keeping the principles of the confederacy alive - this held the center of the confederacy firm. They were called the “Keepers of the Council Fire”. Which group was this? (Onondaga) Students record answers on their handoutt.
  • The two nations that defended the “Doors” to the confederacy were called the “older brothers”. Which were these? (Mohawk and Seneca)
  • The nations in the center were called the “younger brothers”. Which were they? Students record answers on their handout.
  • Tell the students: Each nation sent chiefs to League council meetings. The council met at least once a year. Anything that concerned all the nations was discussed at these meetings. The Mohawk and Seneca sat on the east side of the fire. The Oneida and Cayuga sat across from them on the west side. To the north were the Onondaga who presided over the meetings. All decisions had to be made unanimously - that is, everyone had to agree. This is called a consensus. When a decision had to be made there was a process. First each nation would discuss amongst themselves and come to a decision. Then, each nation would discuss their decision with the other group on their side of the fire. When the Mohawk and Seneca were in agreement, they would send their decision across the fire to the Cayuga and Oneida. When all four agreed, the decision was told to the Onondaga. If they agreed then the League could “speak with one voice”. 

Part 5: Problem-Solving by Consensus 

  • Divide students into 5 groups named for the five nations. Have them arrange themselves as the nations did and give them a simple problem (eg. one group wants to use the field to play soccer at recess and another group wants to play kickball on the same field. How can this problem be solved?) 
  • Guide the students to solve the problem using consensus like the council would. 
  • Ask: How did this way of problem-solving work for you? Did every group get a fair and equal opportunity to share their own ideas? When a decision is made by consensus, everyone “wins” because everyone has had a chance to make their ideas part of the solution.
  • Have the students complete the handout “Problem Solving by Consensus”.
  • Read “The Legend of the Three Sisters”. Ask: How did the Three Sisters model the way Iroquois society functioned?
  • Ask: Why are the Haudenosaunee referred to as a confederacy? How did living in the eastern woodlands affect the type of lifestyle the Iroquois lived? What do you think present day culture could learn from the ways of the Haudenosaunee?
  • Using a Gallery Walk strategy, put 3 sheets of chart paper on the wall - label the first “Woodland Culture”, the second “Longhouses” and the third, “Confederacy”. Give the students sticky notes or markers and have them add new learning to each chart paper. 
  • Using found materials, students can create a model of an Iroqois longhouse
  • Create a booklet that teaches younger students some interesting facts aboutroquois culture. Write and illustrate with pictures.
  • Draw a cartoon that tells the story of the Peacemaker.
  • Learn about Oren Lyons, Iroquois speaker and Faithkeeper. Research his life and write a short paragraph about his role as an Iroquois leader.
  • Provide the students with a sheet divided into four boxes. Label each sheet with one topic such as “Food”, “Weapons and tools”, “Shelters”, etc. Use each sheet to compare what they have learned about the Iroquois with new learning about three other indigenous groups from around the world.
  • Create a timeline of important events in Iroquois history

Baker, J. 2021. "Origins of the Haudenosaunee (Iroquois) Confederacy." World History Encyclopediahttps://www.worldhistory.org/article/1656/origins-of-the-haudenosaunee-iroquois-confederacy/

“Haudenosaunee Guide for Educators.” [n.d.] National Museum of the American Indian


“Iriquois Homes.” 2021. Mr. Nussbaum. Learning and Fun. https://mrnussbaum.com/iroquois-homes

“Native Americans: Iroquois Tribe.” 2021. Duckstershttps://www.ducksters.com/history/native_american_iroquois.php

Ramsden, P., 2015. “Haudenosaunee (Iroquois).” The Canadian Encyclopediahttps://www.thecanadianencyclopedia.ca/en/article/iroquois 

Ramsden, P.G., 2006; 2015. "Haudenosaunee (Iroquois)". The Canadian Encyclopedia. Historica Canada. https://www.thecanadianencyclopedia.ca/en/article/iroquois 

“Spotlight on Native Americans. Iroquois (Haudenosaunee). Lesson Plan” [n.d.]


“The Iroquois Confederacy.” 2021. Cool Kid Factshttps://www.coolkidfacts.com/iroquois-confederacy/

The Legend of the Three Sisters. [n.d.] Oneida.


“What was the Iroquois Confederacy?” [n.d.]




Englar, M. “The Iroquois The Six Nations Confederacy.” 2016. Revised Edition. Capstone Press: North Mankato, MN. 

Levine, E. and S. Hehenberger. 1998. “If You Lived with the Iroquois.” New York: Scholastic. 

Johnson, M. G. 2013. “Iroquois People of the Longhouse.” [n.l.]: Firefly Books Ltd.

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Last Reviewed

February 01, 2023

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