Manataka American Indian Council
Iroquois Population Update
There was a time when the Iroquois numbered in the tens of thousands (perhaps as many as a quarter million) in total population before European contact. This would have included the "St. Lawrence" Iroquois as well as those who lived in that region south of Lake Ontario, east of the Niagara River, west of the Lake Champlain-Hudson River corridor and north of the Susquehanna. Of those people we may include not only the original members of the Confederacy but those who were Iroquois in language and culture; the Wenrohronon (Wenro), Attawantaron (Neutral), Tionontati (Tobacco or Petun) and Erie (Panther Nation) and subsequently absorbed by the Rotinosionni.
Together their communities consisted of inhabitants ranging in population from several hundred to many thousands. There was no place within the ancestral lands of the Iroquois which were not known or used either as cultivated areas or as hunting and forest preserves. All current counties in Ontario, Quebec,New York and Pennsylvania have hard physical evidence of a dynamic Iroquois presence before and after contact.
By the late 16th and throughout the 17th centuries there was a dramatic decrease in the Iroquois population caused by warfare, territorial displacement and diseases brought by the Europeans. Serious declines continued into the 18th and the early decades of the 19th centuries until there were less than 10,000 Iroquois by the year 1800.
At Akwesasne the theft of Mohawk lands by the US and New York State contributed to the decline in the number of Mohawks as the community was confined to the fraudulent "Seven Nations of Canada" reservation (recently affirmed by the St. Regis Tribal Council) which meant the community could not hunt in their ancestral grounds nor could they fish along the region's rivers. Cycles of starvation and epidemics swept through Akwesasne with the last occuring just after 1900 (but excluding the current wave of diabetes, heart disease and cancers).
Across the continent it was assumed that by the mid-decade of the 20th century Native people would have become extinct hence the popular use of the term the "Vanishing American". This was not unreasonable given that the Native population in North America was estimated to be anywhere from 10-18 million in 1492 reduced to 248,253 by 1900 of which only 6,044 lived in New York State.
The determination of the Iroquois, among many other native nations, to endure defied the political, religious and cultural trends at that time. The flicker of a distinct Iroquois identity grew to a bonfire of activism by the 1920's which in turn led directly to the expansion in the size of Iroquois families. It is simple: people with hope have more children. Based upon the belief that the Iroquois did have something to live for our population naturally rebounded. Self determination and political activism does have tangible political, economic, social and progenerative effects on most peoples as evidenced by the Iroquois.
As of this year, according to the latest Canadian and American census there are 105,597 enrolled Iroquois in New York, Ontario, Quebec, Oklahoma, Alberta and Wisconsin. Here is how it breaks down: