Beliefs, Customs Traditions of the Erie & Huron Tribes

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The Erie and Huron were part of the Iroquoian language family of indigenous peoples of the upper northeast area of what is now the United States. They were very similar in their customs, but the Erie are thought to have died out as a result of foreign diseases and warfare with other Iroquoian tribes in the 18th century, with the survivors being absorbed into the Seneca nation. The Huron are also known as the "Wyandot," as the term "Huron" was the name the French used for them and is considered derrogatory.

1 Erie History

The Erie occupied the territory south and east of Lake Erie, extending to the Ohio River. The French called them the "Nation of Cat" because of the blankets they made from cat pelts. Much of what is known about them comes from the journals of Jesuit priests, beginning around 1640. Records tell of a series of wars that broke out between the Erie and other Iroquois tribes around 1635, that along with smallpox epidemics, led to their decimation and subsequent absorption into the Seneca tribe. However, there is a group that calls itself the "Erie Moundbuilders Tribal Nation," but is organized as a corporation, not a federally recognized tribe.

2 Erie Customs

Records indicate that the Erie were farmers, like many other Iroquoian tribes. Their main crops were corn, beans and squash -- known as the "Three Sisters." They were known to make pottery for cooking and weave mats out of rush. Burial customs involved an elaborate "crying" ceremony that lasted five days, and included singing and dancing. The deceased were placed upon large scaffolds, and every 10 to 12 years the Erie held a large ceremony and buried flesh and bone.

3 Huron History

The correct term for the Huron is "Wyandot." They exist today in scattered bands in the United States and Canada. Their original settlements were located between Lake Ontario and Lake Huron, with 20,000 to 40,000 Indians living in 18 to 25 villages. Today's Wyandot descend from two bands known as the "Tionontati" and the "Attignawantan." Foreign settlers caused their displacement from the northeast to present day Oklahoma and Kansas, via the Treaty of 1843. Subsequent conflicts with the American government led to the termination of their political status.

4 Wyandot Today

The Wyandot reorganized in 1983, and now the only federally recognized band in the U.S. is the Oklahoma Wyandot. Much of their culture and language is lost to history, but they continue to maintain what they do have. In September the Wyandot celebrate their annual "Culture Days" event, which includes teaching language classes and the craft of corn husk dolls. This is the time of the traditional "Green Corn Feast." Traditional singing and dancing can also be seen.

5 Beliefs

As Iroquoian peoples, the Erie and Wyandot peoples were -- and are -- organized by clan system. They are highly matriarchal, and much of the tribes' leadership derives from the women. Power was divided among clans, and marriage customs depended upon clan relationships, prohibiting improper intermarrying. Children follow the clan of the mother -- sons never inherit from their fathers, and a man's property descended to his nearest kindred through his mother. The head of a Wyandot family is always the mother.

Dina Gilio-Whitaker began writing professionally as a freelance journalist in 2001 when she focused on community activism. She has a bachelor's degree in Native American studies with a political science minor and is currently a graduate student in American studies at the University of New Mexico. Gilio-Whitaker has won numerous awards for her academic writing and is an accomplished Native American artist, crafter and dancer.