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Traditional Mohawk Nation Daily and Ceremonial Clothing

A descendant of Mohawk Nation and trained in anthropology, Patty has researched and reported on indigenous peoples for over four decades.

Traditional female dress, infant on a cradle board, male warrior attire in the War of 1812-1814, and member of the False Face Society in ceremonial dress.

Traditional female dress, infant on a cradle board, male warrior attire in the War of 1812-1814, and member of the False Face Society in ceremonial dress.

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

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.

Dancers from the Mohawk Nation at Kahnawake in 1869.

Dancers from the Mohawk Nation at Kahnawake in 1869.

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.

Styles of Four Mohawk Kings in Canada

In the portraits above, you can see that each man is wrapped by a blanket, traditional to many native tribes and each carries a weapon. The weapon to the extreme left is the Mohawk club, often used by other Iroquois nations.

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.

Nót-to-way, a Chief, circa 1835. Iroquois/Haudensaunee (People of the Longhouse)

Nót-to-way, a Chief, circa 1835. Iroquois/Haudensaunee (People of the Longhouse)

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.

The historical photograph above features the individuals known as, from left to right, Black Eagle, Jake Paul, Mary Ann Black Eagle (wearing a tiara), Chief Running Deer, Philip Big Tree, and Lily Deer.

This group had agreed to sell all of their fancy Mohawk baskets through W.S. Tanner and his company. He also sold picture postcards of them, the one above costing 35¢ in 1894.

Women's Wear Daily

Women often wore deerskin leggings with a circular deerskin skirt over them, with beaded moccasins. 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 that were 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.

Wampum belt of carved shells features the flag of the Iroquois Confederacy, circa 1886. Usually worn by men and used as currency.

Wampum belt of carved shells features the flag of the Iroquois Confederacy, circa 1886. Usually worn by men and used as currency.

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 confirm 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.

Cherokee cradleboard. evidence suggests the Cherokee are related to the Mohawk Nation.

Cherokee cradleboard. evidence suggests the Cherokee are related to the Mohawk Nation.

Mohawk Cradleboards

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 pictured above is similar, although more focused on skin, furs, and feathers. It is made by a 21st century Native American artist.

  • 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.

traditional-mohawk-nation-daily-and-ceremonial-clothing

Questions & Answers

Question: How can I get the historical heritage of a deerskin jacket?

Answer: If you think Native North Americans made the item, take a few photos of it and email them with your question to the National Museum of the American Indian at their website: nmai.si.edu/. Otherwise, try to find an antique clothing expert in your region or look for a native reservation near your area and call it to determine whether anyone there can help you.

© 2013 Patty Inglish MS

Comments

Gail Andrews Hardy on November 13, 2019:

Hi Patty

It's me again. I am also a 9th cousin 1x removed of Elvis Presley; and President Barack Obama is my 10th cousin 3x removed. Did I mention I do genealogy? :-D

I think I found some more on John Lambert and Sarah Hertel. It seems that John was a secretary to King Charles I and when things started going south for King Charles, John took his wife and headed to Virginia.

Gail Andrews Hardy

Patty Inglish MS (author) from USA and Asgardia, the First Space Nation on November 10, 2019:

That us a good question and I will contact the reserve in Ontario and ask that question this week. Thanks for asking

nolan tew 6th generation mohawk. on November 10, 2019:

what kind of ceremonial designs are used today in mohawk clothing?

Patty Inglish MS (author) from USA and Asgardia, the First Space Nation on July 17, 2018:

Hi Gail,

Thanks for your comment. I recognize the names of Sarah Lambert, Jacques Hertel, and Florence Hester; so I probably have seen them in genealogies. At this time, I am still attempting to trace my lineage fully, but found that I'm a distant cousin of Elvis Presley on my mother's side of the family, through the Cherokee Nation (related to some of the Mohawk) and a German ancestor. I also had a Mohawk ancestor in the French and Indian War, but I have many blank spots between then and Elvis's time, except for a grandfather.

The largest reservation with the most tribal records for Mohawk and other of the Iroquois nations is located in Ontario, Canada at the Six Nations Reserve. I hope you can visit there as well.

Gail Andrews Hardy on July 16, 2018:

Hi Patty,

About 6 months ago I discovered that I have Mohawk ancestry. One of my 10th great grandmothers is Sarah Hertel Lambert (1622-1700). Sarah was supposedly born near St. Regis, NY. Her parents are Jacques Hertel (1600-1651) and Florence Hester Rhodes (1600-1635). Jacques was a trader with both the British and French and would sometimes make trips to Britain and France. Sometimes he would take Sarah with him. On one of those trips Sarah met and married John Lambert. After they were married they moved to Rappahannock, Virginia, where they both died.

I haven't been able to find out much about the tribe yet. I live in Tennessee and hope to be able to visit St. Regis and the reservation there someday.

Patty Inglish MS (author) from USA and Asgardia, the First Space Nation on March 30, 2017:

I want to thank West Chester Pennsylvania school students for reading this Hub and enjoying its contents.

Best wishes to you all for success during the remaining school year!

Patty Inglish MS (author) from USA and Asgardia, the First Space Nation on August 14, 2013:

Right you are! The colors and styles are stunning and that is one reason to visit the pow wows across the nation. The dace competitions are exiciting and lovely to watch with all the clothing styles.

Mark Monroe from Dover De on August 14, 2013:

Patty

Excellent Hub. Too many people have an image of Native American dress as drab with no imagination which was not the case.

Thank you

Mark

Patty Inglish MS (author) from USA and Asgardia, the First Space Nation on July 05, 2013:

Hi marieryan - Thanks for reading all the way from Spain!

Hubs like this one give me a chance to write more in-depth about some of the Native Americans I admire. There are always surprises and I like that. New related videos are added to the Internet every day and they help clarify the stories of these peoples, so that makes it all more interesting. Johnny Depp's portrayal as Tonto in the new "Lone Ranger" film provided more excitement about the whole topic! -- I'll be adding more Hubs soon.

Marie Ryan from Andalusia, Spain on July 05, 2013:

Patty,

I am very happy to have read this article, so well written and well-presented. It must be inspiring for you to write about native american heritage. It is a topic that unfortunately I have not read much about...until today and now I'm hooked. You made a fascinating article and I am looking forward to reading all your hubs on this topic. I especially liked the photographs.

Patty Inglish MS (author) from USA and Asgardia, the First Space Nation on July 05, 2013:

MsDora - Thanks for reading; sorry the videos don't play for you and I hope it's a temporary glitch.

By the time the hoop dancer has picked up all 18 hoops, he is dancing inside a sphere made of hoops. Pretty interesting.

The rabbit dance looks like a two-step with a kind of a low hop, kind of romantic and looks like a good dance for a wedding celebration. I like their ideal for marrying for life, taking the relationship seriously.

Dora Weithers from The Caribbean on July 05, 2013:

Very interesting, Patty. The daily wear is getting closer to what is now trendy. I cannot see the Hoop and Rabbit Dances, but the information describes the Mohawk as people of purpose. They know what they're about. Thanks for this presentation.