Adapt to Imposed Demands like the Haudenosaunee


When you progressively adapt to imposed demands like the Haudenosaunee you build something epic.

How do the Haudenosaunee (better known as the Iroquois) who were, for centuries thought as ‘savages’ by European settlers have a government system that inspired one of the most powerful empires of the modern world?

They progressively adapted to their environment over hundreds of years.

Canadian Archaeologist James Urgent says that the early Haudenosaunee came about around 900 – 1275 C.E. and covered an area the Point Peninsula, central and western Ontario, southern Quebec and upper New York State.

This geographical area granted the Haudenosaunee  a variety of subsistence sources for fueling performance.

From wild game, to aquatic and land plants, and even early horticulture, the Haudenosaunee peoples were diverse in their sources of food.

The Haudenosaunee Responded to Environmentally Imposed Demands like any Athlete/Team/Organization: With Specific Adaptations


Around the turn of the first millennium C.E., a global warming event occurred.  Called the Medieval Warm period (950 to 1250 C.E), this warming caused a major change in the Haudenosaunee food strategy.

There were less crop failures.

As a result, the Haudenosaunee began relying even more on horticulture.

Just as the S.A.I.D. (specific adaptations to imposed demands) principles of strength and conditioning talk about, the adaptation of the Haudenosaunee was very specific.

In fact, even the kind of farming that these people did was very specific:  the Haudenosaunee would clear a desired forest area and then shifted to different locations, marked by small villages  when the soil was exhausted.

In this way, the villages of the Iroquois never were truly sedentary.

With this increasing success in horticulture, you had a very powerful resource in the future development of a more complex nation: being able to procure MORE food in one place.

The rise in horticulture (and eventually moving to its larger-scale version, agriculture) was a huge adaptation that would propel the Haudenosaunee towards confederation.

You had people being able to rely more on farming, and have a need to build more settlements.

In fact, as these settlements grew bigger the more food cultivation became important.

The congregation of people helped to add some stability to situations of fighting and violence due to scarce resources.

Banding together to cultivate food and protect it allowed more of the Haudenosaunee peoples to survive and not starve.

From this boom in getting together, you had the creation of the Haudenosaunee Longhouse

An Iroquois Longhouse

The longhouse would become a symbol of the complexity and collaboration of these growing Haudenosaunee  villages and tribes.  These towering structures, with their sheer girth, and walled defenses, were a daunting site in the woodland areas of southern Ontario and New York state.

Families would band together, bridging clans, accumulating resources, and facilitating the manpower necessary to meet agricultural demands.

As their dominance in agriculture grew, the  Haudenosaunee would become known for their plowing of the ‘three sisters’ of crops:  maize, squash, and beans.   A plethora of complex carbohydrates would become a baseline from which this upcoming nation would fuel more complicated tasks, organization, and development.

This wasn’t the end of it.

These settlements and longhouses grew bigger and bigger.  With a rising population you had villages that were from several hundreds in size to up to 2,000 people!

By 1400 C.E. a large village of 1500 people, covering up to five acres of land, and brimming with long, clustered longhouses, was becoming a common sight.

These villages had elaborate plans, large work areas, and even garbage disposal sites.  Specialization and compartmentalization were taking place as the dependence on maize and beans cultivation grew even higher.

More and more men were spending increasing amounts of time in communal construction than before!

Which leads to an interesting impact on the power of gender roles and their impact on societal adaptation.

Men and Women in Haudenosaunee society

In the world of the Haudenosaunee the dynamic of men and women went through a change through the times.

Men were primarily responsible for the hunting, fishing, and fighting aspects of safety and providing subsistence.

Women would procure food through gathering and small-scale horticulture.

However, when the Medieval Warming Period came round, a shift occurred.  This shift changed the subsistence cycle in favor of horticulture, leading to stress in gender roles.

What happens when the primary breadwinner loses his title?

You have a very upset fella.

Many upset fellas.

Many, young, cocky, and upset fellas.

With the rise of larger settlements (due to an increased food need) and a reliance on agriculture, you had women becoming the primary breadwinners of society.

In fact, the need to marry into other villages reduced as well.

Traditionally, men who would marry into their wife’s family.  In this matrilineal and matrilocal system, men would go live with the family/clan/tribe of their wives.

It’s not to say women didn’t move into other villages into marriage but men were culturally moving.  This practice helped in building connection with the scattered communities of the Haudenosaunee peoples.

In fact, it was encouraged to marry into different tribes and villages to further bolster a sense of communal unity.

However, with the rise of larger settlements the need to marry into other villages reduced as well.

You had less people inter-mingling between scattered villages.

In addition, you had an increase in armament and fortification of these settlements (building “arms’).

And even with this increased yield in food, there was STILL a scarcity of resources.

With their role of food providers significantly restricted though a combination of food scarcity and the delegation of food procurement favoring women, there was only one option for many men in this situation:


The Haudenosaunee Wage War

The use of warfare for increasing personal prestige went up.

Young men were looking for every excuse to start a fight.

And it was successful.

Men were gaining more prestige in their communities, which were becoming even more sedentary and agricultural.

However, the amount of bloodshed was getting out of hand.

Even Clan Mothers, women who elected chiefs of their clan and could influence warfare through their monopoly on food supply, were struggling to control loose-cannon fighters from waging war.

It was for this reason, this new imposed demand, that the Haudenosaunee Confederacy was formed(speculated as somewhere from 1400-1600 C.E.).  With the council of fifty chiefs, the nations of the Onondaga, Cayuga, Oneida, Mohawk, and Seneca.

Also known as the Iroquois League, this organization shared a common agreement to not settle grievances with bloodshed.  At least not among the nations that were part of the league.

Just as important, the Confederacy allowed groups to legislate against excessive violence BUT still maintained the individual, cultural and political identity in their interpersonal dealings.

This alliance was even more strengthened after the arrival of European settlers, being attacked by fur trade commercial enterprises and political threats.

Legacy of the Haudenosaunee Confederacy

Part of a Palisaded Huron Iroquois Village
Jefferys, Charles W. 1942 The Picture Gallery of Canadian History Volume 1, p.16

Through continuously adapting to imposed demands, the Haudenosaunee people demonstrate the power of adaptation.  In fact, the very tools that were created to overcome the demands of their environment have become symbols of the Haudenosaunee’s cultural identity.

Impeccably, the Haudenosaunee created what was not only the second largest alliance of Native communities of the Canada region but also inspired the governance of the continent’s modern dominant power: The United States.


Further Reading:

The Canadian Iroquois and the Seven Years’ War  by Peter D. Macleod

Barbara Graymont The Iroquois Indians of North America

Bruce Elliott Johansen, Barbara Alice Mann Encyclopedia of the Haudenosaunee Iroquois Confederacy