Conflicts & Alliances
Between First Peoples

Champlain and his Huron allies left fight the Iroquois
The earliest Canadian image of white men and Aboriginal peoples interacting. Champlain accompanying the Hurons
in warfare against their traditional enemies, the Iroquois.

All the First Nations had alliances with other First Nations, for trade, or for protection and military action.

All First Nations recognized some other groups as friends and allies, and others were traditional enemies.

Enemies had disputes over things like prime hunting areas, or access to trade routes and trading partners. Alliances and mutual support agreements were important for keeping the peace.

Alliances created a balance of power between major groups, so that neither dared make a major attack on the other.

The Great Law of Peace was one of  the most famous Aboriginal alliances. About 1450, five North American First Nations negotiated a treaty and a constitution to create the powerful Five Nations Iroquois Confederacy in the area south of Lake Ontario.

It was known as the Great Law of Peace, and brought together 5 nations: the Mohawk, Cayuga, Seneca, Onondaga, & Oneida. The Tuscarora joined much later.

The Iroquois designed a very effective system of government to create one strong nation out of several, while preserving the powers of the individual nations.

The Iroquois Confederacy's Great Law of Peace included elements that would influence the development of democratic forms of government throughout the world.

Each Nation looked after its own internal affairs, but representatives from each nation came together in a central congress to deal with topics that affected all members of the confederacy, such as war and peace.

The representatives were appointed by clan mothers, and could be removed if people lost confidence in them (unlike the European monarchs of the time, who could not be removed even if they were insane.)

As the Indian Commissioner for Pennsylvania, Benjamin Franklin developed great respect for the Iroquois system of government.

When the Americans came to create their new Constitution more than 300 years after the Iroquois had forged their alliance, Franklin borrowed elements of the Iroquois system to use in the new American Constitution, which would forge 13 separate colonies into one nation.

Just like the Iroquois nations, the new American states would look after their internal affairs, but send representatives to a federal congress to deal with matters that concerned the whole country.

At the time of American independence, there were no democracies in Europe to use as models. France and Britain were still monarchies.

So the successful Iroquois form of government had an important influence on the design of the American system of democratic government.   

Painter - Charles Bird King, 1820s

Benjamin Franklin admired the Iroquois system of government

The American Constitution looked to the Iroquois Confederacy
for a working model of democracy in action

A Brule war party - Edward Curtis

In some cases of tribal warfare, when the balance of power was upset, one group could virtually wipe out another.

Then the women and children would be absorbed into the victorious group.

One of the most famous examples of this is the long enmity between the Iroquois and the Huron.

The Huron and Iroquois were traditional enemies long before the Europeans arrived in the early 1600s.

Then the Hurons became trading partners of New France.

The Iroquois felt threatened by this new powerful alliance between the French and the Hurons.

They made many raids on the Hurons, and by the middle of the century, virtually wiped them out. The remainder fled to Quebec for protection by the French colonists.

Go to Huron Refugees

Painter - George Catlin, 1832

Blackfoot Return from a Raid - Frederick Remington

In Alberta, the Blackfoot and several other groups were traditional enemies. They were constantly raiding each other's camps for horses.

It was a sign of bravery for a young brave to sneak into an enemy camp at night, and make off with the horses.

Chiefs were constantly making treaty agreements with their enemies, which usually only lasted until another group of young men went off on another  midnight raid.

On the Great Plains in the nineteenth century, the Dakota and Salteaux were traditional enemies, constantly pressuring each other's buffalo hunting grounds.

Eventually, in 1844, they made peace through a treaty negotiated through the Métis.

As the white man pushed west, inter-tribal warfare was to take a back seat in order to confront a much more powerful and ruthless enemy.

Painter - George Catlin, 1832

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Copyright Goldi Productions Ltd. 2007