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the following was published in Akwesasne Notes New Series,
Fall -- October/November/December -- 1995, Volume 1 #3 & 4, p. 61.
and is reproduced here with permission.

Iroquois Population in 1995

by Doug George-Kanentiio

Two common questions asked by many people about the Iroquois are rather basic, if not complicated to answer: how many Iroquois are there and how much land do they currently possess?

No one truly knows the exact number of Iroquois in 1995. We do know our current population is far less than it was in 1492, when we had large towns and villages scattered over a region which stretched from Quebec City to mid-Pennsylvania.

It is not unreasonable to guess the Iroquois numbered in the hundreds of thousands. Physical evidence seems to sustain this argument because there is virtually no place within our aboriginal territories which was not settled, cultivated or otherwise occupied by the Iroquois.

European explorers, fur traders and missionaries noted our communities were fairly large, consisting of hundreds of people living in longhouses sometimes over 300 feet in length. Around these towns were hundreds of areas of fields planted with the staples of corn (with fields up to eight miles in length), beans and squash but also including large apple and peach orchards.

Along the St. Lawrence the Mohawks had two very large towns called Hochelaga (now Montreal) and Stadacona (Quebec City), both visited by the French navigator Jacques Cartier in 1534. Cartier was impressed by the size of these places, which he estimated as containing many thousands of residents.

Anyone who has studied urban planning knows any large town or city does not exist in a vacuum, it requires an elaborate network of goods and services to survive. If Cartier was correct in his observations then these two towns would have many other Mohawks engaged in securing food, building homes, conducting trade with other nations or providing administrative and public works services.

By taking into account the many dozens of other large Iroquois towns, the fertility of our lands, ready food supply, exceptional physical health and stable social conditions we can safely state the Haudenosaunee people were very numerous.

Of course, one of the rationales used to steal Indian lands was that America was little more than a "howling wilderness" barely inhabited by a people who were primitive savages. Such a lie cannot be sustained in light of the latest physical evidence which estimates at least 145,000,000 Native people lived in the Americas at the time of European contact with a many as 18,000,000 Indians in what is now the United States and Canada. There are now less than 2.5 million Native Americans residing in North America according to the latest census figures.

Our fall from that pinnacle of prosperity was terrifyingly swift. Millions of our ancestors died in massive European bred plagues prior to active colonization. Countless others died of warfare or slavery. Within a decade of Cristobal Colon's (aka Columbus) landing on Hispaniola well over a half million Indians were killed on that island alone.

And so it went, as Native nation after nation was "discovered", attacked, forced into retreat and finally restricted to marginal lands incapable of sustaining the lifestyles they had developed over many thousands of years.

Only during the past three generations have Indians begun to recover, at least in terms of numbers.

According to the Canadian and U.S. census there are 74,518 Iroquois in North America, the majority of whom live north of the border.

In New York State there are 16,754 Iroquois living on, or registered with, six reservations: Akwesasne, Oneida, Onondaga, Tonawanda, Tuscarora, Cattaraugus and Allegany. Every Iroquois nation except the Cayugas have at least a small foothold in their original territories.

In New York State Akwesasne has 5,632 Mohawks; Oneida has an enrollment of 1,109; there are 1,596 Onondagas; 1,200 Tuscaroras; 448 Cayugas (primarily living at Cattaraugus); 1,050 Senecas at Tonawanda; and 6,531 Senecas at Cattaraugus and Allegany.

In Quebec there are 1,753 Mohawks at Kahnesatake-Oka and 7,878 Mohawks at Kahnawake. Ontario has 7,766 Mohawks registered on the "Canadian" side of Akwesasne; 5,728 Mohawks at Tyendinaga; 557 Mohawks at Watha-Gibson; 3,970 Oneidas at Southwold near London, Ontario, Canada. There are 17,603 Iroquois of all Six Nations on Grand River Reserve west of Hamilton.

In Wisconsin 10,309 Oneidas called the Green Bay area home while 2,200 Seneca-Cayugas are living on a small reservation in northeast Oklahoma.

In arriving at a total, consideration must be given to potentially thousands of Iroquois who have lost their status through intermarriage or because they have not lived on a reservation for some time. At Akwesasne the numbers are not indicative of the true population of the reservation since enrollment can be duplicated on both sides of the border. Also, some traditional Iroquois have refused to be counted in either the Canadian or U.S. census which affects the final numbers.

An analysis of current land holdings of the Iroquois in contrast to our aboriginal territory will be the subject of a later column.

Thanks to the Bureau of Indian Affairs in Washington and the Department of Indian Affairs in Ottawa for their assistance in compiling the above data.

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