A new landscape: Changing Iroquois settlement patterns, subsistence strategies, and environmental use, 1630--1783

Kelly Yvonne Hopkins
Dept. of History, University of California, Davis
July, 2010


This dissertation investigates how the Five, and later Six, Nations of the Iroquois Confederacy lived within and manipulated their local environment, as well as how daily contact and exchange with colonials altered native settlement patterns and subsistence strategies. The need to have consistent access to European trade goods precipitated significant change to both native systems. As natives became entrenched in a market economy that rewarded individual achievement, hereditary village leaders and young warriors adapted to market opportunities to maximize benefits for their communities and families. This produced a change in residency patterns as communities shifted to smaller, nuclear family households. This research shifts the paradigm of Iroquois historiography away from Europeans and the political and diplomatic narrative to place Indians at the center of their story. It also gives primary importance to environmental changes and how the Iroquois responded and adapted to these changes through altered daily living patterns, new ways of manipulating the landscape, and modified social relationships. These internal, day-to-day changes influenced external relations with former native enemies to the north and west, refugee nations fleeing colonial expansion from the south and east, and Europeans. The eighteenth-century Iroquois experience is not a debate over Indian independence or dependence, nor is it one of forced participation in, or active resistance to, the market. Instead, this period reveals native adaptability to a changing social, political, economic, and natural environment. Nations within the Confederacy assimilated European products to their social and cultural needs and created a hybrid European-Indian landscape that remained distinctly Indian. In addition, the eighteenth century is a story of interaction between "common" people as more and more colonists and Indians became neighbors and crossed paths on a frequent basis. This recurrent contact introduced Indians to new European products and colonial modes of living and subsistence. An emphasis on the eventual loss of land and the collapse of longstanding Iroquois settlement patterns and subsistence strategies masks this century-long process of cultural adaptation and colonial-Indian interdependence.