The Iroquois Creation Story: Summary & Analysis Video

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  • 0:04 Origins of the Iroquois
  • 0:44 In the Beginning
  • 1:34 Sky Woman
  • 2:47 Tekawerahkwa
  • 3:39 Sapling and Flint
  • 5:08 Lesson Summary
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Lesson Transcript
Instructor: Christopher Muscato

Chris has a master's degree in history and teaches at the University of Northern Colorado.

In this lesson, we'll explore where the Iroquois people come from by examining their creation stories. We will also see how these stories informed their cultural values.

Origins of the Iroquois

Where did Native American people come from? When English settlers arrived in North America in the 17th century, one of the first cultures they came into contact with was that of the Iroquois, or Haudenosaunee as they call themselves. Archeologists speculate that the ethnolinguistic groups who came to be known as the Iroquois inhabited the region of Ontario and upstate New York for roughly 4,000 years. Their ancestors were likely hunter-gatherers who immigrated to this region and built a society over generations. That's the archaeological explanation. But why stop there? If we want to know where the Iroquois came from, why don't we just ask the Iroquois themselves?

In the Beginning

The Iroquois creation story is one that was passed down orally, from generation to generation. Since it wasn't written down until after Iroquois cultural stability had already been weakened by English and French incursions, there are different versions. We're going to cover the most common one, but keep in mind that certain details may change depending on which of the Iroquois tribes you consult. This version starts, as most creation stories do, with ''In the beginning.''

In the beginning, there was an island that floated in the sky. It hovered over a dark world covered by a massive ocean and populated by sea creatures and birds. The sky island was a paradise, where human-like beings called Sky People lived. At the center of this island was a tree that gave light, since there was no Sun yet. It was called the celestial tree.

Sky Woman

The chief of the Sky People was the Great Spirit, a very powerful being. His daughter (or in some versions, his wife) was Sky Woman, who had become pregnant through an illicit affair. The Great Spirit ordered the celestial tree to be uprooted, but no one could do it. Finally, he himself wrapped his arms around it and pulled the great tree from the island. Curious, Sky Woman looked through the hole in the island and was pushed by the Great Spirit (or in some versions, fell) and tumbled towards the Earth below.

The birds took pity on the free falling Sky Woman and caught her in their wings, lowering her slowly towards the sea. However, the sea creatures realized that she could not live in water. Scrambling, they tried to pull the earth up from below the ocean but couldn't manage. Muskrat could dive deeper than anyone and was able to bring up handfuls of earth, but it was not enough. Muskrat and the Great Turtle hatched a plan together. They would pile all the handfuls of earth onto Great Turtle's shell. Muskrat and the other sea creatures piled up the earth until finally they had created all the dry land of the world, resting on the Great Turtle's back. Sky Woman landed safely on the earth and made it her home.


On Earth, Sky Woman gave birth to a daughter, Tekawerahkwa. Tekawerahkwa grew into a beautiful young woman and the spirits courted her by taking human form. She fell in love with one spirit and became pregnant with twins.

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