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The Haudenosaunee make personal choices regarding what religion or way of life to follow. They can practice Christianity, Buddhism, Judaism, or any other of the numerous religions of the world. Many Haudenosaunee follow the traditional Longhouse way of life which revolves around the concept of giving thanks to all aspects of the natural world. When the Europeans arrived in North America they began an intensive campaign to convert the Native peoples to Christianity. During the 17th century, the Jesuits established a number of missions as part of France's attempts to colonize the "New World." From 1654  to 1708 the Jesuits built 13 missions among the five Haudenosaunee nations. By 1708 they were all abandoned. A number of the converted Haudenosaunee then moved to Canada and established the community of Kahnawake and later Akwesasne. About 1800, a man named Handsome Lake had a number of visions in which the Creator gave him instructions to bring to the people. The teachings of Handsome Lake are based in part on traditional beliefs, but also incorporate a number of Christian concepts.  Some people follow the teachings of Handsome Lake and some do not.

Longhouse at Six Nations Reserve
Many ceremonies of the traditional Haudenosaunee take place in a Longhouse. 
Longhouses today are contemporary buildings that are no longer made of poles and bark.

 Pleasant Valley Baptist Church on the Cattaraugus Reservation


The Words That Come Before All Else


The Ohen:ton Karihwatehkwen means “The Words That Come Before All Else.”  It is also referred to as “The Thanksgiving Address,”  “Giving Greetings to the Natural World,” or “The Opening Address.“  Traditional Haudenosaunee (Iroquois) say these words to begin and end each day, important meetings, ceremonies, and socials.   The Ohen:ton Karihwatehkwen is an expression of acknowledgement, greetings, love, and appreciation for every part of the Natural World.  The Ohen:ton Karihwatehkwen helps to bring the thoughts of the people together.  It is a way by which the Haudenosaunee remind themselves that human beings are only one strand in the Web of Life and that we are all connected to each other and to the rest of Creation. 


Below is a video presentation featuring Mohawk storyteller Kay Olan's spoken version of the  Thanksgiving Address along with images created by Tuscarora graphic artist Melanie Printup Hope ( supplemented with additional photographs.



© 2014 Iroquois Indian Museum created with

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