Onoda'gega (People of the Hills)


Artwork by John Kahionhes Fadden


OVERVIEW: Written by Kanatiiosh

The Onondaga call themselves Onoda'gega, sometimes spelled Onontakeka, which means People of the Hills, or Onondagaono (The People of the Hills).

The Onondagaono are one of the original Five Nations to accept the Peacemaker's message, and they joined together with the Mohawk, Oneida, Seneca, and Cayuga to form the Haudenosaunee Confederacy, which is also know as the Iroquois Confederacy. Haudenosaunee translates to mean (People of the Longhouse), which refers to the type of homes built by the Haudenosaunee. In approximately 1714, the Tuscarora joined the Haudenosaunee, and the Confederacy became six Nations strong.

In the picture (above), the artist (Kahionhes) depicts the Onondagaono by showing a man wearing a gustoweh (feathered hat) containing two eagle feathers placed near hills to represent that the Onondaga are known as the People of the Hills. When reading the Ayonwatha (Hiawatha) Belt, the Onondagaono are located at the center of the belt. If looking at the Ayonwatha Belt as it is presented on the first page of the web site, which is looking northward, then the Onondaga are represented by the symbol of the Great White Pine tree. After Tadodaho, who stood in the way of the Confederacy, accepted the Great Law of Peace from the Peacemaker, the Haudenosaunee Confederacy was founded, and then, at Onondaga, the Great Tree of Peace was planted and all the articles of war were buried beneath the tree. If one reads the belt by looking at the belt southward, then the Onondaga are represented by the symbol of the heart, for Onondaga is the center (Heart) of the Haudenosaunee Confederacy.

The Hiawatha belt represents the founding of the Haudenosaunee Confederacy. When the Peacemaker came to the warring Five Nations, he carried with him the message of Kaianeraserakowa (the Great Law of Peace). The Peacemaker came to the Haudenosaunee with his message of Skennen (Peace), Kariwiio (The Good Word), and Kasatensera (strength), which contains the principles of peace, equality, respect, love, and justice. The Peacemaker envisioned the uniting of these Nations in peace as one extended Longhouse with each Nation having their own hearth fire. In other words, each Nation would have a shared sovereignty in the Haudenosaunee Confederacy, and the responsibility to protect the Peace, the Natural World, and the Future Generations to come, while retaining the sovereignty over their own Nations. The joining together of the Five Nations is perhaps the oldest example of nations uniting under a single form of government and spirituality. Interestingly, the Haudenosaunee draw no distinction between what is political and what is spiritual, for our spiritual leaders are also the political leaders.

The Onondaga are known as the Fire-keepers, which has significance when the Grand Council of Chiefs, composed of all fifty chiefs of the Haudenosaunee Confederacy, meet to discuss matters of importance to the entire Confederacy. During the Grand Council the Onondaga officially open and close the meeting, as well as confirming and sanctioning all decisions of the Council. The Onondaga are also the Keepers of the Wampum, and they are known as the Elder Brothers.

In the picture (above), the man is wearing a Gustoweh, which is a feathered hat. One can identify the Nation that the wearer is from by the number of eagle feathers and the position of these feathers worn on the kastoweh.

Onoda'gega men wear two eagle feathers on their Gustowehs. The Onondaga wear one of the two feathers in an upright position and one feather is tilted downward on their feathered hats. If the man were a chief of the Onondaga Nation, he would wear attached to his feathered hat deer antlers that symbolize his authority as one of the fourteen chiefs of the Nation. One of the many jobs of the Clan Mothers, who are the female leaders, is to raise (to bring forth) a new chief from her clan, when one passes on or is removed. The Clan Mothers have the authority to dehorn (impeach), which is done by the removal of the deer antlers off the gustoweh of a chief who is not doing his duty to the people properly.

The Onoda'gega have five clans. The five clans are Beaver, Turtle, Wolf, Deer, and Eel. 2 Beaver, 2 Turtle, 4 Wolf, 4 Deer, and 2 Eel The Haudenosaunee are matrilineal, which means that the clans are passed down from one's mother. In other words, if your Mother is of the Deer clan, then you are of the Deer. If your father is of the Wolf clan, but your mother has no clan then you would have no clan, even though your father has a clan, because clans are passed on from mother to sons and daughters. Some mistakenly think that when a man marries a women he becomes her clan, this is untrue. If you are born with a clan, that clan remains yours through out your life.


Onondaga Nation School


A Tribute to Leon Shenandoah:

Onondaga chief Leon Shenandoah, Eel Clan filled the position of Tadodaho.

Mailing Address: 

Onondaga Nation
Onondaga Reservation
Box 319 B
Via: Nedrow, New York 13120

Map of Ancestral Lands

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Website created May 27,2000:Updated August 2002

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