Chapter 19: Chief Annenraes and the Iroquois Confederacy Declare War

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CHAPTER 19. Chief Annenraes and the Iroquois Confederacy Declare war.   

Annenraes moved out of the longhouse, the 200-foot bark house he shared with his wife and child and ten other families. He was in the center of the village when his son, Kepitinat, who was ten, caught up to him.

"Father, may I go to the council tonight?"

Annenraes looked at his son who was constantly asking to do this thing or that thing for which he was not of age.

"It is for elders and leaders. Not children."

"Children are not skilled with a bow, as I am. I know my forest foods, and I am a good tracker."

Until four years ago the boy had been indulged as all Iroquois children. Then he had begun learning skills and taking his turn at work. He was about to say he was a worthy competitor at games, but he thought that might count against him. But he did add, "And I am the son of a chief."

"Just because I am chief does not mean you will be. If the women of the nation recommended you the council would consider it," he reproved, and when his son looked crestfallen, Annenraes laughed, "You may attend, but you must stay in the dark and not speak or make a sound else you will not be invited for many months."

"Thank you, father. I will be silent as a rock." He ran off to tell his friends and play their war games.

"Play Kepitinet. All too soon those games your play will lead to real death," he said as he watched his son run, sturdy, straight legs carrying him away.

The more his son knew about government, the more he could contribute. And perhaps if he were elected chief he would be a man chosen for his governing ability, not his warcraft. If anyone would ever be elected to such a position again in his lifetime, he growled to himself. With so much killing now the chances looked remote.

For two days the Onondaga village, which was in the middle of the five nations, in the territory south of the great lakes, took on the air of a city. Stream after stream of Iroquois arrived: the Mohawk and Oneida from the east, the Cayuga and Seneca from the west. They called their government the Longhouse Confederacy because the five nations ranged across the territory like families in a village longhouse. The Mohawk lived at the eastern door, and then the Oneida, then the Onondaga, the Cayuga and finally the Seneca at the western 'door'. They came to smoke the council pipe. The Confederacy, formed one hundred years before this time, was at work.

Hunters from the village went out to procure meat from which the women prepared great feasts. For several days, the nations' members had met held small councils on matters of particular importance to different groups, women, old chiefs, young traders, and others and they sent representatives to the supreme council.

Tonight a huge fire was prepared and these deputies arranged themselves in circles around it. The council opened with an old sachem addressing the chief of all spirits asking for blessings.

There was much debate but no anger. No one interrupted. Each spoke, in turn, supporting his opinion with whatever facts or reasoning he could command but not until he had stated the point under discussion in full to prove he understood it, to reinforce the point in the minds of the listeners or to correct a detail. Each speaker summarized the points made before him, adding his comments to the skein.

Annenraes as the host, the chief who had called the council, rose to speak. His black scar glistened in the firelight as he walked around the circle. The faces of the braves reflected the history of the people. Unlike the Huron, the Iroquois demanded unanimity of their councils, and he knew he must be persuasive. He made a short invocation to elicit aid from the spirits in his speech-making. Then he began: