Native American spiritual leader
Born: fl. 1550–1600
Deganawidah was the traditional founder, along with Hiawatha, of the Iroquois Confederacy, a political and cultural union of five Native American tribes across what is now New York State. Sometimes also known as the Iroquois League or the Five Nations, the confederacy originally comprised the Senecas, Cayugas, Oneidas, Onondagas, and Mohawks. Later it became the Six Nations after the Tuscaroras joined in 1722.
The legends surrounding Deganawidah, whose name means “Two River Currents Flowing Together,” are conflicting. Some say he was born into the Huron tribe to a virgin mother, while others say he was born into the Onondagas and adopted by the Mohawks. But by all accounts he was a prophet who advocated peace and an end to cannibalism among the warring tribes. He realized his vision with the help of his disciple Hiawatha, a Mohawk, who was renowned for his oratorical skills.
At Deganawidah's urging, a council of clan and village chiefs was established to serve as the confederacy's government. Each tribe had an equal vote, and all decisions were made unanimously. The Iroquois Confederacy became the most powerful confederation of Native Americans in the northeast woodlands, subduing or destroying neighboring tribes and preventing large-scale white settlement. In the 18th century the Iroquois Confederacy played an important role in the French and Indian War and the American Revolution before it was defeated finally by American troops in 1779.