Hiawatha Statue in Ironwood, Michigan
There are not too many certainties surrounding the known details of Hiawatha. He is thought to be a unifier, lawmaker, shaman, and statesman who lived around 1570. Some sources say that Hiawatha was born into the Mohawk people but sought refuge with the Onondagas after his own people rejected his teachings. Legend has it that Hiawatha tried in vain to unite the Iroquois tribes much to the discontent of a formidable and powerful chieftain named Wathatotarho, whom Hiawatha had defeated and in retaliation, had killed Hiawatha’s daughter.
Although Hiawatha is largely described as an Iroquois legend, it is the general consensus that Hiawatha was indeed a real person who did have a hand in the formation of the Five Nations in what is now present day New York state. The Five Nations joined the five tribes (later six) of the region to halt inter-tribal feuding that had gone on for over a hundred years.
The legend tells of a great spirit who descended upon the Earth as a human to gather his children together in a place that only he knew where they could live in peace and harmony. He made five groups or tribes and named them all and gave each a special gift. The spirit was dismayed that the tribes could not live in peace and looked to Hiawatha for guidance in uniting the tribes. Hiawatha said that the tribes were to be as the fingers of a warrior’s hand joined gripping the war club. The tribes agreed with his counsel and were each awarded a feather from a great mysterious bird, the spirit in a pure form. The tribesmen asked Hiawatha to lead the unified tribes and he refused but remarked that they should choose the wisest women in their tribes to be the future clan mothers and peacemakers, and to let them turn any strife arising among them into friendship. And to be wise enough to go to such women for advice when there are disputes.