Native American Tales

Hiawatha The Unifer

Hiawatha the UnifierHiawatha The Unifer


Ta-ren-ya-wa-gon was awoken by a great cry of anguish. He took a little girl by the hand and went down to the people and told them he would make them numerous and he did. There came to be quite a few people and it was decided that they should split up.

He made the Mohawks first and gave them their own language. They were also given gifts of plants. The Oneida were made next, with their own language and own gifts. Then he made the Onondaga. Next, were the Cayugas. The Seneca came next. Some people left and went west because they didn’t want to be any of the nations that had been created.

Ta-ren-ya-wa-gon decided to live among the people as a man. He lived with the Onondaga and took the form of a man named Hiawatha. He got married and had a daughter named Minehaha. Hiawatha led the people to prosper. He traveled in a white birch-bark canoe, which could float above waters and meadows. He would travel between the tribes he had made to teach the people.

Other wild tribes soon encroached upon the territory of Hiawatha’s tribes and the people didn’t know what to do. Hiawatha told them that they must band together. They must unite their sacred council fires. A great force came and took Hiawatha’s daughter away and he grieved.

At the sacred council fire, the tribes told Hiawatha that they would remain together as band. He told them they would be called the Iroquois. Hiawatha lived with them for a time yet, but he knew he must soon go. He got into his canoe and left.


Hiawatha is a person for whom there is a real account and a fictional account. He is credited with creating the Iroquois nation, but the poem by Longfellow probably isn’t what happened. In fact, Hiawatha the person is often confused with Ta-ren-ya-wa-gon the deity, which is exactly what happened in this story. The two beings were melded into one, which wasn’t actually the case. Ta-ren-ya-wa-gon was a deity, a god, while Hiawatha was simply a man who had an idea, although the idea was pretty big. The names were similar in the local language and this just added to the confusion. Longfellow’s idea of Hiawatha isn’t really how it happened at all.


This is really a stretched explanation for something that actually happened. The Iroquois nation was really a thing and Hiawatha was really a person, but did he actually have a canoe that could float above the water or a meadow? It’s like those stories where your uncle catches the fish and it’s five feet long, and he caught it in a creek, and he almost died doing it, but then it got away, so he didn’t have anything to show for it. The point is that things are a bit exaggerated with this story. Does that make Hiawatha any less awesome? Maybe a little, but he still did pretty great things.

The other point of this whole story is that by being unified, you can stand up to a lot. Knowing people who know people makes life a lot easier than being a hermit who lives up in the hills trying to “wrastle” a bear on his own. If you know people, you guys can get together and take that bear down lickety-split. There isn’t actually a bear; it’s just my analogy for the day.


Be unified.

Weigh In

If you had a canoe that could float above anything like a hover craft, where would you go?

Do you think Hiawatha the man could stand up to the legends about him?


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