Kanienkehaka, circa 1692 - circa 1769

Note: All narratives about people are, to the extent possible, based on primary and secondary historical sources. Some narratives necessarily contain invented, yet plausible, scenarios and personal attributes. Please see About This Narrative to learn more about how this person's narrative was created.

Tsioianiio - Prologue | Captivity | Epilogue | About This Narrative |


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Tsioianiio was a Kanienkehaka kinswoman and friend of Eunice Kanestenhawi Williams.
Illustration copyright Pamela Patrick White.

In the village of Kahnawake, a newborn child was cause for great celebration. Such was the case for one family in the year 1692. The baby girl was brought to the mission chapel and was baptized "Anne" by Father Bruyas, one of the Jesuit missionaries continuing the work of their order. She was a child born of two worlds and appropriately, she was also given a Kanienkehaka name in a ceremony later in the year. Her name was Tsioianiio, which means "she has a good path."

Tsioianiio grew up in a household organized by the women. She was a bear clan member and learned all the responsibilities of the females. Her "istá," or mother, was one of many clan matrons who coordinated the activities of the households. In Kanienkehaka fashion, the children were the responsibility of all the people; thus, Tsioianiio found herself cradled by many mothers. Children were seen as great gifts of the Creator and were treated with very kind hands, and much to the dismay of the Jesuits, were never disciplined with physical harm. Water splashed in the face, or the disparaging looks of the community, were enough to keep the children in line.

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Kahnawake's position on the northern edge of Kanienkeh strategically placed its people to trade for both English goods at Albany and French goods in Montreal. To learn about this ax, click here.
Courtesy New York State Museum, Albany, New York. Alva S. Reed Collection.

Life in Kahnawake was a prosperous one. The constant trading that went on kept everyone in fine clothing, metal tools, and furs. Outside the village, the world was much troubled, but in the protective heart of the village, the outside world seemed far away.

Tsioianiio - Prologue | Captivity | Epilogue | About This Narrative |


When Tsioianiio was twelve years old, her mother and the women of her longhouse began to make clothing. It was quite common at this time for adoptees to be brought into the village and given to families who had lost members, or given as an addition to the household. Adoptees would be stripped of their clothing and given new clothing, which would help facilitate their "re-birth" as members of a new family. The entire household was busy making moccasins, skirts, and leggings for the newcomers.

Early one week, a large group of men arrived. Tsioianiio watched as an uncle of hers, Thaonwentsawakon, carried a small girl to her longhouse, where her aunt, with tears in her eyes, gathered up the small girl and carried her inside. The girl looked frightened and dirty but she seemed to be in good health after such a long journey. Tsioianiio learned that the new people were from a place called "Deerfield" and that this little girl would become her new relative. The little girl had an English name, Eunice.

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Tsioianiio helped little Eunice Williams feel more comfortable in her new home in Kahnawake.
Illustration copyright Francis Back.

Tsioianiio watched as the women of the house removed the girl's clothing and bathed her, all the while talking to her in Kanienkeha about her new family and her new position in the longhouse. It seemed that she would replace a child of Tsioianiio's aunt that had recently succumbed to smallpox. The women were gentle to her and careful not to further frighten the little girl. They asked Tsioianiio to bring them the new clothing that was prepared for Eunice, and she did. When they were finished, the little girl was welcomed by everyone, including Tsioianiio, who tried her hardest to smile and make the newcomer feel welcome.

The girl was Eunice Williams from the English village of Deerfield. In Kahawake, she would become "Waongote," which can be translated as "someone who is stood up and planted," or "they took her and place her as a member of the tribe"— a new member of the household and now a clan sister to Tsioianiio. Her name was considered "hung about the neck" which was common for the newly adopted, and meant that the name could be removed if she decided to return to her English family and leave Kanienkehaka life.

Life in the village was full of excitement and every day brought new challenges and the opportunity to learn. Tsioianiio became a teacher to Waongote. She showed her how to make "Atha-ohnwe," or moccasins, and tried to teach her Kanienkeha. Waongote learned quickly to speak fluently, and over time, she and Tsioianiio became close friends.

Tsioianiio - Prologue | Captivity | Epilogue | About This Narrative |

1708 - c. 1769

Tsioianiio was accustomed to the annual cycles of life in Kahnawake. Wintertime was for hunting and trapping; it kept many of the men far from home for months at a time. The springtime brought more travel. Some women from Kahnawake took positions as porters for trading parties heading south to Albany. Tsioianiio felt the urge to travel and would beg to be taken by her uncles along on the long journey south.

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Beaver pelts that came from Kahnawake and its northern surrounds were thicker and more valuable than those found around Albany.
Copyright Pocumtuck Valley Memorial Association, Deerfield, MA. All Rights Reserved.

Eventually, the uncles agreed to bring her along. She was a strong young woman now, 16-years-old and eager to see the homelands that she had heard about in the stories told by her istá. She was expected to carry a large bundle of beaver furs when walking, and when in the elm bark canoe, she would pull her own weight and paddle along with the men. Tsioianiio arrived safely in Albany in the year 1708 and watched as the men held a parley over the furs and negotiated a good price. She anticipated some new wool duffle for clothing and possibly silk ribbon they might receive in the exchange. She enjoyed the excitement of the journey, and the prospect of new English goods kept her attention the entire time. After the prices were set and the bartering over, the group traveled west to the Mohawk valley where they spent a few months with relatives they knew from their visits to Kahnawake.

After her return north, Tsioianiio told the story of her trip to Waongote, who listened in rapt interest. Later that spring, Tsioianiio watched as Waongote was brought into the longhouse and given a new name. She would be forever known as Kanenstenhawi, "she brings in corn," a proper bear clan name which further solidified her position within the village.

Sometime after returning to Kahnawake, Tsioianiio's family began to look for a partner for her. Many men were proposed but only one caught her eye. Arrangements were made and the marriage was set for the spring. Tsioianiio married a wolf clan man—a successful trapper and an excellent hunter. He provided well for her family and followed the customs of the longhouse, as well as the Catholic faith. He would bring Tsioianiio with him on his frequent travels to the south for trade.

One year, Tsioianiio asked Kanenstenhawi to help carry the winter furs to Albany. She agreed and during the trip met a man from the Mohawk valley, named Arosen. A few months later, Arosen arrived in Kahnawake as a part of a delegation where he reconnected with Kanenstenhawi. Arosen traveled back to the Mohawk valley, but soon returned and settled in the longhouse of his Wolf clan relatives. He had already adopted Catholicism, taking François Xavier as his Christian name, so the village was congenial to him. Kanenstenhawi agreed with her mother that Arosen seemed to be brave and resourceful. In time, the matrons of his relatives' longhouse approached Kanenstenhawi's mother and grandmother. They all agreed that a match between the couple would be appropriate, and they proposed the match to the young people.

The longhouse where Tsioianiio grew up was now getting quite crowded with two new families and all the children that were being born; it was time to build a new house. The men of the clan organized themselves and in the spring when the elms yielded their bark, new homes were built. The new longhouse would be a place for just a few families; Tsioianiio moved with her sister's family and began a new household. Kanenstenhawi remained in the home she was raised in, and like Tsioianiio, became a leader among the clan.

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Longhouses of the same clan were often clustered together in Iroquois villages.
Illustration copyright Francis Back.

Tsioianiio and Kanenstenhawi remained friends throughout their lifetimes, and their children were comfortable in each other's longhouses. Tsioianiio eventually was raised up into one of the bear clan matrons after the death of her istá. She carried on the duties of a matron with great respect and pride into a grand old age. She was not only mother and grandmother to many children, but she held the position of a clan mother. Throughout her life she always cherished her friend and sister, Kanenstenhaw, and would always recall the winter she sewed moccasins, and the girl to whom they were given.

Tsioianiio - Prologue | Captivity | Epilogue | About This Narrative |

About This Narrative

Tsioianiio is a composite character who represents a typical Kanienkehaka woman living in Kahnawake at the end of the seventeenth century. A common person such as Tsioianiio would not have been written about specifically in any works of the time period, so we used many sources of written accounts of Kanienkehaka life at Kahnawake and other late seventeenth century and early eighteenth century communities, to create a sketch of a typical woman during this period. A blending of actual historic events and common traditional practices are the basis for this narrative. The actual events become the skeleton, with the details providing the flesh, bringing the story to life. The name "Tsioianiio" is a current Kanienkehaka clan name and is currently being used by a modern Kanienkehaka woman who has given us permission to use it in this narrative. To simply pick a name would not be appropriate or fair to anyone holding that name currently. This narrative was written by Iakonikonriio "Tonia" Loran-Galban and Michael Galban.

See Further Reading for a list of sources used in creating this narrative. For a discussion of issues related to telling people's stories on the site, see: Bringing History to Life: The People in The Many Stories of 1704.

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