The culture of the Meherrin people is similar to that of other Iroquois people. As we were once one people; we share the same language, culture, and government with the Tuscarora - much like that of our cousins, the Mohawk, Oneida, Onondaga, Cayuga and Seneca.
The Meherrin people were taken into the Tuscarora in 1761 and were taken under the protection of the Haudenosaunee (Five Nations/ Iroquois Confederacy) in 1712, along with the Tuscarora. Some Meherrin decendents reside among the Tuscarora in New York and on the Six Nations Reserve in Canada. However, the Meherrin who have remained in North Carolina maintain our independent tribal entity.
While the Meherrin of today are westernized in our customs, many Meherrin have moved towards reviving Iroquois culture in our communities, through revitalizing our language, Iroquois ceremonies, dances, and reinstating the Great Abiding Law of Peace. This has been done most recently with guidance from our Haudenosaunee brothers and sisters. Much of what we are doing in our Meherrin communities, mirrors what has happened across Indian Country.
The Seal of the Meherrin Nation
The Seal of the Meherrin Nation is primarily made up of purple and white- the colors of wampum. Our people are standing in an unbroken circle; the ancestors, our people today, and future generations of Meherrin. All of the clan animals of the Meherrin Nation are present in the center of the circle. On the back of the Great Turtle, or Turtle Island (North America) stands the Tree of Peace, symbolizing our nation following the Great Binding Law set forth by Deganawida, the Peacemaker. The water surrounding the turtle symbolizes our name- Kauwets'a:ka (People of the Water).
Meherrin women wear long, beautiful dresses with a skirt underneath. They sometimes wear beaded crowns. Both men and women like our traditional wampum jewelry and beadwork. The women are Life-givers and walk in closeness with Ene Ufne, Mother Earth.
Meherrin men usually wear a gustoweh, or Iroquois feathered hat. We do not wear any eagle feathers on them like members of the Five Nations. Traditional clothing includes wampum jewelry, ribbon or yoke shirts, breechcloths and aprons, and Iroquois-style leggins.
Sometimes you may see Meherrin people, like those from other tribes, wearing powwow-style regalia. These styles are usually from the Northern or Southern Plains and are not our traditional Iroquois clothing. While this is not part of our traditional culture it has an important place in Indian identity and culture of today.
Meherrins had several clans at one time. It is unknown exaclty how many but we know that we shared the same clans with the Tuscarora and Nottoway. Today we have the Tawis Tawis (snipe, or plover) Clan, Rakwis (Turtle) Clan, Utsihreh (Bear) Clan, Thkwari:ne (Wolf) Clan, and the Tsunakę (Beaver) Clan.
The clan system is central to Meherrin Culture. It determines much about our lives, our ceremonies, our decision-makers, and even who we can marry.
Clans are our extended families and are inherited matrilinially- through the mother, her mother, and her mother, and so on. The leader of each clan is an elder women who is chosen based on the clan of her birth and her leadership qualities.
A long time ago, Meherrins often intermarried with people from the other Iroquois nations, but from a different clan. When reviewing Meherrin History, we find that Meherrins were often mentioned as being among other Iroquiois people. Also, Tuscarora and "Seneca" (used by colonists to refer to any one of the Five Nations) were often mentioned among Meherrin. Your clan is seen as your extended family even if members are from another nation.
The Meherrin clans that exist today have survived through our matrilineal lines. While many of the clan practices have disappeared, the clan designations were passed down through oral and written history. With the return of Iroquois traditions to the Meherrin people the role of clans has become more important. This was also the case in other Iroquios nations including the Tuscarora in New York, as well as Oneidas and Mohawks. (Porter, Tom. Clanology: Clan system of the Iroquois. Native North American Traveling College. 1993).
You will often see Meherrins wearing symbols of our clans in our regalia.
Meherrins, like other Iroquois people lived in longhouses. These homes were noted as being weather-proof and very spacious. Longhouses were made of strong materials- wood and thick bark for the walls and roof. The inside had shelves and beds along the side, and one or more fires down the center. Several families might have lived in one extended longhouse, but they almost always were part of the same clan.
Today longhouses are used for cermonies. Those of us who follow traditional Iroquois ways are sometimes called "longhouse religion" people. "Longhouse People" is a term used to describe Iroquois people as a whole, but primarily applies to those taken into the Iroquois Confederacy. Meherrins are one of the many nations who were taken into the Confederacy.
Meherrin towns were not usually fortified with tall stockades like those of other Iroquois.
Our traditional language is Ska:rù:rę. Few Meherrins speak Skaru:re today, but many tribal members are working hard to remember and learn the language. You may hear Skaru:re being spoken at our traditional gatherings and social dances, especially as part of our Thanksgiving Address which is recited before and after all festivities.
Skaru:re is the Iroquois language that was spoken by the Tuscarora, Meherrin and Nottoway collectively (Rudes, Blair A. Cowinchahawkon/ Akawęč?á:ka:?: The Meherrin in the Nineteenth Century. Algonquin and Iroquoian Linguistics. 6 (3) PAGES 32-34. London, Ontario).
Ska:rù:rę is a Northern Iroquois language, closely related to those of the Five Nations. The ancestral group of the Tuscarora, Meherrin and Nottoway broke away from the common ancestral group we share with the Haudenosaunee (Five Nations) about 2,000 years ago and migrated to what is now North Carolina and Virgina. Once here, we separated into three distinct nations, but remained politically united. The diagram to the left shows the relationships between Iroquois languages. Notice the very recent break between the Tuscarora, Nottoway and Meherrin. -Mithun, Marianne. The Proto-Iroquoians: Cultural Reconstruction from Lexical Materials. StateUniversity of New York Press, Albany. 1984
The Meherrin Nation was taken under the protection of the Six Nations after 1712. This is in accordance with the Great Law of Peace, the binding constitution of the Five Nations- Mohawks, Oneidas, Onondagas, Cayugas, and Senecas. The Tuscarora were taken in as a sixth nation, without voting rights on the council of cheifs. Many other nations have been taken into the Confederacy, including the North Carolina Tutelos and Yeopim among others. Some estimates place this pact at being 1,000 years old. We do know that it was well established before Europeans arrived on Turtle Island.
The Kayanashakowa tells us how to live in accordance with Creator's original instructions, and how to treat others in and outside of our nations and clans. It is our form of government- the longest surviving democracy in the world!
In 2009 a Kayanashakowa Review (Great Law Review) was led by Onondaga Wolf Clan Chief Billy Lazore and Mike Jock (Kanaratanoron) of the Mohawk Nation. The entire Kayanashakowa was recited to the Meherrin people over the course of ten days, as tradition calls for. This Review of the Kayanashakowa signified the Meherrin Nation's reaffirmed commitment to our Iroquois traditions.
The Meherrin Lunar Calendar and the Cycle of Ceremonies
This calendar outlines each festival or ceremony for each Moon, as part of our Cycle of Ceremonies and Thanksgiving. The first day of each moon is marked by the New Moon. The turtle shell reminds us of our calendar, which 13 moons in the year, and 28 days in each moon.
1. Katarhwat Hihté-čreh - "Spirit of the North Wind" Moon
Meherrin people include smoke dance and Iroquois social dances in our gatherings. These are sometimes open to the public and include the Standing Quiver, Stomp Dances, Old Moccasin Dance, Fish Dance, Round Dance, Alligator Dance, and the Stick or Skin Dance among many more. Musical instruments include the water drum, horn rattles and turtle rattles in ceremonies. We have more sacred dances that are only done in private, in our ceremonies. See our Festival page for more photos.
Chu-teche, (wampum) is important to Meherrins, as it is to most Eastern Native American people. It is made from the shells of clams and whelks. The stunning purple and white shells are made into beads and used on jewelry, as well as famous wampum belts. Wampum was once used in treaty belts (such as those pictured to the right), and as currency among Indian people. Wampum is still very valuable to us today. It is used in ceremonies and even burried with us when we cross over.