Hiawatha (also known as Ayenwatha, Aiionwatha, or Haiëñ'wa'tha; Onondaga) was a legendary Native American leader and founder of the Iroquois confederacy. Depending on the version of the narrative, Hiawatha lived in the 16th century and was a leader of the Onondaga or the Mohawk.
Hiawatha was a follower of The Great Peacemaker, a prophet and spiritual leader, who proposed the unification of the Iroquois peoples, who shared similar languages. Hiawatha, a skilled and charismatic orator, was instrumental in persuading the Senecas, Cayugas, Onondagas, Oneidas, and Mohawks, to accept the Great Peacemaker's vision and band together to become the Five Nations of the Iroquois confederacy. Later, the Tuscarora nation joined the Confederacy to become the Sixth Nation.
The Hiawatha Belt is made of 6574 wampum beads - 38 rows by 173 rows, and has 892 white and 5682 purple beads. The purple represents the sky or universe that surrounds us, and the white represents purity and Good Mind (good thoughts, forgiveness, and understanding). The belt symbolizes the Five Nations from west to east in their respective territories across New York state—Seneca (keepers of the western door), Cayuga (People of the Swamp), Onondaga (Keepers of the Fire), Oneida (People of the Standing Stone) and Mohawk (keeper of the eastern door)—by open ‘squares’ of white beads with the central figure signifying a tree or heart. The white open squares are connected by a white band that has no beginning or end, representing all time now and forever. The band, however, does not cross through the center of each nation, meaning that each nation is supported and unified by a common bond and that each is separate in its own identity and domain. The open center also signifies the idea of a fort protected on all sides, but open in the center, symbolizing an open heart and mind within.
The tree figure signifies the Onondaga Nation, capital of the League and home to the central council fire. It was on the shores of Onondaga Lake where the message of peace was “planted” and the hatchets were buried. From this tree, four white roots sprouted, carrying the message of unity and peace to the four directions.
The Hiawatha Belt has been dated to the mid-18th century. Near its center, it contains a bead made of colonial lead glass. It is believed the design is as old as the league itself, and that the present belt is not the original.
The Hiawatha Belt forms the basis of the flag of the Haudenosaunee Confederacy, created in the 1980s. It is also included in the logo of the Toronto Nationals, a Major Lacrosse League team.