Before the arrival of whites, Algonquin and Iroquois tribes lived freely in New York . The Algonquin resided in the south and along the Hudson River Valley, while the Iroquois spread out across the north.
The Iroquois were actually a confederacy of five tribes — the Mohawk, the Oneida, the Onondaga, the Cayuga, and the Seneca — who had banded together around 1450 to end intertribal warfare. A sixth nation, the Tuscarora, joined the Confederacy in 1722.
The Iroquois survived through hunting, fishing, and the planting of the “Three Sisters” — corn, beans, and squash. Records were kept through storytelling and the weaving of elaborate wampum belts. Each of the Iroquois tribes was divided into matrilineal clans that took their names from birds and animals. The clans lived in longhouses comprised of 50–60 families, and all clan members were considered part of one family. Women selected the clan chiefs.
The men responsible for founding the Confederacy were a Huron, now known as the Peacemaker, and Hiawatha, an Onondaga chief. The two traveled from tribe to tribe for months, convincing their people to lay down their arms and embrace the Great Law of Peace. The Law gave equal voice to each of the tribes, guaranteed freedom of speech, set up a system for the impeachment of corrupt chiefs, and outlined an amendment procedure.
Sound familiar? It’s because the Great Law served as one of the models for the U.S. Constitution. No firm textual evidence exists, but several framers of the Constitution met frequently with the Iroquois after the Revolution, and Benjamin Franklin in particular expressed a wish to use their system as a model. In 1988, Congress passed a resolution acknowledging this Native American contribution to the U.S. Constitution.
Today, approximately 40,000 Native Americans still live in New York State . About 35 percent reside on reservations, while the rest live in large urban areas, most notably Brooklyn . Eight Iroquois communities are located upstate, ranging in size from the 30,469-acre Allegany Reservation (Seneca) to the 5,700-acre Tuscarora Reservation. The state’s only casinos are on Oneida territory about 20 miles east of Syracuse  and in Mohawk territory  near the Canada border.