The Erie people are indigenous natives of North America. They are often referred to as an "American Indian" tribe from the Iroquoian branch ethnically, and from Hokan-Siouan stock linguistically. Still, they did speak some in an Iroquoian tongue similar to that of the Huron. The word Erie means ‘long tail’ as well as ‘cat’. And thus the Erie tribe was popularly known as the "Cat Nation". Traditionally, they lived on the southern shores of Lake Erie. They lived as an Iroquoian group in an area now popularly characterized as including parts of Northern Ohio, Northwestern Pennsylvania, and Western New York. The Erie Indians had very little interaction with the Europeans who visited North America, and thus did not acquire the firearms which allowed their Iroquois rivals to dominate them.
Erie Indians lived in fort-like communities which were within a palisade made up of logs. Palisades of 3 concentric rows lined inwards with bark over bark. Erie people would construct standing places over these palisades for defenders to use. Besides this, to carry the water for putting out fires started by arsonist assailants, they used gutters. They built villages with sometimes as few as ten buildings, or up to as many as 140 buildings. Their palisades, or stockades, were made of wooden stakes from tree trunks which were between 15 and 30 feet high. Each stake was sharpened to a fine point, and was placed in close proximity to one another. Sometimes, Erie people built extra thick stockades. Some of the Erie lived in long, rectangular, multi-family homes.
Erie Indians cooked simple food. Their main crops were corn, beans, and squash, from which they derived most of their nutrition from in the summer. Following schedule, Erie Indians would embark on regular hunts in the winter. When there was surplus of crops grown in some years, they stored it for future use in the cold winters. After harvesting the crops, the seasonal rounds involved fall hunting which lasted until the winter solstice. During early spring, fishing and hunting of passenger pigeons was carried out. This gave rise to a cycle of more dependence on plant foods in the warmer months, and using more game meat and fish to supplement their diets in the winter.
2. Cultural Significance
The Erie people were densely populated relative to many other Native American tribes. They had several divisions among them, and many lived in permanent stockade towns. They were more a truly agricultural people like many of their neighbors further south, mainly growing squash, beans, and corn as companion crops, in a triumvirate of produce popularly known as the ‘Three Sisters’. Besides their green thumbs, they were also famous for weaving mats from rushes and crafting pottery for cooking. Furthermore, they were also accomplished hunters, and many of the tribe's hunted and traded beaver skins, especially following European contact, because their pelts had such high market values. Erie burial customs involved elaborate "crying ceremonies", which lasted for five days and even included dancing and singing, and the dead being placed on large scaffolds. Every 10 to 12 years, these people held an enormous ceremony, wherein they buried their remaining bones and flesh.
For many years, the Erie Indians lived in peace and security without any fear of being attacked in the open. Their settlements were scattered over a large area, for when war, sickness or starvation occured, the Erie Indians deemed it to be dangerous to live in the open. There are no certain answers to what became of the once great Erie Indians. Some believe the Erie tribe was eliminated by the Iroquois. Others believe they were assimilated into the Huron tribes. Still others believe that the Erie migrated from their origins out into different directions, with separate groups of survivors settling in Canada and Virginia.