Hiawatha was a follower of Deganawidah, a prophet and shaman who was credited as the founder of the Iroquois confederacy. If Deganawidah was the idea man, Hiawatha was the politician who actually put the plan into practice. Hiawatha was a skilled and charismatic orator, and was instrumental in persuading the Iroquois peoples, the Senecass, Onondogas, Oneidas, Cayugas, and Mohawks, a group of Native Americans who shared a common language, to accept Deganawidah's vision and band together to become the Five Nations of the Iroquois confederacy. (Later, in 1721, the Tuscarora nation joined the Iroquois confederacy, and they became the Six Nations).
Hiawatha was the hero of the poem The Song of Hiawatha, published in 1855 by Henry Wadsworth Longfellow. Longfellow's poem confounds the life stories of Hiawatha and Deganawidah, and also draws on tales of the Algonquian trickster-figure Manabozho. The poem is also recited (in part) in Mike Oldfield's work Incantations.