The Role of a Haudensaunee Clanmother
by Katsitsionni Fox (Mohawk)
Each string in this wampum represents a title position. The circle is intertwined and symbolizes the 50 title holders united into one Confederacy.
The Haudensaunee (Iroquois) were at one time, long long ago at war with each other. The Seneca, Oneida, Onondaga, Cayuga and the Mohawk were fighting, Nation against Nation. The people were saddened by the misery of war, until the arrival of the Peacemaker. The Peacemaker was a messenger from the Creator. He carried with him a message of Peace that united these Nations into one powerful group called a Confederacy.
As the Peacemaker made his journey, he put into place 50 title holders that make up the Haudensaunee (Iroquois) Confederacy. For each title there sits five people, Clan mother, Chief, Sub-Chief (male), Faithkeeper (female), Faithkeeper (male), with the exception of the Tododaho title, who does not have a Clan mother. The Tadodaho has the special duty of keeping peace among the title holders of the 5 nations.
When the Haudensaunee Confederacy was being formed by the Peacemaker, there lived a woman named Tsiokonsase (Ja goon sa ze). Her house was right in the center of a path of war. Tsiokonsase would feed both sides as they passed by her house, and by doing so she played a key role in keeping the Nations at war. The Peacemaker approached her and explained to her his message of peace. She was asked to accept this peace and to stop her role in the war. She agreed. The Peacemaker made her the very first clan mother. Her role now became, to uphold this message of peace .
In Mainstream society, a person receives the last name of their father, and that determines their ancestry. For the Haudenosaunee, we receive a clan from our mother, and this determines our ancestry. This is called a matrilineal society. Everyone belonging to the same clan are considered relatives and we refer to each other as clan cousins. It is for this reason that we are not permitted to marry someone from our own clan, because it is the same for us as marrying a cousin.
When a child is born into our Nation they are given a name that is special. For instance, my name is Katsitsionni (pronounced Ga jeet junie). It means I make flowers. No one else is supposed to have this name, because it was given to me to use while I walk on this Earth, so that all the natural world will know me. Each clan has their own names to draw from, and it is the duty of the Clan mother to care for these names. Among the Haudensaunee there are nine clans: bear, wolf, turtle, snipe, beaver, deer, eel, hawk & blue heron.
A Clan mother is the head of a large extended family. It is the duty of the Clan mothers to watch the children of their clan family, as they are growing. She watches the children as they play, she notices the child that shares. She watches to see which children are kind and respectful to their elders. She is aware of the children who attend the ceremonies regularly. She looks for the children that have the qualities needed to become a chief, for it is her duty to choose a Chief for her clan.
A Chief and a Clan mother must have many qualities. They must be married to someone outside of their own clan. They must speak their native language. They must have knowledge of Haudensaunee ceremonies and political structure. They must be kind and generous. They must not take sides in disputes, but instead bring peace to both sides. It is said that the skin of a titleholder must be seven layers thick. This is so that they are not hurt or swayed by gossip and disagreeable individuals.
Clan mothers also have the ability to remove a chief from his position. There are three things that are grounds for removal of a chief from his position, they are: murder, rape & stealing. The Chief is a representative of his clan, and so he is put in position to be their voice in Council. If he goes against the wishes of his clan family he is given two warnings to stop this behavior. Upon the third warning he is removed by his Clan mother from his position.
The role of a Clan mother or a Chief is an honor, but also carries many responsibilities. Once you become a Chief or Clan mother you no longer belong to your family, but to the entire nation. Chiefs and Clan mothers often do not have a lot of material things, because they do not work for themselves. They work for the good of their Nation.
A lot has changed since the Peacemaker came and united us into one Confederacy, but it is important to know that we are still here. We still have among us people who speak our Native Languages and practice our traditional ceremonies. We still have Clanmothers. Their always watching the children, looking for our future leaders. And just like our first Clan mother Tsiakonsase, they are here to uphold the message of Peace, brought by the Peacemaker.
c. Katsitsionni Fox CLANMOTHERS
©2002 Nihewan Foundation