Clan Mother

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Clan Mother is a traditional role of elder matriarch women within certain Native American clans, who was typically in charge of appointing tribal chiefs and Faithkeepers.

Hopi Clan Mothers[edit]

The Hopi (in what is now the Hopi Reservation in northeastern Arizona), according to Alice Schlegel, had as its "gender ideology ... one of female superiority, and it operated within a social actuality of sexual equality."[1] According to Diana LeBow (based on Schlegel's work), in the Hopi, "gender roles ... are egalitarian .... [and] [n]either sex is inferior."[2] LeBow concluded that Hopi women "participate fully in ... political decision-making."[3] According to Schlegel, "the Hopi no longer live as they are described here"[4] and "the attitude of female superiority is fading".[4] Schlegel said the Hopi "were and still are matrilinial"[5][a] and "the household ... was matrilocal".[5][b]

Schlegel explains why there was female superiority as that the Hopi believed in "life as the highest good ... [with] the female principle ... activated in women and in Mother Earth ... as its source"[6] and that the Hopi "were not in a state of continual war with equally matched neighbors"[7] and "had no standing army"[7] so that "the Hopi lacked the spur to masculine superiority"[7] and, within that, as that women were central to institutions of clan and household and predominated "within the economic and social systems (in contrast to male predominance within the political and ceremonial systems)",[7] the Clan Mother, for example, being empowered to overturn land distribution by men if she felt it was unfair,[6] since there was no "countervailing ... strongly centralized, male-centered political structure".[6]

Iroquois Clan Mothers[edit]

The Iroquois clan mother is responsible for the welfare of the clan. She names all the people of the clan and holds a position in nominating, installing and removing the male chief, the Hoyaneh ("Caretaker of the Peace"). They are considered the life givers. Each clan mother has a Faithkeeper who is responsible for ceremonial preparations, weddings, funerals, and other rituals.[8] The clan mother's position is hereditary; her title rests within the clan and is usually passed on to her female relatives, looking first at her eldest sisters, other sisters, then her eldest daughter and other daughters.[9] The Kanien'kéha word for clan mother, Oiá:ner, translates to English as "righteous" or "she is good".

Regarding the role of women in Iroquois society, Doug George-Kanentiio (2000) writes:

In our society, women are the center of all things. Nature, we believe, has given women the ability to create; therefore it is only natural that women be in positions of power to protect this function. ... We traced our clans through women; a child born into the world assumed the clan membership of its mother. Our young women were expected to be physically strong. ... The young women received formal instruction in traditional planting. ... Since the Iroquois were absolutely dependent upon the crops they grew, whoever controlled this vital activity wielded great power within our communities. It was our belief that since women were the givers of life they naturally regulated the feeding of our people. ... In all countries, real wealth stems from the control of land and its resources. Our Iroquois philosophers knew this as well as we knew natural law. To us it made sense for women to control the land since they were far more sensitive to the rhythms of the Mother Earth. We did not own the land but were custodians of it. Our women decided any and all issues involving territory, including where a community was to be built and how land was to be used. ... In our political system, we mandated full equality. Our leaders were selected by a caucus of women before the appointments were subject to popular review....Our traditional governments are composed of an equal number of men and women. The men are chiefs and the women clan-mothers. ... As leaders, the women closely monitor the actions of the men and retain the right to veto any law they deem inappropriate. ... Our women not only hold the reigns of political and economic power, they also have the right to determine all issues involving the taking of human life. Declarations of war had to be approved by the women, while treaties of peace were subject to their deliberations.[10]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Matrilineality, a system in which descent is traced through maternal ancestors
  2. ^ Matrilocal residence, a system in which a married couple live with or near the wife's parents


  1. ^ Schlegel, Alice, Hopi Gender Ideology of Female Superiority, in Quarterly Journal of Ideology: "A Critique of the Conventional Wisdom", vol. VIII, no. 4, 1984, p. 44 and see pp. 44–52 (essay based partly on "seventeen years of fieldwork among the Hopi", per p. 44 n. 1) (author of Dep't of Anthropology, Univ. of Ariz., Tucson).
  2. ^ LeBow, Diana, Rethinking Matriliny Among the Hopi, op. cit., p. [8].
  3. ^ LeBow, Diana, Rethinking Matriliny Among the Hopi, op. cit., p. 18.
  4. ^ a b Schlegel, Alice, Hopi Gender Ideology of Female Superiority, op. cit., p. 44 n. 1.
  5. ^ a b Schlegel, Alice, Hopi Gender Ideology of Female Superiority, op. cit., p. 45.
  6. ^ a b c Schlegel, Alice, Hopi Gender Ideology of Female Superiority, op. cit., p. 50.
  7. ^ a b c d Schlegel, Alice, Hopi Gender Ideology of Female Superiority, op. cit., p. 49.
  8. ^
  9. ^ Loretta Kemsley, MATRIARCH: An Iroquois Celebration of Womanhood
  10. ^ Doug George-Kanentiio, Iroquois Culture & Commentary, New Mexico, Clear Light Publishers, 2000, pp. 53–55 (emphasis added).