Role of the clan mother
Within the Iroquois society there were specific roles that only men or women could perform. As the myth of the Sky Woman reflected the woman’s value in Iroquois society so too did the myth of her twin sons, Sapling and Flint, reflect the complementary aspects man and woman, east and west, etc., which are common in Iroquois culture. It was the Haudenosaunee’s belief that the two halves into which the universe was divided needed each other to exists (Mann 2000). This principle of reciprocating halves can be seen in numerous structures within the confederation, from the structures to the clan and councils to that of the nations and the league itself, and guides the Iroquois’s government organization (Mann 2000)
The history of the clan mother dates back to the creation of the Iroquois confederation which, according to their oral tradition and legends, was co-founded by the prophet Deganawida, also known as The Great Peacemaker, the orator Hiawatha, and the “powerful woman” known as Jigonhsasee (Baugher and Spencer-Wood 2010). Jigonhsasee recognized the power of peace and helped The Peacemaker in establishing the League of the Haudenosaunee (Venables). Jigonhsasee was given the task of appointing the men who would sit at the peace gathering envisioned by the Great Peacemaker. For becoming the first ally in Deganawida’s peace movement she was called the Mother of Nations (Anna Grossnickle Hines) The Great Peacemaker decreed that women and men would be of equal standing and the duty of choosing the leaders of the League would be that of the Clan mothers. As a tribute to this story the institution of the clan mothers was created (Rodriguez 2017)
As mentioned, the structure of the league was a reflection of the principle reciprocating halves. Arranged by nation, each clan held civic positions in councils. That being said, as the progenitors of the nation, the women were the ones who had the rights over these titles (Mann 2000). As Barbara Mann states in Encyclopedia of the Haudenosaunee (Iroquois Confederacy): “The order of deliberation in the councils was this: The Clan Mothers’ councils considered all matters ?rst, determining whether and when to forward them to the men’s Grand Council” (Mann and Johansen, 2000:125).
When the threat of war loomed, special military councils were convened and what was decided at the council had to be run through the Clan Mothers’ council and the Grand Council… The Clan Mothers held great power in these decisions, as they could choose to disband the war councils or declare war (Mann and Johansen, 2000:125).
As with the role of women in general, the influence of the clan mothers was often overlooked by the majority of the European ethnographers that studied the Iroquois culture through the lens of male-dominated patriarchal Europe (MacLeod 2012). As Canadian historian D. Peter MacLeod wrote: “…the importance of clan mothers, who possessed considerable economic and political power within Canadian Iroquois communities, was blithely overlooked by patriarchal European scribes… references show clan mothers meeting in council with their male counterparts to take decisions regarding war and peace and joining in delegations” (MacLeod, 2012:14)
According to Mann, the assumption that Jigonsaseh ruled over the women as European monarchs do was inappropriate, as both Jigonsaseh and Adodaroh, an Iroquois sachem (chief), possessed equal powers, with Jigonsaseh and all subsequent Clan mothers having the added ability to decide on the starting and ending of wars as well as judicial matters. And even these steps were taken into consideration within the Council of the Clan mothers.
Role of the clan mother