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Topic – The Women of the Haudenosaunee Confederacy

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The Women of the Haudenosaunee Confederacy

Clans and families lived in longhouses.

Five nations made up the original Haudenosaunee (say it like this: hoe-dee-no-SHOW-nee) Confederacy. They were the Mohawk, Oneida, Onondaga, Cayuga, and Seneca. The Confederacy was formed many, many years ago. It was formed so these nations could live in peace with each other. In 1714, the Tuscarora Nation joined the Confederacy. Each nation had its own chief and council. The Confederacy had a Grand Council to deal with matters that affected all the nations.

You may know about some of the Confederacy’s famous leaders such as Peacemaker, Aiionwatcha (Hiawatha), and Joseph Brant. You may also know about the Great Law of Peace. This law provided a way to settle differences with thinking and negotiations rather than violence and warfare. But you may not know about the role of women in the Confederacy.

Women and the Clan System

In each nation, there were clans. A clan was like a family. Every person in a clan was related to everyone else in the clan because they shared a common female ancestor. The clan someone belonged to was passed down from mother to child. So when a woman married a man of a different clan, their children belonged to the mother’s clan. But they would also be part of the father’s family.

Clans in the Haudenosaunee Confederacy are matrilineal. Matri comes from the Latin word for “mother.” Lineal means “a direct line.”

Women also owned the land where crops were grown. They tended the crops. When a woman married, her husband moved into the house of his wife’s family.

The Clan Mother was the leader of the clan. The Clan Mother was usually the oldest woman in the clan. She had the responsibility of choosing the chief of her clan and making sure he did a good job. It was also her task to make sure everyone in the clan was well fed.

The clan system is still part of the Haudenosaunee Confederacy today. Women still have strong roles. Property is inherited through women. The Clan Mothers still select chiefs and provide advice and guidance.


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