First Peoples > An Ancient Bond with the Land > People of the Longhouse > Women's Influence on the Men's World

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An Ancient Bond with the Land

People of the Longhouse

Women's Influence on the Men's World

Clans were the basis of Iroquoian social and political organization. A nation might consist of half a dozen clans. These were often named for, and symbolized by, an animal such as the wolf, the turtle and the bear. Clan members often decorated objects of everyday use with their clan symbol.

People from the same clan considered themselves as brothers and sisters. Membership was a basis for clan members cooperating and assisting each other, even if they were not members of the same longhouse.

Clan Mothers' influence was felt most directly at the community level. The village council was composed of chiefs representing each clan. These chiefs, all of them men, were appointed by Clan Mothers. The Clan Mothers could also depose chiefs they judged to be incompetent. People always asked for, and respected, the Clan Mothers' opinion. Their advice was sought when war was declared, or peace negotiated.

"Now, listen, Brother: know that it has been the request of our head warrior that we are left to answer for our women, who are to conclude what ought to be done by both sachems (chiefs) and warriors. So hear what is their conclusion."

Red Jacket, 1791

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