North-South-East-West: American Indians and the Natural World

Clan Animals on Turtle's BackIn the Forest: Animals and Humans

Clan Animals
Three basic clans—Bear, Turtle, and Wolf—exist at each of the Iroquois nations. Other clans vary depending upon the nation. The Mohawks have only three original clans; the Onondaga have nine. Each nation is also divided into two halves, or moieties. Moieties provide ceremonial services for each other. In particular, they bury the other side's dead and console them during their grief.

Although clan members take their clan animal as their emblem, they do not believe that their clan is descended from that animal. Rather, tradition states that someone went from one camp group to the next naming each for a bird or other animal that he saw nearby.


Image: Clan Animals on the Turtle’s Back
Wayne Skye (1949- ), Six Nations Reserve, Ontario, Canada, Wolf clan, Cayuga, 1996
The nine clan animals of the Cayuga nation stand on the great turtle's back. Clockwise from the turtle's head, they are hawk, snipe, wolf, beaver, turtle, eel, deer, heron, and bear (center). The turtle plays a large part in the Iroquois story of the Earth's origin. Long ago, according to the story, Sky Woman fell through a hole in the sky, down toward the vast waters below. The birds flew and caught her on their wings, but there was no place below for her to land. The turtle offered to support a world on his back, and the muskrat succeeded in bringing from the bottom of the sea some mud that he placed on the turtle's back. When Sky Woman landed, the Earth was ready for her on the back of the great turtle.
Moose antler (Alces alces), steel, adhesive, L 31.0 x W 24.0 x H 14.5 cm; 36182-1

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