The Ioway traditionally stated we had 7 clans. The number 7 is
significant to us. There are some stories that once there were more
than the seven, and I have
counted more myself that were mentioned in old writings, but most go
with 7. These 7 are:
1. Black Bear
- 2. Buffalo
- 3. Thunder/Eagle
- 4. Wolf
- 5. Elk
- 6. Pigeon
- 7. Owl
Now I know we also once had Beaver and Snake as well, and probably
The Clans (in Ioway language "wokigo" (woh-KEE-goh) each had separate
origin stories, about their origins and how they joined together to
become the Iowas. This joining happened even before the Iowa and Otoe
(and other tribes like the WInnebago) split up, so that is why we have
similar clan systems.
For the Ioway, the Clan was traced through the father's line, through
your father's father's father, and so on. This is why in some articles
you will see the word "Gens" (singular) or "Gentes" (plural). In
anthropology of years ago, anthropologists called patrilineal (through
your father) groups "gens/gentes" and matrilineal (through your mother)
Each clan not only had a separate story of where they came from, and
how they joined together to form the ancestral Ioway-Otoe, each clan
also had special duties, privileges, and rights. And each had a special
clan bundle with clan pipe.
For example, the Bear was said to have brought the first pipe and to
have brought the clans together (some clans have it differently). The
Whitecloud family was Bear Clan. The Bear Clan and Buffalo clan shared
leadership of the tribe. They alternated through the year, so that
during fall and winter the Bear Clan led the tribe, and during spring
and summer the Buffalo Clan led. This changed to some degree with the
establishment of reservations, as leading families were made permanent
leaders through their relationships with the U.S. government. This is
why the Whitecloud family of the Bear Clan became the leaders of the
Northern Iowas. Most of the rest of the clans and even some other Bear
Clan and Whiteclouds went down to Oklahoma in the 1870s-1880s. Both
Buffalo and Bear Clans had doctoring societies.
Although in periods of peace the Bear and Buffalo led the tribe as
described, in times of war, the Thunder/Eagle clan took the lead.
The Buffalo Clan brought the corn and other crops, and led the tribe at
times, as described.
The Wolf Clan brought the bow and arrow.
Beaver Clan taught people how to make earth lodges.
The Snake Clan laid
out the village site and made peace with the Snakes.
The Elk Clan
brought the fire, and tended the sacred fire. Occasionally,
Elk clan had "mixoge" (mee-KHO-gay), men who dressed and lived as
women. Watch the movie "Little Big Man" and pay attention to the
character "Little Horse" to understand their place in traditional
Indian society. They were not made fun of and had their place.The Owl Clan had special
medicines and powers.
The Pigeon Clan was a peace making clan and
brought other powers.
So you see, since each clan had a special power and duty, each clan was
needed for the tribe to function as a whole. Although some were
leaders, each had a special purpose. For example, although the Bear was
a leading Clan, it could not do without the Buffalo's corn planting
rights, or the Elk's fire rights. All were needed.
Also, each clan had a supply of special clan names that only that
clan's members could use. For example, one of the Bear Clan names was
"Pa Huye" (Pa = head, huye = to shake = Shakes His Head), referring to
the time when the Bear Clan ancestors in the form of Bears dug their
way toground's surface, and coming up, shook their heads free of dirt.
There were many of these names in each clan which referred to incidents
the clan went through during their origin story. So when a clan got all
its members together, through those names, a clan origin story was
there in living flesh and bone. Each name could only be held by a
single living member, so that when the person died, the name became
available and was assigned to another young tribal member. So the
stories lived on.
As far as what clans we are today, some are fortunate enough to know
their clan, and to have been given one of these names. Not all of us
have these names, because of the destruction of our tribe's traditions
to a large extent.
Clans could adopt people as clan members. I do not know how many of the
clans are left, besides the Bear and Buffalo. I think I have heard
there are Elk members living down in Oklahoma, possibly the Blacks.
Truman Dailey was Eagle clan. I heard that the last Pigeon Clan members
died years ago. The Snake clan was extinct in the last century. The
Curley family was Owl Clan, the Kents are Buffalo, the Whiteclouds are
Bear. Now you know we have other tribes mixed in as well, such as the
Yankton, Omaha, Otoe, and Sac and Fox. The Deroin family was descended
from Otoe Bear Clan. The Barada family were descended from Omaha
Buffalo clan, and the Murphy family, if you look patrilineally as the
guide, were descended from Sac and Fox Thunder Clan (Black Hawk was
Thunder Clan Sauk).
Other tribes did not follow the clan system. None of the Sioux did,
including Yankton or Santee or Lakota. They followed a different kind
of family/descent structure based on bands and what is called
"tiyospaye" (tee-YOH-spah-yay), the extended family.
If the Iowa tribe today were to try to reinstitute clans, it would
require some deep thought. If you ask most northern Iowa today what
clan they think they belong to, most say Bear, because most northern
Iowas are related to the Whitecloud family one way or another.
The Ioways and tribes in our area denoted clans by names, by face
paint, and I have been told some also put clan designs on
In paintings of Whitecloud, note how in many
versions there is a green mark (green was a Bear clan color) and four
stripes (either part of a handprint or like a backwards "E" with an
extra bar), which symbolized a Bear Paw.
Another color was blue that
was used by the Thunder-Eagle clan for face paint (and one painting
shows a rainblow on a Thunder Clan chief).
Much like everything has
been lost over the years.
Bird Clan of the Winnebago, with comparison of closely-related tribes.
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