The Ojibwe Clan System
The Clan System for most Indigenous cultures was traditionally a form of governance for the people. Every clan had their own roles and purpose that pertained to the greater good of the entire community. Within the Ojibwe Clan System each clan had not only their own purpose, but the members of that clan was said to have certain personality traits to assist with upholding the clan structure. You may ask, "What if a person within a certain clan portrayed personality traits of another clan?" There was also a place within each clan for members to be representatives of other clans. In this way every person, role and personality was honoured, respected and had a place that was fitting for the individual. For the Ojibwe people every clan had representation at community gatherings and within vital decision making.
The Seven Clans
Depending on the geography of nations, each nation would have had differences in their clans. For example, the Crane Clan may have been the Heron Clan. Also, when looking deeper into oral history of our Elders, many clans had sub-clans as communities became larger and dispersed. The Marten Clan spawned the Otter Clan and the Beaver Clan. The Fish clan spawned the Sucker clan and the Turtle Clan. If a clan is not specifically listed in this teaching, there is a possibility that is part of or descended from one of the seven original clans.
The crane stands in the water observing the world above the water line. Because the crane observes the outside world the Crane clan is known as the Outside Chief. The outside chief is responsible for negotiating with people from other communities.
The loon dives and sees the happenings inside the water. In this way the Loon Clan is known as the Inside Chief as they are responsible for settling disputes and issues within their home community.
The mother bear protects her cubs with ferocity. She is also cunning and knowledgeable about the plants of the forest. Like the mother bear, the Bear Clan is responsible for protecting their people. It is said that people of the Bear Clan are short tempered and live on the outside of the village to ensure the safety of the gentler clans inside the village. The bear clan are also the medicine people for they know the healing ways of the plants available to them.
The Deer or Hoof Clan were known for their kindness, gentle and soft spoken nature like the animals they represent. The Hoof Clan were responsible for looking after the social aspects of the community including ceremonies and celebrations.
The bird can fly high in the sky observing the world at great distances. Like the Eagle, the bird is known to be closest to the creator as they are part of the sky world and can access his/her wisdom. The Bird Clan are the keepers of knowledge and responsible for spreading the seeds of knowledge. The Bird Clan were traditionally the teachers and farmers.
The small agile marten is limber, quick tempered, ferocious, has quick reflexes and is an excellent hunter. Members of the Marten Clan carry these characteristics and as a result are the strategists, warriors and builders within their community.
The fish watch the sky and have the knowledge of the sun, stars and moon. In this way the Fish Clan hold the most intelligence and are the peoples philosophers. They are also advisors to the Chief Clans.
Once again we have the generous teachings of our Respected Elder John Rice as he speaks to us about the clan system and form of governance practiced by the Ojibwe People pre-contact.
Individuality within the Clan
As previously mentioned, the clan system also values individuality. The pyramid structure above indicates how the characteristics of all clans are represented within each individual clan. In this way, every person is honoured and respected for their purpose and role as individuals. Also, as the Ojibwe clan structure honours duality in all things there is place for male, female and dual hearted people within the pyramid.
The 7 pointed star in the above picture is a representation of how the clan system was used within the political system. Each clan had a responsibility to two other clans and major decisions required a consensus of all clans. Following is an example of how this system would have worked...
Issue or decision to be made:
The season has been drier than usual. The loon clan thinks that it may be a good idea to change the location of the summer camp. They have come to this decision because there will be a smaller harvest for berries and a higher chance for forest fires. The speaker(s) from the loon clan must present their case with the fish clan.
Once the case has been presented to the fish clan they must come to a decision within their own clan on which choice to make. Their choice is to use the same summer camp as before or move the camp to a less dry area. The clan will come to a decision using a sharing circle (see below).
Once the entire fish clan has come to a consensus they must take the case and their opinion to the other clan that sits opposite of them within the seven pointed star; the crane clan.
The crane clan will have time to deliberate among themselves to come to a consensus. Upon consensus they would present both their opinion, the unbiased opinion of the fish clan and the purpose of the loon clan's decision to the bear clan.
The bear clan would then have the chance to deliberate using the sharing circle. Upon consensus of a decision they will take the case to the marten clan.
This cycle would continue until every clan had an opportunity to speak and the case would be brought back to the loon clan.
In this way, every member of the community has a chance to speak and voice their opinion, however the process would be lengthy as the choice to change camps would usually have to be a consensus decision of the entire community, as every opinion and person is valued.
- The talking stick or feather would continue to be passed around the circle from member to member, starting with the oldest woman moving along to the youngest girl then to the youngest boy through until the eldest man.
- When the talking stick or feather reaches the eldest man it is than his responsibility to summarize all he has heard from the circle without bias.
- The circle will continue to move around this way until the clan has come to a consensus.