The Iroquois Confederacy is composed of six nations. Each nation has clans. A person's clan is the same as their mother's clan. The members of each clan are all related to each other through their mothers. This is called a matrilineal system. Each clan is represented by a different animal. Traditionally a person would not marry someone within the same clan.
There are presently nine clans - divided into animals from three earth elements: Land, Air, and Water. The water creatures are the turtle, beaver, and the eel. The land creatures are the deer, wolf, and bear. The creatures of the sky are the hawk, heron, and snipe. The natural world is symbolized by these beings. Prior to the Peacemaker, there were numerous other clans such as sweet potato, rock, and ball. After the formation of the Iroquois Confederacy, the number of clans was reduced to the nine represented below.
All of the Six Nations have members from the Bear, Wolf, and Turtle clan while some nations also have members from some or all of the remaining 6 clans. Clans are headed by clan mothers. Their duties include: choosing the chiefs, reminding the chiefs of their duties, giving clan names to children, distributing the goods of those who have died, and meeting obligations to medicine societies. They can remove a chief from office when necessary. The clan system flourishes today among those who follow the traditional system, but most Iroquois of all faiths identify themselves as members of a particular clan. In the traditional government, chiefs are responsible to help those in their clans. The clan mothers appoint the chiefs and evaluate their dedication to those who are yet to come, up to the seventh generation. As a mark of their identity today many Iroquois wear, display in their homes, or use as part of their signature, their clan animal symbol.