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Who’s your Clan Mother? Saying STOP is Women’s Public Authority (including Impeachment)

In March 2019, I posted this blog as part of a longer blog, my first detailed public statement supporting impeachment hearings. 

“Who’s your Clan Mother?” Impeachment as Women’s Public Authority

Why it took me so long to come out for impeachment is a topic for another day.

Since then, I have been promoting impeachment non-stop in any way I can. Recently I learned about five women from the Washington, DC area who have been demonstrating for 13 months in front of the White House, protesting Trump & Trumpism in creative, interactive ways.  Even though not all of the women are elders, this is the kind of in-your-face committed action that I imagine clan mothers taking, on behalf of and interactive with their community.

Check out the group’s Twitter page. They call themselves the Kremlin Annex.

In gratitude to them, I’m re-posting part of my March blog.  I am not surprised that the impeachment movement and the strike for climate movement are converging over the next few weeks.  Both are manifestations of women’s wisdom and inherent authority to say STOP, to say NO to destruction.

REPEAT: “Who’s your Clan Mother” Impeachment as Women’s Public Authority

More than a few advocates of impeachment have framed the call to action in terms of testosterone, suggesting that Democrats need to “man up” and feel their “daddy” power. I would suggest that they’re looking to the wrong gender and that the problem with the Democrats being slow to act is not a hormonal one. It’s the millenia-long patriarchy that’s been undermining women’s adult authority, to the detriment of all life on earth through “bully-boy” corruption (as phrased by Prof. Barbara Alice Mann).

The good news is that, thanks to the 2017 women’s marches and the 2018 mid-term elections, American women are waking up to their public authority as never before. We are reflecting women’s true position at the center of the species, from the birth and death of all humans and shaping everything in-between, especially the norms of human behavior, and especially the behavior of public officials.

Indigenous Clan Mothers

The purpose of this blogpost is to encourage more American women to step more fully into their natural public authority—including members of Congress (MOCs)—by highlighting the role of indigenous clan mothers in the Americas to stop bad or destructive behavior.

Here in this blog, I will note:

—some general responsibilities of clan mothers within the Great Law of Peace and the traditions of the Haudenosaunee nations

—the specific role of clan mothers as it relates to naming and denaming (impeaching) officers of the Iroquois League.

—the specific role of clan mothers in the Shuar nation (Amazonia) to “impeach” (hinder, stop, impede) any destructive actions by the men

For the record, I am not American Indian nor am I certified in any way as an expert on indigenous peoples or the Great Law of Peace. I am, however, a political elder and I have studied women’s public authority since 1951 (when I was born).

1. General role of Haudenosaunee clan mothers
To start with, here is a general description of a Haudenosaunee clan mother’s role:

“An Iroquoian equivalent of “woman” is gantowisas, yet the term conveys more than woman. She is political woman, faith keeping woman, mediating woman; leader, counselor, judge. Gantowisas indicates mother, grandmother, and even the Mother of Nations, as well as the Corn Mother, Herself, whose shining new face lies beneath the ground to rise again, each year.  In the first decades of the twentieth century, the revered Cayuga Chief Deskaheh (1873-1925) of the Canadian Six Nations Council at Grand River, Canada, defined gantowisas as a mature woman acting in her official capacity. Her official capacity was public in every way.  Her duties were frankly political, economic, judicial, and shamanic. Gantowisas, then means Indispensable Woman.”
(p. 16, Iroquoian Women: The Gantowisas)

2. Specific responsibility to set the political agenda (Haudenosaunee)
Clan mothers and women’s councils had the specific responsibility to frame any issue that was to be discussed by men’s councils, especially issues of identity and land, which were considered women’s issues.  Here is a living Seneca woman’s description of the reasons for this gendered responsibility of framing issues and agendas:

“…I look at the fine fix Native America is in and realize that this is exactly why the old Clan Mothers refused to let the men discuss anything that the women had not first canvassed thoroughly. In fact, the women even gave the men the preferred possible outcomes of debate, restricting them to discussions of that preset agenda.  Looking about today, I attribute the nightmarish morass of federal laws and “tribal” policies to the fact that they are male constructs of female issues.”


“When men attempt to manage Earth matters, like land and identity, they confuse themselves by applying Sky principles of height and distance. The outcome is as predictable as it is disastrous:  Flighty rules result from their eagle’s-eye view, obviating ground matters, which look too small to make out from the vantage point of Sky. Unable to feel the rumblings of ne gashedenza (the sacred will of the people), which traditionally originates at the roots of the grass, they grab for the wind and blow hot air.”

From “Slow Runners” by Barbara Alice Mann, pp. 96-97
One of four essays in Make a Beautiful Way: The Wisdom of Native American Women
Barbara Alice Mann, ed.  (Univ. of Nebraska Press, 2008)

In other words, clan mothers know when and how official behavior is out of whack.

3. Impeachment in the Iroquois League’s Great Law
Here are the references to impeachment of officers in the two most comprehensive modern books on the Great Law of Peace that I have found.

a.  Iroquoian Women: The Gantowisas
Peter Lang pub., 2000
by Barbara Alice Mann (Bear clan, Seneca)
Prof. of Humanities – University of Toledo

p. 170
“On the negative end of naming power were instances of what might be called “denaming.”  Denaming of the living was the impeachment of a sitting official, male or female….

“The practice of naming and its gendering into a female power is quite ancient.” [reference to Iroquois creation story of Sky Woman and daughter, Lynx]

p. 172  power over names & titles encoded in wampum belts

“…it was women, and women alone, who nominated men and women to office, effectively meaning they alone elected officers, as the men did little more than rubber-stamp their choices. The only curb upon their power in this regard was the reasonable prohibition against a mother nominating her own son, unless every other eligible man was quite literally dead.”

178ff  denaming
“The most obvious form of denamng was their power to impeach civic wrongdoers. Any sachem [chief] or Clan Mother found guilty of crimes in office, dereliction of duty, or incompetence (senility) could be removed. The gantowisas were not empowered to impeach anyone until after they had given the offender three public warnings to amend his (or her) behavior…If the final warning was ignored, the women might act.”

b.  Kayanerenko:wa: The Great Law of Peace
University of Manitoba Press, 2018
by Kayanesenh Paul Williams (Onondaga Nation at Six Nations Territory, Canada)
lawyer, historian, teacher

p. 368  Removing a Chief
“The primary authority to remove a chief has been said to rest with his clan, through his clan mother, if the chief is straying from his duties. That is, the people whom he represents and who selected him first ought to be the people with the first right to remove him. The process involves three formal warnings, each more stiff than its predecessor. The first comes from the clan mother’s assistant or faithkeeper. The second comes from the clan mother herself. The third comes from the “Great Warrior”, the young man without a title who assists the clan mother, or the chief’s sub-chief, and it includes the removal of the chief—by removing his “horns”.”

p. 371
“In certain circumstances, a chief can be removed immediately by the other chiefs—for murder, rape, or theft.”

p. 373
“Immediate removal of an offender prevents his continued presence from causing hard feelings or disunity.  While the three warnings from a family may take days or weeks, a removal by the council—which would require a degree of unanimity—is, in effect, the removal of a kind of “crawling thing”.

“A removed chief is said to have been “dehorned”.  His wampum “horns” are taken away from him, to be placed with his successor [chosen by the clan mother].  Generally, a dehorned chief leaves the community, in some disgrace.  His ability to hold any office is finished.  His reputation is shattered: “it shall be that when a lord is deposed and the deer’s horns…are taken from hi, he shall no longer be allowed to sit in council or even hold an office against.”

p. 374
“In modern times, chiefs have been dehorned for various infractions. These have generally involved doing things without the knowledge or sanction of the council, failure to perform obligations or attend council, submission to foreign governments, failure to account financially, disruption of council, and the commission of criminal offences.”

4. Impeachment in the Shuar nation (South America)

Etymologically, the word “impeach” means to hinder, prevent, impede, fetter.  Of interest is the women’s tradition in the Shuar nation of telling men when to “stop” some destructive behavior.  Examples cited by John Perkins and Alice Walker are cutting down trees, hunting, warfare, but such responsibility to hinder could just as easily be applied to on-going actions by our sitting president.  Here is how Alice Walker described this responsibility in 2002:

“…I listened to a CD called Shamanic Navigation by John Perkins.  In it he talks about the Swa (sic) people of the Amazon. These are indigenous people who’ve lived in the Amazon rain forest for thousands of years. They tell us that in their society men and women are considered equal but very different. Man, they say, has a destructive nature: it is his job therefore to cut down trees when firewood or canoes are needed. His job also to hunt down and kill animals when there is need for more protein. His job to make war, when that becomes a necessity. The woman’s nature is thought to be nurturing and conserving. Therefore her role is to care for the home and garden, the domesticated animals and the children. She inspires the men. But perhaps her most important duty is to tell the men when to stop.

“It is the woman who says: Stop. We have enough firewood and canoes, don’t cut down any more trees. Stop. We have enough meat; don’t kill any more animals. Stop. This war is stupid and using up too many of our resources. Stop. Perkins says that when the Swa (sic) are brought to this culture they observe that it is almost completely masculine. That the men have cut down so many trees and built so many excessively tall buildings that the forest itself is dying; they have built roads without end and killed animals without number. When, ask the Swa (sic), are the women going to say Stop?”

We are the Ones We have been Waiting For:  Inner Light in a Time of darkness — Meditations
by Alice Walker  (New Press, 2006)
pp. 59-60, in essay All Praises to the Pause; The Universal Moment of Reflection
Commencement address – California Institute of integral Studies (San Francisco, CA, May 19, 2002)

Are you my Clan Mother?
I would suggest that, at this critical moment in U.S. and world history, Americans would do well to ask this question:

Who are the clan mothers who will initiate impeachment proceedings against a sitting president who is using the office for his own enrichment and is endangering Americans and others (including non-humans) in multiple ways on a daily basis?

According to the U.S. Constitution, the House of Representatives has the sole power to impeach. So the question becomes:

Who in the U.S. House of Representatives has the bravery and wisdom of a clan mother to initiate impeachment proceedings against this president and this administration and to reset the norms of official behavior in this country?