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 seven. 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 others.

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) groups "clan/clans."

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.

The 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 breechcloths.

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.

Lance Foster

The above information copied from