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long house of the Canadian Onondaga, Grand River reservation

Haudenosaunee families are build around a clan system. Each clan is linked by a common female ancestor therefore members of the same clan are considered to be extended family. In the past members of the same clan were unable to marry. For example and member of the wolf clan could not marry another member of a wolf clan regardless of whether they’re in the same nation.

Historically, when a man and woman wanted to get married they would tell their parents who would arrange a meeting to discuss the matter. Once both sides approved a marriage feast was planned where the woman’s relatives would bring her to the groom’s home for the feast. After eating, the couple was spoken to about their duties in marriage (142kb/1sec)sound bite with the elders of the groom’s family speaking to the bride and the elders of the bride’s family speaking to the groom. With a marriage sanctioned by a Chief the two began their new life together. Because the Haudenosaunee are matriarchal the groom moved into his wife’s long house though he still retained his own clan.  Any children from the union would belong to the woman’s clan.

Within the marriage Haudenosaunee women owned their own personal property and land, the children were members of their mother’s clan and any violence against women was dealt with seriously. Called savage by their Euro-American neighbours the Haudenosaunee faired much better than the Euro-American women who owned nothing, had no right to their children and whose husbands had the right to “physically discipline” their wives.

If a couple decided to separate, their families would convene a council. Each party would state their case for divorce. The elders would attempt to reconcile their differences but if they could not be reconciled the marriage ended. In the case of a divorce the fathers usually kept their sons and the mothers kept their daughters.
Today Haudenosaunee marriages can be traditional or some may choose a Christian ceremony. A traditional ceremony today would be conducted by a chief before the Creator as the bride and groom agree to unite in a lifelong relationship. The marriage ceremony includes a day of celebration including a formal speech by the chief of the woman’s nation and clan.

One of the main dances performed was the Rabbit Dance sung by the men and accompanied by a water drum (135kb/1sec)sound bite and various rattles. All well wishers participated in the dance with the bride and groom.