The legend of how the three clans were chosen is believed to have its origins in the Haudenosaunee mourning process.
Long ago, the entire village used to mourn the death of a family member, causing ceremonies and other important decisions to be put off. The custom to postpone important decisions created problems for the village as regular business matters were set aside. For a long while, the village could not find a way that allowed the village to mourn the death of a village member, as is custom, and continue with the village’s day to day matters. The leaders of the village were at an impasse.
One day a young man of the village decided he would approach the leaders and offer his solution to the village’s problem. He proposed to the leaders to send the eldest women of the village down to the river to spend the night. The young man said to the leaders, “Ask those women to make a fire near the river and spend the night. Ask them that at first light the following morning, pray to the creator and afterward to take notice of the first animal that comes to the river. Once this happens, ask the women to return to the village and tell you what they saw.”
The women returned from the river later the following morning. They met with the leaders and they were asked to tell what they had seen. The first woman said she saw a TURTLE at the edge of the river. The second woman said she saw a WOLF running along the river. The third woman said she saw a BEAR feeding in the river on the rocks.
The leaders then appointed the Turtle, Wolf and Bear Clans to each family via the women and it was decided that the family clan would pass through the mother from generation to generation as they have the Creator’s gift to create life.
Now, with the clans established, when one clan had a death in the family, one of the remaining clans would console the grieving clan, leaving the other clan to attend to the village’s ceremonies and important day-to-day business.