The Kanien'kehá:ka are a matrilineal society, transferring identity through the mother's linage. This extended family is called a clan. The Kanien'kehá:ka have three clans - the Turtle Clan, Wolf Clan, and Bear Clan. Family names and clans are passed down from mother to child.

Each member of a clan is considered a relative regardless of which Haudenosaunee nation they belong to. For example, a Wolf Clan member of the Kanien'kehá:ka Nation and a Wolf Clan member of the Seneca Nation are still considered relatives. Likewise, the men and women of the Kanien'kehá:ka Nation practiced exogamy, marrying outside their matrilineal clan family.

Clans have specific social, spiritual, and political roles to play in Kanien'kehá:ka society and is the pillar of traditional Kanien'kehá:ka governance. Within the clans of the Kanien'kehá:ka all leadership members hold equal powers and are accountable to everyone. A woman leader, called Iakoiá:ner or Clanmother, holds a powerful leadership role in the nation and has the authority to select a Roiá:ner or Chief to represent her clan politically. Moreover, she also has the power to depose her Chief and replace him with another candidate. Taking into account all she knows about the candidate in his dealings throughout his life she decides who is a good fit to represent the clan. Clanmothers choose men who are honest, reliable, and clear headed, with knowledge of Kaianere'kówa - the Great Law of Peace.

Amongst the Haudenosaunee nations there are eight clans: Turtle, Wolf, Beaver, Hawk, Eel, Deer , Bear, and Snipe clans. The Kanien'kehá:ka themselves have three clans: Turtle, Wolf, and Bear.