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The Nakoda Nation – Social Life

Nakoda women at Wabamun Nakoda society was organized as a set of loosely affiliated bands. Each band consisted of a group of individuals bound by ties of kinship or friendship that camped and hunted together. A band was led by a huká, or chief, who was usually from the largest and most powerful family within the band. A relative of the chief could assume leadership of the band upon the death of the chief, but this did not mean that band leadership was determined through blood ties. The merits of an individual, his success in battle and hunting as well as his generosity to the people of the band, were considered important factors in selecting someone as band chief. A chief led with the advice of a council made up of successful hunters and warriors. Decisions made by the chief and council were enforced by the Soldier’s society, a group of warriors appointed by the council. The Soldier’s society were both police and protectors of the camp, maintaining order in the camp, organizing hunting parties, and coordinating the changing of camp locations.

The role of warrior and hunter was the domain of Nakoda men, and the skills required for this role were passed down from father or other close male relative to son. On his first successful hunt, a boy was expected to sacrifice the kill by cutting an animal carcass and leaving it for scavengers. The sacrifice would involve prayers for future success hunting or in war. Usually, Nakoda boys were skilled hunters and novice warriors by the age of 18.

Nakoda women were the keepers of the camp, and girls were prepared for this role as they reached puberty. At puberty, a girl was isolated in a small dwelling set up near her family’s tipi. After emerging from her isolation she was considered a woman, and was eligible to marry after the age of 12. Aside from designing and keeping the tipi, women were responsible for the preparation of meat and hides after the hunt, sewing, cooking, and other domestic chores.

When a young Nakoda man wished to marry, he would send a gift of a horse and some cooked meat to the family of the woman he sought, doing this as many times as necessary to secure the family’s approval. Once the gifts were accepted, the young woman would join the young man in his tipi and become his wife. Until the birth of children, a young man was obligated to hunt for his in-laws.

A Nakoda child was named in a naming ceremony about a month to six months after it was born. The ceremony was led by a medicine man and attended by friends and relatives of the child’s parents. The medicine man would name the child, and would receive a horse as a gift for his services. He would announce the child to the camp by leading the horse around the camp and singing the child’s name and the name of its parents. Girls would tend to keep their names throughout life. Boys could change their names depending on their exploits in battle or on the hunt.

Death in Nakoda culture was a time of openly expressed sorrow. The relatives of the dead would cut their hair, and wail to the spirit of the deceased to leave them and travel to the spirit world. Warriors killed in battle were buried with their weapons and wrapped in a buffalo robe that was painted with descriptions of the warrior’s deeds. Their war horses were killed to help carry the warrior to the spirit world. If a woman died, her dogs might be killed to accompany her to the spirit world. Bodies were placed in scaffolds in trees. When these decayed, the bones were collected and buried in the ground.

DeMallie, Raymond J. and David Reed Miller. “Assiniboine,” in DeMallie, Raymond J. Handbook of North American Indians, Volume 13, part 1 of 2. Washington: Smithsonian Institution, 2001.

Denig, Edwin Thompson. The Assiniboine: Forty Sixth Annual Report of the Bureau of American Ethnology to the Secretary of the Smithsonian Institution 1928-1929. Regina: Canadian Plains Research Center, 2000.

Malinowski, Sharon and Anna Sheets, eds., “Assiniboine.” The Gale Encyclopedia of North American Tribes, Vol. III. Detroit: Gale Research, 1998.

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