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Nature's Law
Spiritual Life, Governance, Culture, Traditions, Resources, Context and Background
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Rules of Separation

Who May One Marry

Family Definition

Customs of courtship

Residence

Rules of Separation

Sexual and gender relations

Marriage Patterns

Women's roles and rights

Bands and
communities

Visual representation of nature's laws


There are many stories of disputes between husbands and wives, some of which have a mythological stamp to them (see, for example, Jacque LePique’s "Wampum Hair")1 What is clear is that when the mutual home of the couple was destroyed by either party, the relationship was also finished. What happened to the wife then depended upon her influence within the community. If the home was in the territory of her family, the husband having moved to his in-law’s band on marriage, she could enlist her family to help her…in that case, the husband would have a doubly difficult time in convincing the community that he was not the cause of the breakdown. If, on the other hand, the move was the more normal one, i.e. to the husband’s community, the woman brought with her the prestige and status of her position in her family, but had to begin at the level of all young women in constructing the significance of their home… she had to convince community members of her worth and character.

The key to this was apparently modesty and a reluctance to move aggressively in talk or manners. If she had been successful, she could appeal to the chief or members of the elders to support her in her claims against her husband. Unless the charges against her were of such a sort that band members might be fearful of her (for example, she was known to use witchcraft), she might well received a favourable reception. If she had been successful in convincing her husband’s neighbours of her worth, she would find support within the band for some kind of redress. Redress could take many forms: a return of her estranged husband and the re-establishment of their home; marriage to another man of greater community stature than her ex-husband; her vindication through some kind of trial or accomplishment; the return of her children to her, as well as some of the family’s possessions, and the right to live in the band in peace; the support of the band in her return to her family’s home, so long as her father was still alive and accepted her back; the support of someone powerful in the band for her to set up a house on the fringes of the group, or in the territory outside the village and to live there alone, but technically under the protection of the band.

Decisions as to redress were initiated by the woman, but they could be addressed by an elder or counselor within the band, who would present her case before the leaders of the community. If they decided in the affirmative, she could then stay permanently. If they objected, then the woman had no alternative but to move out of the village, or move back home. However, her children were hers, and her husband could not prevent her from taking the children with her. In many ways, the best thing for the band to do was to re-marry her to another powerful person in the community, thus preserving her abilities as well as her children. This had the advantage of acknowledging that her troubles were not entirely of her doing. If her husband died, what she did was entirely up to her. She could take her belongings and children and return to her home band, in which case she needed the approval of her father to do so. If he did not approve, or he was dead, she remained with the relatives of her husband and attempted to promote another marriage with a man from that group. If that did not succeed, she was free to marry whomever she pleased, but she had to abandon any claims from her husband’s family if she left that group. So long as she remained in the community she had claims to food and support.

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