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Nature's Law
Spiritual Life, Governance, Culture, Traditions, Resources, Context and Background
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Sexual and gender relations

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


Scholars have indicated that various reciprocal relationships governed the sexes. These relationships, when broken, triggered the need for response. They also reflect that both women and men had certain rights, which were enshrined in the social mores of the community. These constituted the basic laws by which the people organized their affairs. The following quotations reflect a wide variety of penalties and reactive measures, etc.:

  1. Blackfoot: According to an ancient (Blackfoot) custom, a man could kill an unfaithful wife or cut off her nose; the members of the Brave Dog society, however, were generally called to inflict this punishment (McClintok 29).


  2. Cree: A Cree woman, at certain periods, is laid under considerable restraint. They are far, however, from carrying matters to the extremities mentioned by Hearne in his description of the Chipewyans, or Northern Indians. She lives apart from her husband also for two months if she has borne a boy, and for three if she has given birth to a girl" … "Many of the Cree hunters are careful to prevent a woman from partaking of the head of a moose-deer, lest it should spoil their future hunts; and for the same reason they avoid bringing it to a fort, fearing the lest the white people should give the bones to the dogs (Franklin 112).


  3. Sioux: Her rights while in the family pertain to the household. It was her duty to skin the larger game, and the skins became her property, and she was expected to tan them or otherwise fit them for use. If she made them up into articles for the use of the man, they then became the personal property of the man, or if she made them up for the personal use of a grown up son or anyone not a member of the family, they became the personal property of the one for whom they were made. But if she made them up for any other person of use in the family they remained her own, which she had the right to dispose of in any manner she saw fit. But the men skinned the smaller furbearing animals, and while the women tanned and prepared these, they remained the property of the men and when the buffalo skins became articles of commerce with the white people, the men took charge of the sale of them, and of the precedes of such sales.
  4. As the tipis were made of skins they were the property of the women, as were the clothing of herself ad her children, until they were grown up, and she owned the robes used in the family, except those belonging to the man and grown sons, and all the domestic implements and utensils.

    All the children that were the issue of her body belong to her until they had arrived at puberty in the sense that her right to their possession took precedence over that of her man, their father. She is their mother (hunkupi) and they hold her as their ancestor. Her right to control her children took precedence over that of her husband until the sons became of an age when they could be instructed in the arts of the chase and of war, when the father took charge of them, but in the tipis they were still subordinate to the mother until they arrived at the age of manhood. In the management of all ordinary domestic work the woman’s authority was supreme. If she left a man her claim to her rights was unimpaired, but if her man disputed it she could maintain it only by the help of her friends whose aid depended on their ability to enforce their wishes because of numbers or influence. But if a woman was thrown away or given away for punishment, she lost all rights to all her property and her children, except babies, but the man could permit her to take such as she wished and he granted (Walker 43-44).

    While the position of the woman in the family was subordinate to the man in almost every particular, she had certain rights which were recognized among the Sioux, as follows. She had the right to leave a man who had taken her, in which case her friends could take her part in the difference, and if they thought that she had not sufficient cause for her action they could restore her to her man, if he so wished it. Then the only way she could escape remaining his woman was to fly and remain in hiding from him, or to become the woman of someone who was the more powerful that her former man, and able to maintain his possession of the woman, by force if need be. (Walker, 41)

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