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Nature's Law
Spiritual Life, Governance, Culture, Traditions, Resources, Context and Background
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Women's roles and rights

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


The changes wrought by the introduction of the fur trade modified the perception of established law, if for no other reason than another order of meaning was introduced for marriage and kinship. Christian ideas directly impacted because the missionaries used their ceremonials as ways to control and re-direct ritual proclivities of the Indigenous peoples. They did not change quickly, however, and much of the Amerindian territory remained a mixture of values, or pragmatically bi-cultural. To indicate how the traditional views remained alive, the following oral selections from old-timers are present-indicating that even to this day on some reserves, aspects of the old ways still prevail. 

In the first case, Louison Martel indicates that the young couple could live with the father-in-law, or move into the bush on their own:

(Translation into the Slavey Dene Tha' dialect and back into the English language)

RM: He said, "back then people did not live in the community like today. Where we live in (Sah-tay), during the winter time like this, people would be out in nature, in a nomadic lifestyle but they were not in a community settlement."
Q-50.-GCB: Ask Louison was it common practice when he got a wife or when anybody else got a wife that he had to work for his father in law for a couple of years?
Elder: Louison Martel speaks and answers in the Dene Tha' dialect.
A-50.-RM: He said, "not really, not all people are the same, but sometimes when a man asked for the woman's hand or the daughter's hand they usually get approval or permission first and then it was o.k. to move away and that's when they moved. Then sometimes its different too, they had to stay there for awhile. So it's not always the same."
Louison Martel, Born: 1915
Dene Tha' First Nation Band Office
Date: November 15, 1995

On the other hand, some families used the treaty list as a way of responding to other potentials, such as eliminating treaty for the spouse while retaining it for the husband:

Ernest: Could you tell us why you got eliminated from the treaty list?
Archie: Like I said, the first time the Indian agents arrived here, then all of sudden, about this time when school was almost out, we got thrown out of treaty. I was supposed to stay one more month at the Anglican Mission, and when we were there and it was treaty day, (but) we never received our treaty money. There were many other people in the same situation that time, like Francis Auger’s children, I was with them at the mission. Then we never got paid nothing.
Archie: No, my mother was treaty for a long time. Then my father arranged for her to be eliminated since they were married, because if a person got out of a treaty, he’d get one hundred dollars. Like in ten year’s time, she could’ve got back into treaty. That’s what they said. But she’s still a Metis. So nothing was ever mentioned about that again, why that happened. Like after ten years, they would get more money, they were told, but they never got paid. That business was never clarified. There were lots of people in that situation. They got out of treaty but never got paid, only the one hundred dollars that were given to them, like that was for ten years.
Interview with Archie O’Ar, 1955.
Wabasca, Alberta: Cree
By: Ernest Crane

Some women did not marry because it would have required them to follow their husband’s possession of treaty or not. Mary is a good example:

Ernest: What about her parents, were they treaty?
Mary: Well the first man my mother stayed with was a treaty, but he had died. He wasn’t our father, when that man died she lived with our father who was not a treaty. And then she lived with Dolphus’ dad, that one too was non-treaty. Our mother was a treaty but she never married either of those two men. That old man was a treaty, that’s what counts, because she never married either one of the other two. Her first husband died, and she didn’t remarry again. Treaty rights should automatically occur right from the start when my mother married that old man and she was always a treaty.

Mary Robinson: Cree, 1955
By Ernest Crane

The issue of the legitimacy of treaty in defining who was in and who was not became a matter of considerable concern for women. Some opted to take the money and leave the reserve, accepting that their marriage meant losing their treaty rights:

Louis: And I’ll ask you something else. Those treaty women that married outside the reserve, a whiteman or a Metis. What do you think of losing their Indian status? Do you think they should retain their treaty rights or to lose it?
Solomo: No, they should lose their treaty status.
Louis: To lose their treaty rights?
Solomo: Yes, as it was said by the Indian Agent. When a treaty woman marries a non-treaty, white man or a Metis she would automatically get out of the reserve. She wouldn’t have rights on the reserve. And out of the reserve. She wouldn’t have the rights on the reserve. And she could never get back in. This is what was told to our Chief. They usually get one hundred dollars as soon as they get married out.
Louis:  That’s the question I want to ask you, of what would you think?
Solomo: She had anticipated the consequences and therefore she should stay as it is. As she had already been out for quite a while then she went and started the issue. I believe she was from here in Saskatchewan as I was told. She created a big thing out of it.
Interviewee: Solomo Peyopiskos: Cree
Location: Canoe Narrows, Saskatchewan
Interviewed by: Louis Rain
Date: May 14, 1974
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