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Nature's Law
Spiritual Life, Governance, Culture, Traditions, Resources, Context and Background
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Applying Relational Law

Relational Law

Kinship Systems




Kinship Group

Understandings of Relations

Tsu'u Tina Kinship System

Kinship Terms

and Judgement



Visual representation of nature's laws

The first issue to be addressed is the classification of behaviours that requires the application of judgments, that is, whether there is a system in place that more or less automatically implies a certain judgment. Clearly with some behaviours, Nature's Law has norms that are held to be inviolable. There seems, then, to be a system in place for adjudicating behaviours, and this system applies a standard of punishment and redress.

  1. Grouped under the first classification are acts completely restricted…for example, the Cree phrase ka nakinamihk means forbidden and applies to acts that will not be tolerated whatsoever. The implication of this group of acts is that they are totally against Nature's Laws.

    One such behaviour relates to someone who is deemed to have gone berserk and who turns to cannibalism…wihtikiw, sometime spelled as wetiko. Such a person is regarded as extremely anti-social and a threat to the integrity of the community. It is sometimes talked about as if somebody who was possessed by the cannibal spirit was partially in the other world, and therefore dangerous to human society. There are strong boundaries around this concept, and it is normally not even a topic that one should talk about, but when it is, the outcome is always the same: either death or exile for the offender.

    The people immediately responsible for handling such a situation are the holy people…the ceremonialists, and the medicine people. Once they have pronounced that this is the affliction, then, the person no longer has any standing within the band or tribe, and is exposed to the elements or destroyed. Marriage relationships are also defined by incest rules, so there are very stringent rules about who one could marry. Marriage within family bloodlines within the cross-cousin range is preferred, but marriages within families closer than that are forbidden.

  2. Then there are a group of acts that are forbidden at a specific time. For example, during the fall hunt of the buffalo, no one was allowed to leave camp early or to charge the buffalo before the lead hunters gave the word, lest the herd be stampeded and people killed or the hunt lost. Those who violated this rule were summoned by the lead hunter and/or chiefs of the community, their teepees and belongings were destroyed and they were forbidden to hunt with the group. If they could not be located, the punishment was carried out, and the camp police-society were sent out to cut the horses out from under them, destroy their weapons and to leave them without support.

  3. Likewise, there are appropriate behaviours during ceremonials times…someone who breaks the rules of the rituals is severely disciplined, since those rules should not be broken lest the ritual not be effective. An example is the deliberate dropping of an eagle feather wand on the ground or the breaking of a pipe or stem.

  4. There are acts classified as disruption to the peace of the camp. These are subject to community action, and call for someone from a particular group to accept responsibility for negative behaviour. Depending upon the violation, either a family head, a society leader or the camp council, comprised of the medicine people and elders from the families are responsible for handling the situation. For example, Wayne Roan comments on unruly children, the responsibility of the head of family:

    Wayne: Well, again let’s use common sense. If I go into this camp and my children don’t listen, it is up to me to discipline them. And if they take it further than that, I use common sense and take them out of there. Therefore, I do not break any of (Nature's) Laws. Therefore, I do not disturb any of their Laws that are there. You can’t break them.

    Fred Roan: (we used) straps or whatever; now, you can get charged for assault. In the natural way, if a child was misbehaving and continues to miss-behave after being talked to and told, and so forth, then only once, it was used, --- take a willow. That was final. Right across the back of the leg.

    Wayne: That stung.

    Fred: That was only once. That was it, and to me, what it upsets (i.e. Canadian Law against strapping), that type of common-law, it upsets our Traditional Law, our Nature's Law. We can’t discipline our children anymore, without that concern. When a child is being raised and taught from the time it is born and even before it is born. There is something going on in our customs. Well, if you lose that child along the way, that child no longer listens to you as a parent. Or it goes off and on. Why do think our jails are full? You know. There is (Canadian social) common law that upsets our Nature's Law. That is one example. So you have all kinds of social problems, all kinds of crime and punishment, kind of things.

  5. Likewise on a disagreement between families that are relatively equal in prestige and authority in the community, another range of actions are involved. First, those who are the close relations would initially only be involved in the dispute...the oldest family male member, or the one with the most prestige would negotiate. Then, if it could not be resolved, and both contenders decided to stay in the community, the standards set by the community required a council to be held. The hearing of cases is based on a developing process in traditional societies of what might be called a ‘legal’ model: "to hear, to see, to move and to speak". Only those who have been through the process related to the particular case traditionally are allowed to have a say in the easing the conflict. Here is Wayne Roan's exposition:

  6. Earle: So the two of us would go to an Elder or a chief?

    Wayne: Definitely. You know, we are talking about different people. You know, if you choose to stay (in the band), then the chief would get involved.

    Earle: So the chief would sit down with the two of us, to try to work the conflict.

    Wayne: Maybe one-on-one.

    Earle: Okay, so this is the equivalent of our court.

    Wayne: Yeah, but better, we didn’t have any lawyers, to confuse everything.

    Earle: Yeah, but the chief wouldn’t decide for you if it wasn’t right.

    Wayne: Well, the chief should already know. The people should already know (what should be done). It's the people with the problem who don’t know. Because you see, people who don’t understand the thing are the ones that make the most complaints, but when you understand something, then you have nothing to say.

    Earle: That’s where Nature's Law comes in?

    Other voice: Right. You recognize it, just recognizing (it).

    Wayne: Because in the first place, if there is no Nature's Law, how could this camp been set up the way it is?

  7. There are a class of actions that brought conflict to parties within the social group. An example of this is adultery or marriage disruption. Such actions were regarded as detrimental, and are often handled by the community through joking or ridicule. Behaviour that puts the individual in a bad light is not legally forbidden, but it certainly incurs social sanction. On such an issue Wayne, Rynhart Roan and Therese Weasel have the following to say:

  8. Wayne: Then that would be personal…

    Earle: So we would write this as part of nature's law?

    Theresa: But you wouldn’t even attempt it. It wouldn’t even be a thought.

    Earle: I understand that.

    Theresa: If you understood the laws. It wouldn’t even be a thought.

    Earle: But there were occasions in the literature when one individual ran away with somebody else’s wife and they left the band… they went some place else.

    Wayne: They better.

    Earle: They’d have to, right?

    Wayne: Right.

    Wayne: Well, a long time ago, it's up to the husband and the one who had done that, you know, but to settle their differences. But they didn’t do it around where, you know, where people were.

    Rynhart Roan: And the damage that was done within (community) relationships was everything. That was the damage that was done, what these two people had done. And the reason why they left was they broke Nature's Laws to begin with. By doing what they did.

    Obviously murder is one of those actions that requires the resources of the most important people to adjudicate. It is their responsibility toward any attempt for direct retribution, such as a vendetta against the family, or the killing of the assailant. Rather, reparations are almost always a feature in the negotiations at the time of a death…and the amount would be judged, drawing upon the social status of the one killed, as well as the status of the culprit. Exile is often used as punishment, in which case the offender could move to a neighbouring tribe or community and be adopted by them. After a certain number of years he could petition the chief of his original band to allow him to return. Some contribution would have to be made to the family at that time. Or he could become a member of the family of the deceased, functioning as the family’s worker to replace the dead son. Eventually he may be forgiven. In effect, even murder can be vitiated through exile, payment and dutiful work to the family.

    Members who deliberately violate standards are chastised by family heads or councils…someone who disrupts traps of another, deliberately hunts in another’s territory, destroys animals’ habitat, or pointedly keeps away from community ceremonies could be subject to community ostracism and perhaps exile, depending on a number of issues. In most cases, the violator knows the severity of the code and just leaves before he can be judged by the whole community. His/her possessions would be destroyed…tipis smashed, weapons broken, families driven out.

  9. There is a class of actions subject to negotiation. The most everyday examples of this can be addressed through what we would call possessions…horses, weapons, canoes, teepees, pipes, medicine bundles, etc. Someone always 'owns' possessions, and anyone who uses them has to be accountable to the one who owns them. If a canoe was needed for a specific task, and someone's canoe was not being used, it could be used for the task. But the 'user' would then be liable either to return it to its former place, or to pay for it through negotiating an equivalent. In one sense, ultimate ownership is corporate, because selling one's 'possessions' should normally be done within the community so that the band retains the benefits. Yet individuals did (and do) become wealthy through their exploits, and their 'possessions' can then be traded to someone for something else or given away in a potlatch-type festival.

    This also applies to treaties. For example, the band's land can not be sold or traded, but it can be shared according to the terms of a treaty. The Great Code of the Mohawks, mentioned above, is a famous treaty of this kind, since it established mutual betterment. But the principle is also reflected in the treaties of Alberta, and elsewhere in Canada, where the common good prevails as an over-riding concept:

  10. Finally there are actions that are in bad taste, but which are not subject to moral or judicial condemnation. Often these were handled by stories or jokes. Youths learn the cues of proper behaviour from their parents, and every effort is made to conform. People who constantly ‘went over the line’ would be subject to private condemnations, ridicule and the butt of jokes. These ‘unofficial judgments’ express local mores and standards; people make every effort not to become the object of such derision. If they do, they have to weather public scorn as payment for their erroneous ways.
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