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Nature's Law
Spiritual Life, Governance, Culture, Traditions, Resources, Context and Background
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Kinship Group

Relational Law

Kinship Systems




Kinship Group

Understandings of Relations

Tsu'u Tina Kinship System

Kinship Terms

and Judgement



Visual representation of nature's laws

As mentioned above, kinship has a larger meaning than in English. Traditionally, long-departed ancestors remain closely recognized kin, as do animals related to one's totem (i.e. Bear). An example is the Athapaskan word for inkoze (inkonze in some sources). It is often used in different ways in different contexts. Inkoze refers in many instances to having power and knowledge, with no distinction between those two terms.

However it may be used, inkoze is a gift from the animals which, because they are persons (and because they have more power than they need to survive), they are obliged to share with those humans who have maintained a proper reciprocity and a proper state of moral rectitude. "The proper moral state" means that humans carry out certain rituals of respect, that is, make certain sacrifices (such as sprinkling tobacco in the place where one has taken power roots, placing tobacco or meat offerings into the fire, and a number of other observances e.g. proper butchering procedure; obeying menstrual taboos; trying always to be generous; treating human people and animal ‘people’ with respect; avoiding sexual transgression)… Indeed, "for the Chipewyan, maintaining good relationships with other humans has always been extremely important in an immediate way, for reasons of practical survival. Disruption in the human social community also redounds to cause a breakdown in communication with the animals – a dominant motif in stories" (Drawn from Smith, World as Event, pp. 77)

In effect, then, traditionally animals monitored human social order and administered judgment to humans based on perceived imbalances. Our legal system has no equivalent to this monitoring feature of the animals.

All of these points provide a way to comprehend and contextualize Western studies of kinship. For example, Hind's early book on Algonquian-speaking peoples reflects the norms of kinship that prevailed, as well as the relative resilience of the norms:

The ties of kindred and relationship are of a very complex character among the Ojibways; in more than one instance a singular exemplification of cross-relationship occurred during our voyage on lakes Winnipeg and Manitobah which is perhaps worthy of being recorded, as it may serve to show the permanency of ancient customs and traditions among families now dwelling nearly a thousand miles west of the hunting grounds of their ancestors. Near the mouth of the Little Saskatchewan, we met an Indian family in small canoes journeying towards the mouth of the Red River. The family consisted of a young Indian, his wife and two little children. The father was born on the shores of Lake Winnipeg, and had never travelled east of the lake. After a few words passed between him and a half-breed Ojibway from Lake Superior, (Wigwam), they shook hands and proclaimed themselves related to one another. Each belonged, as I was informed, to the tribe which bore the name of the ‘Bear’ and having by some means which Wigwan could not or would not explain, ascertained this fact, they spoke to one another as brothers. A similar relationship was established between Wigwam and another Ojibway on Moss River, solely as he informed me, because his own and his newly-found friend belonged to a tribe whose distinctive name was the ‘Bear.’ The Cree half-breeds told me that in their communication with the Ojibway of Lake Winnipeg, and further west, the recognition of relationship not infrequently took place between individuals who met for the first time and who were born and lived in districts far apart (113).

This suggests that kinship is not based exactly on blood-lines, but rather can have a considerable cultural content, i.e., if one belonged to the Bear totem, one has a solid connection to other Bear people, even if they speak a different language and live in a different area. Kinship, then, can have a marked cultural component.

Tellingly, Indigenous kinship is even more complex than this. Certain life situations may suggest mythic parallels, as Desveaux points out in Sous le signe de l‘ours; what is striking in this study is that the Algonquian-speaking Ojibways of Big Trout Lake in northwestern Ontario tell mythic stories of great ancestors’ behaviour that is repugnant to today’s moral values, where, for example, the daughters of the old Wemeshos lived successively with a young man, a celestial being, and a sacred animal. While such adulterous activity is decried in ordinary society, the point is clearly not the adultery. Rather human families reflect diversity because of their mythic origins, requiring them to sometimes make strange alliances in order to maintain who they really are.

In effect, then, tracking some aspect of the myth in family life retains the tri-partite wholeness of the triad cosmos/ human/animal of the original story. The result is that the family is religiously-connected to the ancestor through the marriage alliance or rejection of the same, but is also an expression of a cosmic value system (Desveaux, pp. 171-174).

Moreover, such an outcome begins to throw light on why some marriage/alliances cannot/will not be made, while others that appear so strange are successful. The reason lies in the ancestry of the proposed new pair, and whether their alliance will reflect something of the mythic characteristic resident in the powerful old story. In traditional Amerindian societies, such as we are discussing, a very old, astute and insightful woman might retain the mythic tales of the various families, as well as the community as a whole, and very often, sometimes as soon as children are born, discussions of possible alliances take place in the background.

What seems to be going on in these discussions is an aligning of the lives of the children with cosmic and animal forces, forces that are held to have activated the original ancestral connection. The result is that even in those cultures that did not espouse totemic icons as organizing principles among families, myth continued to give marriages a religio-cultural meaning. Furthermore, depths of meaning in marriage such as these indicate why traditional family alliances were the bedrock of these cultures.

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