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Nature's Law
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Understandings of Relations

Relational Law

Kinship Systems




Kinship Group

Understandings of Relations

Tsu'u Tina Kinship System

Kinship Terms

and Judgement



Visual representation of nature's laws

All accepted norms among Indigenous peoples are resident in language…it is not by happenstance, then, that the leading Cree specialists on the Prairies, H. Wolfart and F. Ahenakew should entitle their book The Cree Language is our Identity: The La Ronge Lectures of Sarah Whitecalf. Language enshrines people's lifeways and values. Yet there is not a direct, one-to-one relationship between language and what is culturally valuable.

For example, the Tsu`u Tina language have no word for wife, yet obviously wives are as common among them as among other peoples. What is important is to see the way languages reflects cultural values in the larger sense. It is not whether or not one kind of word is used the same way in all cases.

We note first of all that the Cree language does not distinguish between the family, the tribe and the nation…the single word used for "one family, one tribe, one bond, one nation" is peyakôskan. ‘All in one family’ was ka peyakoskânewihk, a notion deriving from the same root that further indicates that it can be translated as ‘all in one tribe’ or ‘all in one nation’ depending on the context…in effect, everyone was interconnected. This underlines the inherent connectedness of all social forms, and clarifies that a nuclear family is never a central feature of Algonquian-speaking peoples.

Rather, the Cree acknowledge that all those who permanently live together under one roof are referred to as mihcetowekiwin, that is, a cognate word that suggests many living within one structure. One could extend this argument by adding that there is no basic distinction between different kinds of Cree people (i.e ‘Plains’ or Woods,’ etc.), for the word nehiyaw can equally stand for an aboriginal or indigenous person as it can stand for a Cree person.

Moreover, in Cree, a formal affiliation, such as a society or confederation is called mâmawinitowin, a word which highlights the notion of amalgamation or gathering people together for a purpose. This is the word that is used by Cree-speakers to translate our word community, thereby signaling that the notion we have of community is not equivalent to the collective phrase- ‘the people.’ It should be affirmed, then, that this word is never used for a 'band' or a 'family.' Indeed, words now used for nation, or nationality are all modern derivatives of these original words and they represent a kind of second order derivation from the original meanings.

It is in kinship that divisions dwell in the language. Plains Cree kinship terms reflect the important divisions recognized in the Cree kinship system, and identifying those relations that are crucial to maintaining identity are presented in the lists below. For example, by virtue of the importance of the relationship there is a word for one's brother's daughter, and one’s sister's daughter. The significance of kinships can be gauged by the importance imposed by identifying names for the relationship. This generality is reflected in the stability of kin systems among most Indigenous peoples. Thus, the following statements by Driver apply equally to Algonquian, Siouan and Athapaskan language groups. The first point relates to marriage patterns. Favoured partners for marriage are clearly identified through the dominance given cross-cousin marriage. Note Driver’s depiction of this feature:

If anyone married his cross-cousin, it would not be necessary to have any kinship terms for in-laws because they would also be genetic (blood) relatives. Such is actually the case in most of the Eastern Subarctic. Special terms for in-laws do not exist in the language. Wherever in-laws are thus lumped with genetic relatives, we may suspect marriage or former marriage of genetic relatives. All the kinship terminologies of the Algonquians of the Plains have features suggesting cross-cousin marriage. The same is true of the Santee and Teton Dakota. All of these tribes seem to have had cross-cousin marriage at some time in the past when they were living farther east, where their territories probably adjoined those of the Ojibwa and Cree, who have continued to marry cross cousins down to the present time" (Driver 229).

He follows this up with two other analyses that are crucial for understanding Indigenous marriage:

In still other languages, there are three separate terms for each of the relatives; this is labelled "bifurcate collateral terminology", to emphasize the fact that the two forks of one’s ancestry are distinguished as well as the lineal from the collateral. In still other languages, there is once word for both ‘mother’ and ‘mother’s sister,’ and a second word for ‘father’s sister’; this is called "bifurcate merging", because it distinguishes both ancestral forks but merges the mother and the mother’s sister on one fork" (Driver 255).

…bifurcate collateral is the most frequent for the continent as a whole … the inferences naturally drawn from these facts is that bifurcate collateral is probably the oldest type of mother-aunt classification in aboriginal North America, or at least older than bifurcate merging. After unilocal residence and unilateral descent arose, bifurcate collateral seems to have lost ground to bifurcate merging. The process of change, however, was not abrupt; on the contrary, both systems coexisted for a time during the transitional period. After White contact, the process was reversed; bifurcate merging lost ground to bifurcate collateral" (Driver 259).

Second, he summarizes what we know about some important issues of relationship among Indigenous people in the region under consideration:

… there are a few language families in which all or nearly all the member languages possess the same mother-aunt classifications … the Plains-Prairie Sioux are all bifurcate merging … another example of a correlation between language family and mother-aunt terminology is that of the Algonquians, most of whom have bifurcate collateral terminology. The historical inference from these facts is that the older variant among the Algonquians is bifurcate collateral, and that those tribes which later contacted Sioux and Iroquois acquired a more sedentary economy, unilateral decent, or some other cultural feature which encouraged the shift to bifurcate merging terminology. In such cases, the classification for mothers and aunts may be acquired by contact with languages of another family, even though the words themselves are not transferred. (Driver 261)

We can conclude, then, that the linguistic basis of relational law reflects as continuing a set of stable relationships as we are likely to find among tribal peoples, perhaps among any peoples. Indeed, the main lines of these relationships have guided marriage systems for centuries as near as we can tell. These stable relationships were and are operative in the local region of the three language groups under consideration here.

Let us examine further the meaning of connection as implied by the direct reference of kin systems in language. For example, a more detailed linguistic shaping of the data illustrates the distinctive meaning of 'all my relations' found among the Indigenous peoples, and hence reflects something of what ahs been identified as Nature's Law. We will utilize three language examples from each of the language families.

The Relational-Kinship System in Cree, (a widely spoken and powerful Algonquian language in Canada), will function as representative of the system as found in that linguistic group:

Cree terminology reflects a rather sophisticated concept of relationships. Strict taboos are also in place, as for example, forbidding contact and/or personal relationships between in-laws.

**MO: mother
FA: Father
WI: Wife
HU: Husband
SI: Sister
BR: Brother
DA: Daughter
SO: Son MOSIDA: "mother’s sister’s daughter"
EGO: the point of view.
  "my second cousin" (male says male) nîscas; (male says female) nîcimos    
MOSIDA "my first cousin" nistes; nimis; niciwam; nîtim    
"my aunt" nitosis
"my mother’s sister" nimamasis maternal aunt, nimamasis
"my first cousin" nistes; nimis; niciwam; nîtim
"my grandmother" nohkôm
"my first cousin" nistes; nimis; niciwam; nîtim
"my grandfather" nimosôm
"my mother’s brother" nisis
"my first cousin" nistes; nimis; niciwam; nîtim
"my mother-in-law" nisikos
"my brother-in-law"
"my father-in-law"
"my sister-in-law"
"my daughter-in-law"
ninahâkaniskwem; ninahâhkisîm
"my great grandson" nôsisim
"my mother" nikâwiy
"my wife" nîwah
"my son"
"my great-granddaughter" nôsisim
    "EGO" DA
"my daughter" nitânis
"my great grandson" nôsisim nitânskotapân
"my father" nohtâwiy
"my sister" nîtisân
"my son in
"my great-granddaughter" nôsisim
"my brother-in-law"
"my sister’s daughter"
"my niece" nitânisihkawin (men say my sister’s daughter, nistim; women say my sister’s daughter, nitôsimiskwem)
"my grandmother" nohkôm
"my brother" nîtisân
"my nephew" nicosim
(women say
my brother’s son,
men say my sister’s son,
nitikwatim; women say
my sister’s son, nitôsim)
"my grandfather" nimosôm
"my brother’s wife"
"my niece" nitânisihkawin (men say my brother’s daughter, nitôsimiskwem) (women say
my brother’s daughter,
"my father’s sister" nisikos paternal aunt, osikosimâw
"my first cousin" nistes; nimis; niciwam; nîtim
"my nephew" nicosim
(men say my brother’s son, nitôsim; nikosis) (women say
my brother’s son,
"my first cousin" nistes; nimis; niciwam; nîtim
"my father’s brother" nôhkômis
FABRSO "my first cousin" nistes; nimis; niciwam; nîtim    
"my first cousin" nistes; nimis; niciwam; nîtim


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