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Nature's Law
Spiritual Life, Governance, Culture, Traditions, Resources, Context and Background
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Who May One Marry

Family Definition

Customs of courtship


Rules of Separation

Sexual and gender relations

Marriage Patterns

Women's roles and rights

Bands and

Visual representation of nature's laws

Plains Cree family residence did have dominant patterns, as Driver has indicated: "In the patrilocal extended family, the sons continue to live with their fathers and bring their wives to their father’s house or locality; married daughters live elsewhere, but unmarried daughters belong to this group" (234), but he also indicates that North American instances of cross-cousin marriage are remarkable for the wide variety of other social traits associated with them: "Thus descent may be patrilineal, matrilineal, or bilateral; postnuptial residence may be patrilocal, matrilocal, avunculocal, or bilocal; kinship terminology may be Crow, Omaha, Iroquois, Hawaiian or Eskimo" (229).This suggests that the couple had ample choice in setting up residence. As Charles Garnett reports:

"Among the Oglala Sioux Indians, a man in a camp was subject to the commonly accepted laws and customs, and to the regulations of that camp. If he desired to be free from these regulations he might set up his tipi alone, far away from the camp, where he would be chief of his own family and govern all within his own tipi. If others permanently placed their tipis near his, they formed a new camp, and a new band, of which he was the chief. If there were few who joined this new band, its chief was of little consequence and remained largely dependent on the band from which he came. But if a large number joined the new band, it became important in the affairs of the tribe, and its chief a person of corresponding importance" (qtd. Walker 24).

A number of terms have been developed by academics to reflect these choices, as Driver reports: "’patrilocal residence’ means living with or near the groom’s parents; it is also called ‘virilocal.’ ‘Matrilocal’ is living with or near the bride’s parents … also called ‘uxorilocal.’ ‘Avunculocal’ is applied to residence with the groom’s mother’s brother’s family; ‘Neolocal’ to residence in a new house … ‘bilocal’ (‘ambilocal’) to residence with either the groom’s or the bride’s parents or a shifting back and forth from one to the other" ( 232).]

On the other hand, Sir John Franklin reports in 1819-22 among the Plains Cree that:

..when a hunter marries his first wife, he usually takes up his abode in the tent of his father-in-law, and of course hunts for the family; but when he becomes a father, the families are at liberty to separate, or remain together, as their inclinations prompt them. His second wife is for the most part the sister of the first, but not necessarily so, for an Indian of another family often presses his daughter upon a hunter whom he knows to be capable of maintaining her well. The first wife always remains the mistress of the tent, and assumes an authority over the others which is not in every case quietly submitted to.

It may be remarked, that whilst an Indian resides with his wife’s family, it is extremely improper for his mother-in-law to speak, or even look at him; and when she has communication to make, it is the etiquette that she should turn her back upon him, and address him only through the medium of a third person … It appears to also have been an ancient practice for an Indian to avoid eating or sitting down in the presence of the father-in-law (Franklin 108-109).

The classic ethnographic description of the Plains Cree is that of David Mandelbaum, who conducted his fieldwork in 1934 for a monograph published in 1940. He used elderly informants to reconstruct the period 1860-1870 as the ethnographic present, and reports that ‘the newly married couple usually lived near the husband’s parents’ (Mendelbaum 1940: 245). Using Mandelbaum and other sources, Murdock coded the Plains Cree as Vn in the Atlas of World Cultures (Murdock 1981: 124). V is defined as follows: ‘Virilocal, equivalent to ‘patrilocal’ but confined to instances where the husband’s patrikin are not aggregated in patrilocal and patrilineal kin groups’ (Murdock 1981: 94). The lowercase n indicates neolocality as a ‘culturally patterned’ alternative. For example, if the husband was an orphan, obviously the newlyweds could not live near his parents (Moore and Campbell 179).

According to the recent study taken by Moore and Campbell to determine the accuracy of the original data, they conclude that, "adherence to virilocality among the exogamous couples was very high in our sample, over 90 per cent for all five groups" (Moore and Campbell 183). Hence relational law among these peoples recognizes virilocality, or living with parents of the groom as a basic legal tenant.

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