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The Importance of Family Ties to Members of Cowessess First Nation

Abstract:
This study links the kinship practices of contemporary members of Cowessess First Nation to the historical notions of kinship regulated in the 'law of the people' and conveyed through the trickster stories of Wisakejak. Specifically, this study examines how Cowessess band members continued adherence to principles of the traditional laws of kinship has undermined the imposition of the legal and scholarly definitions of 'Indian.' By acknowledging kinship relations to band members who either had not been federally recognized as Indians prior to 1985, or were urban members disconnected from the reserve. This acknowledgement defies the general perception that First Nations people have internalized the legal definition of Indian, and in the process rendered traditional kinship meaningless. It also questions the accepted idea that conflict is the only possible outcome of any relationship between "old" members and "newly recognized" Indians. The importance of kinship to Cowessess band members blurs the legal (as defined by the Indian Act ) boundaries between status Indians, Bill C-31s, Métis, and non-status Indians and scholarly distinctions made between tribal groups, proving the artificiality of those boundaries. In the pre-reserve period, band membership was fluid, flexible, and inclusive. There were a variety of ways that individuals or groups of people could become members of a band, but what was of particular importance was that these new members assumed some sort of kinship role with its associated responsibilities. Kinship roles were carefully encoded in the traditional stories of the Cree trickster, Wisakejak. Wisakejak stories were "the law of the people" that outlined, among other things, the peoples' social interaction including the incorporation of individuals into a band. Contemporary members of Cowessess First Nation, in spite of outsiders' classifications of Aboriginal peoples, continue to define community identity and interaction based on principles outlined in the Wisakejak stories. Cowessess members' interpretations of contemporary kinship practices, then, are significant to understanding how contemporary First Nations put into practice their beliefs about kinship roles and responsibilities and demonstrates that these practices and beliefs are rooted in traditional cultural values.

Author: 

Robert Innes

Chair: 

K. Tsianina Lomawaima

Publication: 

dissertation

Year: 

2007

Proquest: 

ATT 3259916

UA Library: 

E9791 2007
College of Social and Behavioral Sciences