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Daniel D. Old Horn and Timothy McCleary. 1995. Apsáalooke Social and Family Structure. Little Big Horn College, Crow Agency, Montana.

The Apsáalooke Clan Relations

The Apsáalooke identify ten clans which corresponds to the belief that from conception to birth there are ten lunar months. The ten clans are arranged in five phratries. The phratry existed to promote cooperation when larger numbers were needed, especially for protection or when hunting. The first phratry consists of the Greasy Mouths, Uuwuutasshe, and Sore Lips, Ashíiooshe. The second consists of the Whistling Waters, Bilikóoshe, and the Bad War Deeds, Ashkápkawiia. The third consists of the Ties in a Bundle, Xúhkaalaxche, and the Brings Home Game Without Shooting, Uússaawaachiia. The fourth consists of the Big Lodges, Ashshitchíte, and the Newly Made Lodges, Ashhilaalío. The fifth phratry consists of the Treacherous Lodge, Ashbatshúa, or the Blood Indian Lodge, Ashkaámne, and the Filth Eaters, Ashpeennuushé.

The Apsáalooke, being matrilineal, receive their clan affiliation from their mother. The mother’s clan takes care of the physical and emotional needs of the individual. The relationship with the father’s clan was also important, since this clan promoted the status of the individual through public announcements of their achievements, and, more importantly, by providing prayer-blessings for a long, happy, and successful life. Clan mothers and clan fathers are considered sacred. The Apsáalooke credit Old Man Coyote for saying, "No matter how poor, no matter how pitiful, no matter how unaccomplished your clan father maybe, whatever he says on your behalf to the spiritual realm will come true". The clan fathers, therefore, have two roles for their clan children; to speak on behalf of the clan children in the spiritual realm and speak on behalf of the clan children to the people, so that the people would know about their clan children’s accomplishments.

The father’s clan also provides the individual with joking relations, or teasing cousins. Individuals whose fathers belong to the same clan regard each other as teasing cousins. The joking relations have free license to tease each other about public or private misconduct. This relationship keeps deviant behavior in check.

The Origin and History of the Clans

The Apsáalooke call clans ashammalíaxxiia, which literally means the lodge where the wood intertwines, but is in reference to a driftwood pile and therefore, a metaphorical reference to the unity of a clan. According to oral tradition the clans were named by Isáahkawuattee, Old Man Coyote. The tradition relates that there was a time when the Apsáalooke people were gathered together in groups and Old Man Coyote said, "I am a member of this ashammalíaxxiia." The people replied, "What is an ashammalíaxxiia?" And he explained, "An ashammalíaxxiia, is when people are related, you are not to marry within your ashammalíaxxiia." He then said, "As these people here" pointing to one group, "I am a Greasy Inside the Mouth, Uuwuutasshe. We are spirit keepers of the Sun." So the people called him, "Axxaashe Akiaxapáalia, Those Whose Spiritual Power Is The Sun" and that nickname was applied to all the Uuwuutasshe. The people asked "Why did you call that group the Uuwuutasshe?" and he replied, "Because they are great hunters and they eat nothing but the best of the meats, that is why their mouths are greasy."

Then the people became curious and asked, "Well, who are these other groups then?" And Old Man Coyote replied, "These are Ashíiooshe, Burnt Lips." "Why did you call them Ashíiooshe?", asked the others. And Old Man Coyote said, "Because these people are brave, they brave the elements, they do not care if it is a very cold winter or a very hot summer, they will go out and hunt, that is why their lips are wind burned."

Then they kept asking, "Well who is this group?" and he said, "Those are the Akchihpawaaítche, Wealthy Gophers. They are intelligent, they speak well, and they are generous, they are so generous that when they are going down the path they leave morsels of food for the gophers, that is why they are called Wealthy Gophers."

Later this group would become known as the Whistling Waters because a young Wealthy Gopher fell in love with his clan sister, another Wealthy Gopher. He flirted with her by waiting on the pathway leading down to the river. When he saw her coming for water he would whistle to get her attention. The rest of the people started laughing at him, and when the two married the name of their whole clan was changed to Whistling Water. Also, since this action made in-laws of clan relations, members of the Whistling Water clan will jokingly call each other bapshíshbaashe, my brother-in-law from the past.

Then it was asked, "What is the next group called?" he said, "Those are the Ashxáhche, Hair Remaining Lodge. They are careless in their work, they do not finish their hides, they leave clumps of hair remaining on the hide, therefore they are the Hair Remaining Lodge."

The name of this clan was changed during the times of inter-tribal warfare. During that time period, the warrior societies would challenge each other to tally their war deeds. When a member of the Hair Remaining Lodge was challenged, he started counting war deeds that could not be verified. When this man was questioned more closely, it became apparent that he had made it up. So from that time on, the Hair Remaining Lodge was called Ashkápkawiia, Bad War Deed Lodge.

Then Old Man Coyote was asked about the next clan, and he said, "Those are the Xúhkaalaxche, Ties in a Bundle. When they move camp they are always in a hurry and they are not neat, they get their belongings and put them in a bundle and tie it up, that is why they are Ties in a Bundle, they are crazy."

Then the next one he said, "Those are the Bring Home Game Home Without Shooting, Uússaawaachiia. They are very intelligent. They are so intelligent that even without weapons they will bring home food."

"The next one" he said "are the Isaashkahpaleeté, Crop Eared Domesticated Animals." Isaashké is the term for a beast of burden. The term, in recent times, is generally applied to the horse, but in the past the Apsáalooke had different animals for beasts of burden including bears, mountain lions, and wolves. Old Man Coyote explained, "These people are very strong and they have outstanding domesticated animals. They will stay out in the cold weather so long that the ears of their animals become frostbitten. That is why they are called Crop Eared Domesticated Animals."

Later in this clans history there was a Crop Eared Domesticated Animal chief who violated the ethics of Apsáalooke manhood by attacking his wife in a jealous rage. This chief beat his wife, cut her hair, and forced her to eat dung. Her brothers went and rescued her, thereby ending the marriage. The other people were ashamed of the chief’s actions and they ostracized him and began calling his clan the Ashpeennuushé, Dung Eater Lodge.

Then the next clan Old Man Coyote called, "Ashbatshúa, Treacherous Lodge." The people said, "Why do you call them that?" And he said, "They are treacherous people, that is why I called them the Treacherous Clan. However, they are afraid of water, they will not go into deep rivers."

Later on there was a clan war in which the Treacherous Lodge made war on the Wealthy Gophers and defeated the Wealthy Gophers. The Hair Remaining Lodge interceded on behalf of the Wealthy Gophers and they were also defeated by the Treacherous Clan. So the Hair Remaining Lodge people said that the Treacherous Lodge people were so treacherous that they were like their enemies the Kaámne or Kaánne, and from then on the clan was known as the Ashkaámne, Blood Indian Lodge.

Kaámne is the Apsáalooke way of pronouncing Kainnai, which is the Blackfoot term for one of their three political divisions. In their language it means All Chiefs. This term was mistranslated into English as Piegan. The Piegan are another political division of the Blackfeet.

Then Old Man Coyote said, "This next clan is the Ashshitchíte, Big Lodges, they are hefty people because they are always working. They are good workers."

Then there was one group left and the people said, "Wait, what is this last group here?" And Old Man Coyote responded as though it were an afterthought, "Oh, those are just now made, therefore they are the Ashhilaalío", the Newly Made Lodge."