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Chapter 3.5: Kinship

Apsáalooke Writing Tribal Histories Project

The kinship system of the Apsáalooke might seem slightly confusing at first, but to people who live it, it is very simple. When you think about the traditional lifestyle of the Apsáalooke and other nomadic tribes, life was not always easy and survival was not always guaranteed. Traveling with other tribal members in small groups would have allowed people to get to know each other very well, and families literally would have been constant neighbors.

Historically, the Apsáalooke only related to other familial members as a mother, father, grandmother, grandfather, brother and sister. In this way, people only had immediate family and they were surrounded by them. The Apsáalooke people identify clans and family through a matrilineal system, meaning that relationships are traced through the mother’s side of the family.

A child born into a family would call all of his mother’s sister’s mother. His mother’s brothers would be his brothers. His father’s sisters would be his mothers as well, but the father’s brothers would be considered fathers rather than brothers. In doing this, a child was born into a large family, with many parents, all to care for and raise the child. If anything were to happen to the child, there were plenty of mothers and fathers to take care of him, and to turn to for guidance and support. Sometimes, parents who had many children might give a child of theirs to a brother or sister who didn’t have children of their own.

This way of relating to each other not only ensured that families had strong relationships, but that people respected each other regardless of age. If a woman had a child and she had younger sisters who were not much older than her own child, the girls would still be considered this child’s mothers. Her child would still grow up treating them as his mothers, with the same respect that he treated his birth mother. Another situation might go something like this: A couple had a little boy they named him Sam. Sam’s mother has a sister who had a little boy a few years later. Since both women are Sam’s mothers, the little boy is his brother. Can you think of a way that someone could have a grandparent that was younger than them?

Below is a chart comparing a matrilineal kinship system as practiced by Apsáalooke people with a bilateral kinship system as commonly practiced by Anglo people in the United States.

Kinship systems compared

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