I live pretty equidistant from about three Indian reservations in three different states. I sometimes see tribal members at my community mental health agency. Part of doing my work is getting a good family history. I have noticed, over 30 years of practice, distinct differences in how tribal members and everyone who is not a tribal member describes family relationships. For my tribal clients, there are any number of aunties, uncles, sisters, and brothers who are important in their lives. They just don’t match how I, in my eurocentric orientation, define family.
A good friend of our, a person who is an Arikara Indian, one of the Three Affiliated Tribes from the Fort Berthold Reservation where Husband works, posted on Facebook recently a way to navigate these family relationships.
This apparently comes from some sort of Mandan, Arikara, and Hidatsa tribal handbook. Here is how you navigate relationships. for boys. Girls are pretty much the same.
Who is my mother?
- My birth mother.
- .My mother’s sister
- My father’s brother’s wife
- My clan father’s wives (My father’s clan brothers)
Who is my father?
- My birth father
- My father’s brothers
- My sister’s husband
- My father’s mother’s brother
- My clan fathers (My father’s clan brothers)
- My father’s sister’s son
Who is my sister?
- My blood sister
- My father’s brother’s daughter
- My sister’s daughters
- My female clan members (My mother’s clan)
- Female children of my father’s clan
- My mother’s sister’s daughter
Who is my brother?
- My blood brothers
- My father’s brother’s sons
- My sister’s son’s
- My mother’s sisters’ sons
- My clan male mothers
- Male children of my fathers’ clan
- My mother’s brother
- My mother’s mother’s brother
Who is my auntie?
- My father’s sisters
- My father’s sister’s daughter-each generation
- My clan aunts (My father’s clan sisters)
Who is my grandmother?
- My mother’s mother
- My mother’s mother’s sister (Grandmother’s sister)
- My father’s mother
- My father’s mother’s sister
- My mother’s father’s sister-each generation
I notice that great uncles, great aunts, and cousins are defined differently here. I also find that if I use this to define my family relationships, I have a lot more siblings, parents, and aunts and uncles. That is kind of comforting.
How do you define family? How would your definition change given the above information?