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Create a link to share a read only version of this article with your colleagues and friends. Please read and accept the terms and conditions and check the box to generate a sharing link. One of the major destructive forces to American Indian peoples were the assimilation-based policies that destroyed traditional kinship systems and family units. This destruction contributed to the cycle of dysfunction that continues to plague families and homes in Indian country. A second major destructive blow occurred when colonial forces, through law and policy, reinforced white male patriarchal kinship and family systems.

In this colonial system, American Indian concepts, roles, and responsibilities associated with fatherhood and motherhood were devalued and Indian children grew up with a dysfunctional sense of family and kinship. This article examines the traditional kinship system of the Cheyenne Indians, highlighting the importance of kinship terms, roles, and responsibilities. The traditional Cheyenne kinship system emphasized familial relationships for the sake of childrearing and imparting traditional values of respect, reciprocity, and balance.

I have brought you many things, sent by the gods for your use. You live the way I have taught you, and follow the laws. You must not forget them, for they have given you strength and the ability to support yourselves and your families. One of the major destructive forces to American Indian peoples were the assimilation-based policies that destroyed traditional kinship systems and family units Pevar,pp.

For example, the boarding school system that was established to take Indian children from their homes and assimilate them into white mainstream culture had a direct impact on destroying Indian families. The US policy to assimilate Indians, which lasted from the early reservation period in the s to the s, was a devastating colonial force to traditional kinship systems and therefore, a devastating colonial force against Indigenous sovereignty.

A second major destructive force occurs when the unseen colonial forces, through education, culture, media, law, and policy, reinforce white male patriarchal kinship and family systems Adams, ; Pewewardy,pp. In a colonial system that values white patriarchy over American Indian concepts, roles, and responsibilities of fatherhood and motherhood, Indian children grow up with a dysfunctional sense of family and kinship.

Colonialism has warped the Indigenous gender roles, which include parental roles, and it is important to highlight these ongoing challenges when decolonizing Indigenous kinship systems Smith,p. Assimilated American Indians, even young men, are conditioned to believe that they and their traditional ways are inferior, non-existent, or savage.

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Traditional Cheyenne family values, their kinship system, and kinship terms reinforced traditional laws, promoted acceptable behavior, as well as sustained a mannered and civilized Cheyenne society. Cheyenne children carried this Indigenous knowledge through adulthood and parenthood; they were inevitably responsible for keeping the family unit together, which created a healthy community, or band, and thus sustained a healthy nation.

Using Indigenous and decolonizing methodologies, by researching and writing for a purpose that serves the interests of Indigenous peoples, I attempt to recreate the traditional Cheyenne kinship system. As Smith emphasizes:. Colonization is recognized as having had a destructive effect on indigenous gender relationships that reached out across all spheres of indigenous society. Family organization, children rearing, political and spiritual life, work and social activities were all disordered by a colonial system that position its own women as the property of men with primarily domestic roles.

Women across many different indigenous societies claim an entirely different relationship, one embedded in beliefs about the land and the universe, about the spiritual ificance of women, and about the collective endeavours that were required in the organization of society. Indigenous women would argue that their traditional roles included full participation in may aspect of political decision making and marked gender separations which were complementary in order to maintain harmony and stability. Smith,p. As an American Indian insider researcher, I intend to recover the traditional Cheyenne kinship system, relying on archives collected from the Smithsonian Institute National Anthropological Archives and my perspectives as a Cheyenne scholar.

The Cheyennes have two fundamental concepts which I use as the foundation for authoring this article. One might even say that the Cheyenne kinship system is in fact the foundation of the Cheyenne Nation. Other laws may be cultural norms or instructions on proper behavior in public settings.

As a unified nation, however, the Cheyennes governed itself under a set of unified laws, which could be classified as sacred laws. But each individual band may have had slightly different cultural laws, taboos, and norms. The household was the first place where a Cheyenne child or an adoptee the Cheyennes, like most Plains Indian nations, commonly adopted children into their families learned the traditional teachings that made them contributors to the Cheyenne society.

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Parents, grandparents, siblings, and other relatives were the ones who taught the children these traditional roles and values, so it makes sense that a healthy and vibrant kinship system existed for the sake of cultural survival. After all, a healthy household created healthy citizens, who then created healthy bands. Healthy bands thus built a healthy and prosperous nation.

The Cheyenne kinship system was finely structured and rooted in traditional concepts of responsibility, where each family member was responsible for the family, and each family was responsible for their band. It is in these relationships of responsibility where we find the foundation of Cheyenne traditional law, nationhood, and sovereignty. Each had to maintain their existence as Cheyennes through cultural and ceremonial practices, oral traditions, language, and spiritual devotion.

Should an individual family member falter in his or her responsibilities, the family structure would suffer. Likewise, should a family falter, the band and potentially the entire nation could suffer. Yet, much of traditional Cheyenne family life was full of freedom, humor, joy, and happiness, despite family and social pressures and responsibilities.

In fact, as I discuss later, the traditional Cheyenne family structure facilitated and fostered teasing, jesting, as well as prevented and minimalized conflict through preventive measures. For example, Cheyenne custom demanded that some relatives, especially in-laws, maintain a teasing relationship. However, custom also demanded that some relatives and in-laws have no contact or communication whatsoever.

However unique and alien to colonial concepts of family, I certainly find that one defining characteristic of Cheyenne sovereignty and self-determination rested in the stability and strength of the Cheyenne kinship system.

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Numerous non-Cheyenne white scholars have researched and recorded the interworking of Cheyenne kinship, but none were born into a Cheyenne family, grew up in a Cheyenne household, lived in a Cheyenne community, or culturally and spiritually identified as a Cheyenne person Grinnell, ; Hilger, ; Moore,; Straus, Many of the texts from anthropological studies do not fairly portray Cheyenne kinship relationships and tend to focus more on incest taboos, rather than kinship responsibilities and the extended family structure. It is important to reconstruct the traditional Cheyenne family system since it was directly assaulted with the federal assimilation policies, which forced children into boarding schools, severing them from their kinship ties, and destroying traditional kinship roles and responsibilities.

This assimilation was to be accomplished through education and Christianity directed toward bringing these people into a form of life that the government viewed as civilized. Mckellips, For generations, Cheyenne children, who became parents, were forced to adopt white American concepts of family, which ignored grandparents, aunts and uncles, cousins, and other relatives. These relatives were also responsible in making a complete and healthy Cheyenne family.

The assault on the Cheyenne kinship system was a direct assault on the Cheyenne way of life. Yet, I must emphasize that this traditional way of life survived into the modern era as some families were able to hold on to customs, taboos, oral traditions, and kinship relationships. My siblings and I cannot definitively say that we grew up in a traditional household since our family was also influenced by assimilation and mainstream culture.

Nonetheless, we grew up as most did on the Northern Cheyenne Indian reservation, with siblings and in the presence of numerous extended family members: aunts, uncles, grandparents, cousins, and in-laws. We mimicked the behaviors of our older Cheyenne relatives, nearly all of whom were bilingual, and grew up in small reservation houses with their parents and grandparents.

These were the last havens for traditional kinship relationships. Everything is to be done out of sincere love. A traditional Cheyenne family may have strict rules and customs, but if a family does not uphold the rules or practice the customs with love, then their meanings and values are lost. A Cheyenne child must grow up in an environment of love to gain a positive view of what it means to be part of a family, village, band, and nation.

Today, the Cheyenne language is still the foundation of the traditional Cheyenne kinship system. Current and future generations can learn a lot from the basic principles of Cheyenne kinship, yet traditional knowledge must be protected. In the traditional Cheyenne kinship system, several relationships emerge as fundamental to their family dynamics.

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These relationships are initially found in language, but primarily displayed in relationships. Kinship terms are the basis for creating and sustaining these relationships. When children learn the language, they also learn kinship terms while experiencing the kinship relationship.

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I provide several tables that list the Cheyenne kinship terms as formal guides and to bridge the language gap between speakers and non-speakers of the Cheyenne language. These tables serve the best interests of those who wish to reinvigorate traditional Cheyenne concepts of kinship, kinship relationships, roles and responsibilities, and the appropriate Cheyenne terms to complete the decolonizing process.

The Cheyenne kinship system starts with the child, since the child is considered a new human, with a free and uninfluenced mind and spirit. The Cheyennes were conscious of prenatal development since expecting women underwent numerous ceremonies throughout their pregnancy.

They frequently met and stayed with their female relatives to visit, talk, and laugh about all matters of motherhood. All the while, the child developed its mind, body, and spirit, listening to the mother, feeling her emotions, and experiencing her actions. Mothers frequently sang family songs, or made up their own, so the child became familiar with her voice and the melodies. Once the child was born, he or she was inseparable from the mother.

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The second person that influenced is the father. The child learns most of his or her morals and values from the actions of parents, secondary to their spoken teachings and lectures. Since infants and toddlers spend most of their time with the mother, and the mother spends most of her time with her mother, will acquire an early and strong relationship with grandmothers.

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Grandmothers possess the knowledge and wisdom of childrearing and are always willing to help and advise their daughters in motherhood, especially first-time mothers. Grandmothers learned and experienced the same teachings and lessons in childrearing from their mothers, as part of the continuum of the Cheyenne culture and tradition.

The fourth relationship of ificance is the grandfather both maternal and paternal. The grandfathers, as with grandmothers, have knowledge and wisdom of childrearing and also impart lessons of parenting to their daughters and sons. The child, especially firstborn children, may see their grandparents as another set of parents, only more experienced, wiser, and a bit more childlike and playful.

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The grandparent—child relationship is the foundation for relationships in the community involving elder and ceremonial and ritualistic leaders. I have heard the mixed-bloods do that, in English. Older Cheyenne children learn how to treat elders from the oral tradition, which reaffirms principles of respect and sincerity. The fifth groups of relationships that are crucially important to the traditional kinship system are those with siblings. The sibling and cousin relationships are also the foundation of any future friendships which can and do lead to induction into guilds and relationships with members of the opposite sex, which also lead to romantic relationships and marriage.

Cheyenne children, especially siblings and cousins, also played the roles of their parents, often making their own camps and asing kinship roles: parents, grandparents, and children. This play was practice for living the Cheyenne cultural way of life. Once children matured into adulthood, the play stopped and they were bound by a new set of kinship rules NAA MS

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