Heritage Site / Ethnography Site / Dakota Nakota Lakota / Family Life

Article: Introduction

To the Oceti Sakowin the terms relatives or relations is far more encompassing than the it's common definition. Mitakuye or my relatives is inclusive of all living things, visible and invisible, and impies that one is related to all such entities. Kinship is highly emphasized in Oceti Sakowin tradition and traditional protocol dictates the use of kinship terms when addressing a being, human or other. To not do such would be a demonstration of disrespect. (Examples: When praying to the Creator he is referred to as Grandfather, if one is talking to a pet it is referred to as brother or sister, when one meets an elderly women she is greeted as grandmother even if she is of no relation) Traditionally, even though individuals were named and may even be given several names in their lifetime, it was considered disrespectful to address an individual by their name. This necessitated that an individual not only know the kinship terms that are based on sex, age, and relationship but what his/her relationship to others is. In addition, the kinship term prescribes how the user is to interact with the person he/she is addressing by that term. Even young children sought to always use the proper terminology and conduct themselves in the appropriate manner with the intent of demonstrating that he/she is a worthy relative. To be a good relative was a goal for all and that common goal has been the bond between the Oceti Sakowin for centuries.

The word family can not be directly translated in the Dakota/Nakota/Lakota language. Those who live in a household are referred to as a åiwahe. A tiwahe could consist of any number of individuals including grandparents, parents, children, aunts, uncles, and even unrelated persons who live together in one dwelling. Tiwahe can be literally interpreted as family and is a more descriptive term for describing many families in the 2000's. Tiyospaye is the term used to describe those tiwahe who originate from a common ancestor or the extended family. Historically this term served as a good literal translation for a band but care must be taken in applying it the to Bands we know today, because most are comprised of several tiyospaye or fragments thereof. An otonwan is comprised of those tiyospaye which share common ancestors and the alliance of these is the Oceti Sakowin which in essence is the oyate or nation. Traditionally children were taught their lineage and expected to recite it upon request or as need. Traditional protocol dictates that an individual outline his/her lineage whenever addressing the public.

Deeply enmeshed in Oceti Sakowin traditions is the philosophy of men and women existing as equal human beings. Men and women each held definite roles in society that were considered of equal importance. The women were the owners of tipi or dwellings and the furnishings thereof, therefore the maintenance of the household and the care of it's members was their responsibility. Men served as the providers, protectors, and decision makers. It was their belief that men and women must exist as a team living in unity and cooperating with one another if harmony was to be maintained within the tiwahe and the tiyospaye even between tiyospaye. One could not marry within one's own tiyospaye. In reality marriage, facilitated the uniting of tiyospaye. The resulting household could be made with either tiyospaye, but was only counted as part of the one with which they took residence. Marriage was an agreement which was negotiated between two tiyospaye or a man and women if they eloped, they were not considered a religious act. Divorces were not uncommon and were not thought of as breaking a religious code. A women's relationship with men was ranked as follows: her brothers first are her first allegiance, then her sons, her father, followed by her male cousins, and last the husband. A man's first allegiance was to his mother, then his sisters, his daughters, his female cousins, and last his wife. When a women took a husband and her relatives gifted him, he was obligated to return everything if the household broke up. Often a man walked away barefoot, with nothing. An important factor in making a household was that men did not marry until they had proven that they were accomplished hunters, proficient warriors, and had good sense. Women remained single until they mastered the skills necessary to care for a household and it's members. Men typically were several years older than their wives.