Kinship

Oceti Sakowin Nation

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The kinship system of the Oceti Sakowin people honors the important roles many members play in family life. Tiyospaye (tee-yo'-shpah-yay) is a Dakota word that captures the idea of larger and extended families that are connected.

"Let me try to explain the kinship system of the Dakotas as simply as I can ... you have, of course, your natural father and mother and siblings; that is, all their other children, your brothers and sisters. But now, in addition, there are any number of men and women whom you also call father and mother, your secondary or auxiliary parents ...


Now you can see where you get so many other brothers or sisters besides your own, and where you get so many cousins. These extended siblings and these cousins constitute your generations; you belong together."

Ella Cara Deloria, Speaking of Indians (Lincoln: University of Nebraska Press, [1944] 1984).
Shared activities strengthen Oceti Sakowin communities and families in many ways. The act of quilt making brings together grandmothers, mothers, sisters, aunts, and friends. Senior centers, churches, schools, and community halls provide forums in which friendships are built and quilting knowledge is shared. In the same way, these shared activities ensure that cultural traditions such as language, stories, and food ways are maintained.

Tipis Around a Lake, 1968–1988. Made by Emma King, (Yanktonnai Nakota, 1920–1994). From Fort Yates, Standing Rock Reservation, North Dakota
Discussion Question

Can you think of an activity you share among your family or community? What makes this activity important to you or your family?

Babies were wrapped and placed in cradleboards, which made the baby feel very secure and allowed the mother the use of her arms if she was carrying the cradleboard on her back. A cradleboard could also be propped so the baby could observe, and it could also be hung up, giving the baby an even higher view of things.

Oglala Lakota cradleboard, ca. 1890. From Pine Ridge Reservation, South Dakota. NMAI 188584
Discussion Questions

Notice the elaborate beadwork on this cradleboard. How long do you think it took the mother to make and decorate it?

What does the elaborate beadwork tell you about the relationship between a mother and her child?

"Everyone who was born a Dakota belonged in it; nobody need be left outside ... I can safely say that the ultimate aim of Dakota life, stripped of accessories, was quite simple: One must obey kinship rules; one must be a good relative. No Dakota who has participated in that life will dispute that ... Without that aim and the constant struggle to attain it, the people would no longer be Dakotas in truth. They would no longer even be human. To be a good Dakota, then, was to be humanized, civilized."
Ella Cara Deloria, Speaking of Indians (Lincoln: University of Nebraska Press, [1944] 1984)

Ella Cara Deloria (Dakota). Deloria describes the strengths and attributes of Dakota kinship.

Discussion Question

What qualities might help someone be a "good relative"?

Constructing tipis was a family activity. Women usually made, erected, and dismantled tipis while men harvested the buffalo for the hides and cut and peeled lodgepole pine for the tipi poles.

Two Wahpeton Sioux women setting up tipi poles, 1910-1913. Photograph by Alanson B. Skinner. Lake Traverse Reservation, South Dakota. NMAI N01625
White Bull drew fifteen tipis around the perimeter of the camp, including his own, the red one at the top. He shows the sacred thunder tipi in the center and a number of figures walking and carrying pipes. Between the tipis, buffalo meat dries on racks. In the center of the circle, he wrote in Lakota , "I have diagramed these tipis as I remember them from living in the camp, my friend."

The Ceremonial Camp Circle of the Miniconjou, 1931, Sioux History in pictures. Courtesy of the Elwyn B. Robinson Department of Special Collections, Chester Fritz Library, University of North Dakota

Excerpt from Speaking of Indians

Ella C. Deloria
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Each family set up its tipi in such a way as to help form the camp circle, the unifying ring of which they were all a vital part.

All tipis faced the council tipi, which stood in the great open common and that was the focus of community life and thought . . . the tipi I said was home to family.

But the father-mother-child unit was not final and isolated; it was only one of several others forming the larger family, the tiyospaye (tee-yo'-shpah-yay).

This Dakota word is essential in describing tribal life. It denotes a group of families, bound together by blood and marriage ties, that lived side by side in the camp circle.

Discussion Question

Think about sites or locations in your community where friends and families gather. What do places like this provide for a community?

"So I try to encourage young people to think about their identity in a much bigger way—as part of the Seven Fire Places [Oceti Sakowin], or as in individual identity, what language they speak or even their Tiospaye, their extended family. Now back in the day our Tiospayes were the most important part of our identity . . . We asked, "Who are your relatives?" The old ones today . . . they'll tell you who their relatives are and indeed we are all related, we belong to one another."
Jace DeCory, Instructor at Black Hills State University, Spearfish, South Dakota (from wolakotaproject.org)

Jace DeCory, Instructor at Black Hills State University in South Dakota, encourages students to think deeply about their identity, even when simply introducing themselves to another.

Discussion Question

What does this quotation tell you about the relationship between kinship and identity for the Oceti Sakowin Nation?

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