Kinship Mentoring Model

Since creation, American Indians and Alaska Native Nations (AI/AN) have integrated all elements of nature into their philosophy, cultural values, life ways, and ceremonies. This “natural” relationship of being “part of” or “related to” all living things has sustained and ensured the survival of the cycle of life within each of the seven generations of AI/AN people. It is from these teachings that the EDC 7th Generation National Tribal Mentoring Program has designed and developed our kinship mentoring model.

We would like to thank 7th Generation Tribal Mentoring Specialist Valerie Larsen, Leech Lake Band of Ojibwe and local site staff―current and former: Nellie Rough Face, Ponca Tribe; Fedelia Cross, Oglala Lakota Sioux Tribe; and Patti Shook, Osage Nation for their dedicated time with research, writing, and sharing traditional kinship knowledge and values with the staff and sites of 7th Generation.

Following are brief descriptions of the kinship ways of several tribes.

Anishinaabe Kinship

AI/AN families include a wide circle of relatives who share resources and responsibilities. Family includes more than parents and children. Family includes grandparents, uncles and aunts, cousins, and many others―even including some not related by family, but through clan. This broader concept of family is now called an extended family. The circles of relatives who live together or in close proximity are linked in mutual dependence. Grandparents and other community elders have always played a major role in rearing and educating the young. It is customary in many tribes for the grandparents to raise one or more of their grandchildren. This type of shared responsibility for parenting is a family and community strength and in Indian Country is one of the protective factors for our children. The grandchild is an extension of the grandmother and grandfather.

In the Ojibwe language there are kinship terms for children and other family members. In the Anishinaabe kinship system, younger siblings are not distinguished by gender. They are called Nii-she-may, my younger sibling. Older brother is called Nii-sa-yay and older sister, Nii-mi-say.
Aunts and uncles are distinguished according to whether these aunts and uncles are related through the mother’s or father’s side of the family. Maternal uncle, for example, is called Nii-zhi-shay, and paternal uncle, Nii-mee-shu-may. Great grandchildren are called Inda-ni-kubi-ji-gan, which literally means “two pieces of rope spliced together” or “what I have spliced.”

Elders have a very special place in the community and in the family. It is the elders, grandmothers, and grandfathers who teach about life through stories, parables, fables, allegories, songs, chants, and dances. They are the ones who have lived long enough and have had a path to follow, and they are deemed to possess the qualities for teaching wisdom, knowledge, patience, and generosity. Grandmothers teach young women their roles and responsibilities. Grandfathers teach the young men. Grandmother (Nokomis) has a special place in the teachings.

Anishinaabe childrearing includes the conviction that harsh discipline destroys the child’s spirit. Positive discipline takes place through adult example, encouragement, and community recognition of the child’s accomplishments.

Oglala Lakota Sioux Tribe Kinship

Every Lakota person is born having many relatives. The Tiospaye (extended family) is the name given to indicate a person’s relatives. There is more than just the father and mother of a child. The Tiospaye includes grandparents, aunts, uncles, cousins, and all married and adopted relatives.

As the Lakota child grows up, his/her relatives will give him/her help and guidance. All the families of a Tiospaye give attention to the young child growing up into adulthood. The Tiospaye’s interest and hope is that each young person will be well-respected and well-nourished―spiritually, physically, and emotionally―into adulthood.

The things the Tiospaye teaches the young child start before he/she is born. They give thanks to Wakan Tanka (The Great Mystery) for the child’s spirit. The Tiosapaye continues to pray and support the child with many ceremonies, such as: the naming ceremony, Inipi (Sweat Lodge), Wiwongyang Wacipi (Sundance), Hanbleceyai (Vision Quest), Hunkayapi (Making of Relatives), Nagi Gluhapi (Keeping of a Soul), Isnati Awicalowan (Becoming a Woman), and Tapa Wankal Lylyapi (Throwing of the ball).

During all of Lakota history, the Tiospaye has been very important. When a person is acquainted with his/her relatives, he/she knows where he/she comes from and who he/she is. This is why the Tiospaye is so important among all aspects of Lakota culture – there is no teaching more important than kinship. So, in the end, a quote from “Waterlily” by Ella Cara Deloria really reflects Lakota kinship values: “The ultimate aim of Lakota life, stripped of accessories, was quite simple: One must obey kinship rules; one must be a good relative.”

Osage Kinship

Kinship between Osage people and their families never ends. Advice and knowledge about Osage ways and traditions are handed down in early childhood. The teachings of these ways and traditions, whether in an Osage children’s story or through the advice of an elder, transcend into life lessons as well. Osage people not only mentor their Zhin Ka Zhin (children) but they also reach out to others’ children within the community when help is needed. The Osage guide their children on the path of life with care and pureness of heart; and when the children have this as a foundation, they can be or do anything.

Ponca Kinship

One Ponca elder explained the workings of kinship values and relationships in this way: “These kinship relationships in the Ponca way make us closer together, there is more love there. That means that this extended family makes us that much closer than blood kin…. That is why we teach our children these things, so they understand the responsibilities they have to kinship ways. We call each other brother, sister; instead of first cousin, second cousin, third cousin… if you keep doing that the kinship relationship gets diluted to nothing. Cousin is a white man’s word, it does not mean too much in the Ponca worldview. But when we call each other Negi (Uncle) or Timi (Aunt) that signifies that closeness. So, we always address each other in Ponca kinship terms, you just don’t say someone’s name to address a person you always acknowledge the Ponca kinship relationship, because we have a deep respect and love for each other. My mother told me when I was young, that because of these Ponca kinship ways (extended family), there are no orphans in the Ponca tribe. Extended family (valued kinship) is what binds our tribe together.”

Wampanoag (Aquinnah) Kinship

The Aquinnah Wampanoag community believes that, for a strong community, we need to respect and support the family structure, for it is the key building  block of our tribal community. Our sense of what constitutes a family is more than just the parents and children. We maintain a multi-generational view of family structure even though we may not all live in one house. It is often the case that we have aunts, uncles, grandmothers, and grandfathers who are not “blood-related”, but who fulfill those roles for a family. This scenario is possible when rules are clear and consistent not only within a household, but within the community itself.

We strive to build self-respect and respect toward others in individual tribal members. This will reflect respect in marital relationships between husbands and wives, other family relationships, and their roles within the tribal community. A household is part of the community and being part of the community will provide a positive cultural identity and self-esteem. We show consideration and respect for our Elders and have a multi-generational view of family; this helps ensure the passing on of traditional cultural knowledge from one generation to the next. In this way, we learn from and educate each other about our territories and traditional places and the duty to hold, teach, and protect our culture. We impart a strong kinship knowledge; it is important for the tribal member and the tribal community to recognize the family line to acknowledge we are all related to one another and therefore we care for one another.