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.