Manual Elder Brother and the Law of the People: Contemporary Kinship and Cowessess First Nation

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Family and kinship

Daniel Heath Justice Cherokee shares early discomfiture with being an Indian and with how his parents were supportive in his coming out even while they worried for him. Environmental justice is over here, reproductive justice is over there. These books invite us to the kitchen table to sip tea and to hear such stories.

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Elder Brother is a spirit being who has many human characteristics. In a story, if he was kind, he usually met with success; if he was cruel, he often met a disastrous and sometimes humorous end. They saw in him themselves. In his conduct was reflected the characters of men and women, young and old. From Nanabush, although he was a paradox, physical and spirit being, doing good and unable to attain it, the Anishnabeg learned.

These stories functioned as a legal institution. Though this institution was unlike those in other parts of the world, it functioned in the same way. A number of legal scholars have linked traditional narratives, whether stories, songs, or prayers, of Aboriginal peoples to their traditional legal system. Stories express the law in Aboriginal commu- nities, since they represent the accumulated wisdom and experience of First Nations conflict resolution.

For every constitution there is an epic, for each Decalogue a scripture. Once understood in the context of the narratives that give it meaning, law becomes not merely a system of rules to be observed, but a world in which we live. The following is a condensed excerpt from a story of Elder Brother and a group of wolves.

In the story, Elder Brother is adopted by the wolves and then assumes the accepted kinship roles and responsibilities. One night some wolves heard Elder Brother singing. He has a good song. The father asked his elder brother what his song meant. Elder Brother told him and then decided that he would stay with the wolves for a while. Some time later, Elder Brother decided he wanted to leave, but he wanted one of his nephews to go with him. The old wolf allowed his youngest son to leave.

Do not run on the beach. He suddenly became crazy. Elder Brother realized his nephew had gone missing and knew that the White-Lynx had taken him. He tracked White-Lynx and listening to the Sun, shot at his shadow. He was successful on the attempt, but he did not kill him. The White one, though injured escaped. Elder Brother met up with old toad, who was on her way with her medicines to heal White-Lynx.

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Elder Brother killed and skinned her and put on her skin. He went to White-Lynx, now as the old toad. Upon entering, he saw the skin of his nephew hanging on a pole. He then saw White-Lynx with an arrow in his side. He had a pipe be filled and then asked everyone to leave. Once Elder Brother had ensured that he had lost his pursuers, he brought him back to life. It high- lights the value of inclusion by the facts that although Elder Brother was not related to the wolves, he was adopted into the pack and considered a relative; the younger wolves were expected to address and treat him as an older rela- tive; and he assumed the roles and responsibilities expected of a relative.

In the same way he was adopted by the wolves, Elder Brother is permitted to adopt a younger wolf that Elder Brother calls nephew. Elder Brother is responsible for the well-being of the young wolf. When the young wolf goes to the water against the instructions of Elder Brother, the listeners learn that there are negative consequences for not heeding the words of elders. In searching for and rescuing his nephew, Elder Brother fulfilled his responsibility not only to the young wolf but also to his other relative, the old wolf.

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These were central tenets of the warrior societies, whose primary duty was to protect and provide for the people. From his story, the kinship obligations for Cowessess people were made clear. The people understood that for the society to be self-perpetuating, it was incumbent that members adhere to the principles of Elder Brother stories.

Elder Brother stories help to explain traditional kinship practices of the prereserve and early reserve periods, when Cowessess people easily incor- porated others into their band, including the adoption of white children. However, the assimilation policies of the Canadian government sought to undermine the law of the people, including regulations guiding kinship practices.

These attempts were in many respects successful. The extent to which current Cowessess band members tell Elder Brother stories or even know about them is not certain. However, what is apparent is that the values that are encoded in these stories have persisted from prereserve and early reserve periods to the present. He was a Cowessess headman during the signing of Treaty Four in , and he later became chief of the band and was notable for lobbying for treaty rights and the economic and social improvement of First Nations people.

The Cowessess band continued the prereserve practice of accepting new members into the band well into the reserve period. Sometime during the s, for example, two men, Wapamouse also spelled Wapahmoose and Patrick Redwood, transferred into the band. Wapamouse was a descendant of Chief Wahpemoosetoosis, who had signed Treaty Four, and Redwood was a carpenter. Both men married Cowessess women and transferred their band membership to Cowessess from their original bands.

Cowessess families adopted a number of Euro-Canadian children. Harold Lerat is a band elder who in his recently published book confirmed that Gus Pelletier and Annie Two Voice had adopted his mother. He later requested to be a treaty Indian and was allowed back, but with his annuity payments withheld until the scrip money was paid back. A vote was held in which his applica- tion was defeated seventeen to eight.

Another vote was passed unanimously in favor of not allowing any more transfers into the band.

Elder Brother and the Law of the People – University of Manitoba Press

We used to go visit them. My mother and them were close. People from Marieval, he said, would go to the reserve to play baseball, attend church, and join community dances. This particular veteran had married a Cowessess woman, and his mother was from Cowessess. A possible explana- tion for the multiethnic nature of the parishioners was the existence of the Ku Klux Klan, which flourished in s Saskatchewan and targeted French Canadian and eastern European immigrants because they did not speak English and were Catholic.

The central practices that act to maintain family connections included ways that fulfill responsibili- ties to family members and community such as family gatherings, in which members, especially children, are reminded of their family histories and their relations; the role of elders in socialization that act to link the past, present, and future; strategies by urban members, for example, living in close prox- imity to each other; and the way some members defined family that ignores biological, racial, and legal classifications imposed by others.

I interviewed twenty-seven Cowessess members living on- and off-reserve about their views of Bill C, specifically whether they believed the new membership code to be beneficial for Cowessess.

Elder Brother and the Law of the People

Most felt that allowing relatives to regain their Indian status and secure band membership was good for the band. None of the band members interviewed exhibited the level of animosity toward any individual new member that has reportedly occurred on other First Nations. This is not to say, however, that all participants agreed with all aspects of Bill C Nonetheless, the views of Cowessess people about Cs demonstrate that the law of the people still resonates with band members.

Many of those interviewed understood why others lost their status. People either voluntarily enfranchised because they believed that they would be better able to provide for their family or because women had married nonstatus Indians. Many recalled the factors that led their families, or people they knew, to lose their status.

One respondent outlined the circumstances surrounding his family becoming enfranchised: At one point our Indian status was taken away from us because our dad thought that we would never ever come back to what he thought was a racist [situation and a] lack of opportunity area to live. And so they moved off the reserve.

But back then, you know, there were a number of injustices being done that were very calculating and callous in the way the government treated us. Any women who married a non-Indian man lost her status. For four hundred dollars a head you could sign your family off the reserve and all your rights and benefits as an Indian.

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And so we did that. My dad did that to us. The fact that they took our status away from us made our bodies no less Indian than we ever were. Our bloodline shows that we are very strongly attached to, to Cowessess and that never changes. This longtime reserve resident, now living in the urban area, outlined the impact that Bill C had on the band: Well, Cowessess, we always had a big membership. Susan M. Her areas of research include Haudenosaunee history, Indigenous research methodologies and ethics, history of education, Trans-Indigenous histories, and Indigenous territoriality.

She held previous faculty and administrative appointments at the University of Western Ontario and Wilfrid Laurier University. She holds a PhD in Native Studies and has been researching the history of various Metis communities in Canada for many years.