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Blackfoot Family Relationship Terms

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The most important relationships in life are given in the accompanying table where the equivalents in our nomenclature are given for the Piegan terms: first, if the person considered is male, second, if female. In general, it appears that the terms as applied by males to males are more restricted and definite than those of males to females and females to persons of both sexes, though in function the terms are so used as to be equally intelligible. Thus, while a girl uses the term, father, in addressing men married to her mother’s sisters, she does not confuse this relation with the real one. On the other hand, it appears that the system as given in the table is ordered on the theory that sisters become the wives of the same man. This is also consistent with the distant-wife relationship previously discussed. Further, the system seems adapted to a gentile band organization in that the relation-ships of the women are more inclusive on the father’s side; this, however, is not entirely consistent.

Terms Significance as Applied to Males, Significance as Applied to Females
 nĭ‘nna my father my father and husbands of my mother’s sisters.
niksŏ‘stak my mother and her sisters; wives of my elder brothers, brothers of my father and of my mother my mother and her sisters; wives of my father’s brothers.
nĭ’ssa’ my elder brothers and all those of my mother; the elder (to me) sons of my father’s and mother’s brothers. my elder brothers and all those of my father and mother; the elder sons of mother’s brothers and sisters.
nĭ‘nst my elder sisters and elder daughters of father’s and mother’s brothers.
nĭ‘nsta my elder sisters and elder daughters of father’s brothers and sisters.
nĭ‘skŏn my younger brothers and younger brothers of my father; all my younger first cousins by brothers of my parents.
nĭssĭ‘ssa my younger brothers and sisters; all of my younger first cousins.
nicĭnnaua’-s my father’s father, my mother’s father; also can be used for father-in-law.
nitau’ka’s the mothers of my father and mother and my father’s sister; also my mother-in-law.
naa’sa all my paternal and maternal grandparents. Also my father’s sisters and their husbands.
naa’s my father-in-law, mother-in-law; also may be used for grand-parents
nĭmps wives of my sons, younger brothers, and younger cousins. wives of my cousins, of my brothers and of the brothers of my mother.
nĭstŏmmo’-wak husbands of father’s and mother’s sisters; also my sister’s husband.
nĭtaw’to-jombp husbands of my sisters.

There is a peculiar artificial relationship among boys that deserves attention. Many of them have a male companion from whom they are almost inseparable. The pairs are usually of the same age and grow up together as it were; they play together, they go to war together, they aid each other in courtship and in after life call on each other for help and advice. These bonds often last until death.[1] The terms of relationship for brothers are sometimes used by them and it is not unusual for them to assume the equality of twins. Thus, a twin will speak of his brother’s wife as his distant-wife; a term often used in the same way by men holding the relation alluded to above.

Persons of any age or nationality may be adopted into a family. Formerly a man losing a son might adopt a young man from his own or other bands, or even a captive, to fill the vacant place; an old woman might, on her own initiative, do the same thing. Very often the bosom companion of the deceased would be recognized as a son by adoption, but without obliterating his true family ties. In late years, a number of white men have been adopted as a mark of respect and in all cases of this kind, the Blackfoot expect the nominal support of a son to his parents. The ceremony of adoption is not as elaborate and fixed as among the Dakota and some other Siouan tribes, though a form of this ceremonial relation is used in the transfer of medicines.

Footnotes

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  1. Mooney finds something similar among the Cheyenne and makes a vague statement as to its wide distribution. However, it is difficult to eliminate the instinctive from the conventional in a comparative statement of this custom: Mooney, James. The Cheyenne Indians. (Memoirs, American Anthropological Association, Vol. 1, Part 6, pp. 357-642. Lancaster, Pa., 1907), p. 416.

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