Remembering The Traditional Meaning And Role Of Kinship in American Indian Societies, To Overcome Problems Of Favoritism In Contemporary Tribal Government


  • Stephen M. Sachs


Traditional American Indian societies were inclusive and participatory. Kinship was broadly defined so that everyone in band, clan and tribe was considered a relative to whom one owed obligations, and everyone was owed obligations by everyone else. Everyone effected by a decision had a say in it, and leaders, who were primarily facilitators, were responsible to all the people, who were their family, and for seeing that everyone’s basic needs were provided for, though generally the web of mutual obligations among family were sufficient to insure a descent living for everyone. Today, as a result of colonialism bringing cultural intrusion and the imposition of culturally inappropriate forms of tribal government, many Native American communities experience having many people being left out of decision making, and of the receiving of benefits, as a combination of narrowed definition of family, and unrepresentative and non-participatory public processes has resulted in considerable favoritism, and often nepotism, by those in power. To overcome the current inequities and related disharmony, it may be helpful to review how traditional kinship and the underlying relational values functioned, in order to see how those values may be applied appropriately in the Twenty-First Century, as part of the process of overcoming the lack of inclusiveness and harmony in many Native communities.