Family Ties

For Ojibwe and Dakota people, the concept of family extends beyond people to include relationships with other participants in the natural world. The name of the Ojibwe Crane clan, for instance, and the Dakota phrase Mitakuye Owasin (“All my relations”) are more than metaphors. They arise from and reflect relationships with animals, plants, and the land itself - relationships upon which cultures were based for survival over the long haul.

Ojibwe Clan and Family

Learning from Dakota Grandfather

Importance of Culture

On a social level, family membership – forged through marriage, parenting, and adoption – traditionally determines an individual’s place in Dakota and Ojibwe society, and by extension, an individual’s place in the world. Family ties carry obligations that extend beyond immediate relatives to include responsibility for the nation a whole.

Even international diplomacy has traditionally involved family ties. When Dakota and Ojibwe people entered into treaties with one another – long before there was a U.S., and well into the 19th Century – these agreements often involved “relation-making” ceremonies that created family ties among members of separate nations.

The extensive trading networks that American Indians maintained throughout the continent were also shaped by family ties. Long before U.S.-Indian treaties affected present-day Minnesota, people of European descent were marrying into Dakota and Ojibwe families. American Indian nations had extensive trading networks throughout the continent, and it was through marriage that traders of European descent often gained access to these networks.

The earliest European or American traders were immigrants to Indian country. They learned the local languages, adopted American Indian cultural practices, and took part in the local economy and politics. Traders depended for their livelihood on highly-functioning American Indian societies, and their participation in trade required taking on family obligations. On a nation-to-nation basis, U.S.-Indian relations were built initially on trade, particularly the fur trade, and family ties remained an important element of international relations throughout the treaty making era.