Kinship Relationships and Expectations

Kinship relationship types:
This guide defines two common types of relationships found in Native American cultures.  The two types are “respect “ and “teasing.”  The type that applies to a relationship is determined by how a person is related, based upon kinship. 

The first type is the “respect” relationship in which no one is allowed to tease or joke with one another.  Typically, there are prescribed things each person would do for the other to demonstrate respect.  One example of a “respect” relationship is that between a brother and a sister; a brother and sister never dance a couple’s dance together at a powwow.   Some actions a sister might take to show her brother respect includes cooking, sewing and give-aways at powwows to honor their brothers for special accomplishments.   Ways in which a brother might honor his sister includes bringing back meat and hides from the hunt, protecting the sister from an enemy, and announcing for their family at a give-a-way, or other family gatherings.  Both sister and brother help parent each other’s children and pray for each other.

The “teasing” relationship is also based upon their kinship.  Teasing relationships allow the teasing of a relative who is not to show anger because of the teasing or that would be showing disrespect to the “teaser.”  One example of an acceptable “teasing” relationship would be between a brother-in-law and sister-in-law.  The rationale for this relationship is to prevent jealousy within the extended family members.  Joking and teasing is a proper and acceptable behavior in such close relationships.  It is also proper for brother-in-laws to help a brother raise male children; their relationship with the sister-in-law is also important.

Relationship expectations:
The sisters of your mother are also respected as and called your mother. Likewise with your father's brothers, they are also treated as your father. However, a mother's brothers are only to be called an uncle; and a father's sisters are only to be called aunts, never as a mother.

The relationship between an uncle and a nephew is a “respect” relationship similar to the relationship between a young boy and his father.  These two spend quite a bit of time together with the uncle helping them to learn and assisting them throughout their journey in life.

The relationship between an uncle and a niece is also a “respect” relationship, but the two don’t spend much time together; typically a niece shows respect to her uncle by providing food and drink when he visits.

The relationship between an aunt and a nephew is a “respect” relationship.  When the nephew is a little child, an aunt helps to care for the nephew and is sometimes referred to as mother.  Upon reaching adulthood, they don’t spend as much time together, but still willingly help one another when needed.

The relationship between an aunt and a niece is also a “respect” relationship for their entire lives.  The aunt is considered another mother to the niece.

The relationships between a brother to brother and between a sister to sister are “teasing” relationships.  However, the relationship between a brother and a sister is one of extreme respect.  They never wrestle, wear each other’s clothes, or invade each other’s privacy.  In some families a brother and sister are not allowed to enter the bedroom of the other or sit on one another’s bed.

The relationship between a grandfather and a grandson is a “teasing”/”respect” relationship; the two are like close friends who can joke and tease, but it must be done in a respectful way; however, the relationship between a grandfather and a granddaughter is a “respect” relationship.

The relationship between a grandmother and a grandson is a “teasing” relationship, while the relationship between a grandmother and granddaughter is a “respect” relationship.


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