Multicultural Bands on the Northern Plains and the Notion of ‘Tribal’ Histories


Excerpt, Page 139-140:

"What is the implication of viewing Aboriginal groups from a band perspective rather than a tribal perspective? Should scholars discard tribal terms completely? There is agreement among some ethnohistorians that tribal designations are a European construction and were applied to Aboriginal groups somewhat haphazardly. 80 Abandoning tribal categories would not only be difficult, it may not even be desirable. Plains Cree, Saulteaux, Assiniboine, and Métis cultural groups did exist; while they shared many similarities, there were undeniable cultural traits that differentiated them. It was these cultural differences that made the bands and the individuals in the bands multicultural. Even individuals who were not of mixed ancestry were multicultural. It will not be an easy task to ascertain how many bands were multicultural, or, if they were, to what degree they were multicultural. In addition, given the colonial imposition of the outsider’s definition, many contemporary Aboriginal people have, as McLeod notes, “essentialized” their cultural identities. For many Aboriginal people, cultural affiliation is vital.

However, contemporary kinship patterns— at least among Cowessess people and likely for other First Nations as well— ensure that band members’ collective identity survives. Cowessess people’s attitudes are shaped within the context of family/kinship connections, not by externally defined tribal or cultural affiliations. A person’s family name places that person within the familial reserve context. This is not to claim that cultural affiliation is totally ignored, but rather that it is not the primary identifier that connects people— certainly not in the way that family/ kinship does. For Cowessess people, family/kinship ties are of greater importance to identity than place of residence, gender, cultural affiliation, or notions of race. To outsiders, members may say that they are Plains Cree or Saulteaux, but what is really important is to which families they are related. This kinship pattern is historically based and it is what most historians have not fully articulated.

The concept of tribe, with its well-defined cultural boundaries, and the notion of Métis as a culturally and racially distinct group from First Nations does not explain the multicultural composition of many Saskatchewan First Nations. The role and function of kinship practices, however, provide a greater understanding of Saskatchewan First Nations, and help to explain the motivation of historic intra-Aboriginal relations in the northern plains." (139-140).

Publication Information

Innes, Robert Alexander. “Multicultural Bands on the Northern Plains and the Notion of ‘Tribal’ Histories,” In Finding a Way to the Heart: Feminist Writings on Aboriginal and Women’s History in Canada. Eds. Jarvis Brownlie and Valerie Korinek. Winnipeg: University of Manitoba Press, 2012. 123-145.


Innes, Robert Alexander
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