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Political & Economic Organizations - Additional Reading

Traditional Social Organization

Extended Family and Clans

Iroquois CouncilTraditionally, the Plains and Woodland Cree’s basic social unit was the extended family.  This group included uncles and aunts from both the father’s and mother’s sides.  All children in the group were cousins.  Grandfathers and grandmothers could include both the parents of an individual and the brothers and sisters of the grandparents.  Often families would adopt children and or older people that did not have a family of their own.

Among nations of the Blackfoot Confederacy, the basic social unit was traditionally the clan.  The Blackfoot clan was similar in size and function to the Cree extended family.  The clan was made up of a chief, his brothers and parents, and others who were not necessarily related.  Clan membership was flexible and individuals were free to join other clans. 

Beyond these basic social units, First Nations had a variety of social structures.  Each family group was generally linked to wider groups sharing common ancestors, language, and other ties.  These wider relationships could include societies, nations, alliances and confederacies.

Clan systems among Eastern Woodlands and Pacific Northwest First Nations were slightly different.  Clans were associations that went beyond the extended family because families were so large and spread out over a large territory.