Social Structure

The historical way of life of the Ĩyãħé Nakoda was that of a thriving, civilized society.

The Ĩyãħé Nakoda lived daily with their immediate family unit and extended families or clans, as part of a particular Ĩyãħé Nakoda group.

For hunting and food gathering purposes, each group seasonally migrated in different locations along the eastern slopes of the Rocky Mountains. To more effectively harvest the game and resources, the groups remained small.

At certain times during the year, Ĩyãħé Nakoda groups met together at specific locations for celebrations, spiritual occasions, large-scale hunts, and warring parties.

Living in small groups necessitated a structuring of interpersonal relationships. Terms were used to establish kinship which, in turn, determined certain roles, responsibilities, and behaviours for each person.

Kinship terms allowed for certain extended family members to become an integral part of the immediate family. Brothers of the father were called a variation of adé (father), while terms for brothers of the mother included néksijudn (uncle). Sisters of the mother were called a variation of ĩnã (mother), while terms for sisters of the father included tũwĩjudn (aunt).

Socialization laws were observed by all of the Ĩyãħé Nakoda groups.

For example, to ensure and maintain harmony within an extended family unit, there was an expectation that a son-in-law would not speak directly to his mother-in-law, nor would the mother-in-law speak directly to her son-in-law.

Similarly, a daughter-in-law would not directly speak to her father-in-law, and the father-in-law would not speak directly to his daughter-in-law. Someone else would speak on their behalf.

Ĩyãħé Nakoda families knew their ancestral lineage, and did not permit marriage between close relatives. Until the mid-nineteenth century, some men had multiple wives and children with each.

When a Ĩyãħé Nakoda man took a woman as his wife, she left her family encampment and went to live with her husband and his extended family. If they were from a different Ĩyãħé Nakoda group, women would only see their immediate families when the groups periodically got together during the year.

If there was domestic conflict between a husband and wife, the mother of the husband, or the mother of the wife, might intervene and have her son or daughter removed from the marriage.

There were specific rituals for birthing, child rearing, coming-of-age initiations, and rites of passage. There was also specific protocol about when subsequent children should be procreated.

Children were taught by many members of the extended family unit. They also learned by observance and participation. Lessons and teachings were incorporated in the games that children played.

One of the roles of the children was to help older family members. In return, older family members would tell them stories that became lessons in life.

Extended family units looked after their older family members and the widows of family members.

When a member of the Ĩyãħé Nakoda died, older members of the encampment would admonish the young ones if they cried. Crying was taboo at death.

The body was washed and wrapped. A woven frame of willow dowels was constructed, on which the body was placed. Those that had accomplished great feats, particularly a War Chief or a Shaman, were placed on a willow scaffolding inside a tipi. A burial hole was dug at the bottom of a hollow where the ground had dirt and no stones.

The older men of the camp prayed and kept vigil. Family members and close relatives cut their long hair, made cuts on their bodies as flesh offerings, put ashes on their heads, and blackened or whitened their faces in mourning. The Ĩyãħé Nakoda group remained in that area for four days, then packed up camp and moved on.


All words in the Ĩyãħé Nakoda language that are written on this page are included in the Language menu segment for you to hear how they are correctly pronounced.