Toward an alternative interpretation of Cree kinship and social organization
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This essay is an attempt to interpret the kinship system and social organization of Cree Indians during the fur trade period within a theoretical framework which is essentially alliance-based. It is maintained that in order to properly understand the process by which Native people came to be highly dependent upon an outside colonial economic system it is necessary to understand not only the mechanisms of colonial practices but also the changes in social organization structured to accommodate the new economic realities. The changes in the kinship system and social organization with the advent of the fur trade are viewed as deliberately patterned changes designed, from the point of view of the providers of raw materials, to deal with a world-wide colonial system which involved trade relations with the representatives of the colonial powers. An attempt is made to apply to Cree social organization the notion that kinship systems function in regulating the inter-relationships among the constituent groups (lineages, local groups, etc.) of a non-capitalist social formation, and the inter-relationships among individuals as members of these groups. The implicit notion throughout is that a kinship system functions as a means of articulating and reproducing specific alliance modes within non-capitalist societies, in contradistinction to the more conventional view of these types of societies being built up from kinship relations which are essentially biological phenomena. Individual Cree kinship terms are re-defined according to these notions. Also, what is conventionally referred to as a 'bilateral cross-cousin marriage' system is reinterpreted in such a way that the critical aspect of the system is not the manner of reckoning descent but the manner in which production and labour are organized. The essay begins with the outlines toward a typology of 'band' societies the purpose of which is to provide the means for systematically describing these types of social formations showing their basic properties to be intimately bound with the nature of production and of different kinds of productive units...