Families—The Importance of Relatives
Family structures in many traditional Native American cultures differ from the
nuclear family organization in many American homes. Grandparents, aunts, and
uncles are all integral parts of the family. In my Lakota upbringing, the main
responsibility of parents was to love and provide sustenance for their children.
Grandparents, aunts, and uncles took the important roles of teachers and dis-
ciplinarians. This does not mean that parents did not also teach and provide
discipline, but primarily they gave unconditional love and support while grand-
parents, aunts, and uncles concerned themselves with teaching and guidance.
In the Lakota culture, aunties are also considered to be a child’s mothers, and
uncles are their fathers.
Sometimes high school students ask me how many wives I have. They have
trouble understanding the differences in family structures. In terms of mainstream
culture, I am married and have a wife. In Lakota society, on the other hand, I have
a partner who completes me and is called my “half-side.” We have children to-
gether. Her sisters are considered to be my wives because my responsibility is
to teach and discipline her sisters’ children. I am called “grandfather” by the chil-
dren of my nieces and nephews. This closely aligned family structure does not
mean, though, that Lakota men have more than one partner, or half-side.