The APSAALOOKE have always lived in close association with the land, its animals, its plants, and its seasonal cycles. They know the the buffalo, the chokecherry, and the river as they know their own children. And through this kinship, they have been receptive to any lessons their environment has too offer.
As one gazes out upon the Bighorn river, especially during the heavy spring runoff, it is not uncommon to see driftwood floating down the river. often the driftwood vanishes from view, submerged in an eddy or smashed against a boulder. but also clearly visible is the driftwood that survives, woven together in a bundle along the riverbanks. A lesson is offered.
The Apsaaloke term for clan is ashammaleaxia, which translates “as driftwood lodges.” as driftwood lodges together along the banks of the of the river, so do the members of a clan cling together, united in a turbulent stream. Each individual is like a piece of driftwood, orienting themselves, and depending on, the others of specific group. The driftwood bundle must remain tightly bound, for the river’s fast currents and protruding boulders would smash and submerge an isolated piece of driftwood. An individual would find it extremely difficult to negotiate the turbulent currents alone and confronting treacherous hazards at every bend. To maintain the group’s integrity and his or her membership within it, each individual participates in gift exchanges with others; each gives to the others, and in return the driftwood lodges.
The metaphor of the driftwood lodging also applies to the Apsaalooke world view. they view the world in which all things are interconnected, flora with fauna, human with spirit, each intertwined and dependent on each other.
Apsaalooke society is divided into eight matrilineal clans (ashammaleaxia). The number is a reduction from the 13 clans that existed during the ancient buffalo days. As membership in a particular clan dwindled, it’s members merged with another clan, assuming that clan’s name and depending on its support. The ties-the-bundle clan is the result of such a merger. The 8 clans that have continued into the present are: Newly Made Lodge (Ashhilaalioo); Big Lodge (Ashshitschite); Greasy Mouth (Uuwuutasshe); Sore Lip (Ashiiooshe); Bad War Deeds (Ashkepkawiia); Whistling Water (Bilikooshe); Ties-the-Bundle (Xuhkaalaxche) and Piegan (Ashkaamne).
Each clan’s name is indicative of an event or a characteristic associated with its members, often having been assigned by Old Man Coyote (the creator). For instance, one group of Apsaalooke persistently ate the fatty portions of their meat, rendering their mouths rather greasy. Old Man Coyote thus called them Uuwuutasshe (Greasy Mouth).
Clan membership is based on affiliation with the women’s descent line from mother to daughter. All male offspring of a matrilineal line are thus members of the same clan and are classified as “brothers,”. an individual’s father does not share membership in his own offspring’s clan but rather is a member of his mother’s clan.
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