Elder Brother and the Law of the People

Contemporary Kinship and Cowessess First Nation

Robert Alexander Innes (Author)

In the pre-reserve era, Aboriginal bands in the northern plains were relatively small multicultural communities that actively maintained fluid and inclusive membership through traditional kinship practices. These practices were governed by the Law of the People as described in the traditional stories of Wîsashkêcâhk, or Elder Brother, that outlined social interaction, marriage, adoption, and kinship roles and responsibilities.

In Elder Brother and the Law of the People, Robert Innes offers a detailed analysis of the role of Elder Brother stories in historical and contemporary kinship practices in Cowessess First Nation, located in southeastern Saskatchewan. He reveals how these tradition-inspired practices act to undermine legal and scholarly definitions of “Indian” and counter the perception that First Nations people have internalized such classifications. He presents Cowessess’s successful negotiation of the 1996 Treaty Land Agreement and their high inclusion rate of new “Bill-C31s” as evidence of the persistence of historical kinship values and their continuing role as the central unifying factor for band membership.


  • NOMINEE, Luther College and University of Regina Arts Award for Scholarly Writing, Saskatchewan Book Awards (2015)
  • NOMINEE, Rasmussen, Rasussen & Charowsky Aboriginal Peoples' Writing Award, Saskatchewan Book Awards (2015)


“This book makes a significant contribution to the fields of indigenous studies, history, anthropology, and political science to name a few. Ultimately, each chapter skillfully weaves together a powerful narrative of kinship, membership, and belonging as practices of Indigeneity, resistance, and resurgence.”

– Heidi Kiiwetinepinesiik Stark, University of Victoria, NAIS Journal

“An exciting work that uses a gendered analysis, decolonized interview techniques, and traditional history approaches to create an engaging scholarly work.”

Michelle Desveaux, Patrick Chassé, Glenn Iceton, Anne Janhunen, Omeasoo Wāhpāsiw, Canadian Journal of History

“Robert Innes’ and Sam McKegney’s books are path clearing, situating Indigenous ways of knowing at the centre of their methodologies. The personal qualities of both books—the centrality of stories—push the reader, particularly the Indigenous reader, to really think about their place in the world and the responsibilities we carry to others.”

June Scudeler, Canadian Literature

“Fort d’une volonté révisionniste et alimenté par la perspective autochtone en général, et par celle plus particulière de l’auteur qui a personnellement fait l’expérience de ce dont il parle, cet ouvrage, bien appuyé sur les propos de membres de la communauté recueillis par l’entremise d’entrevues, présente un intérêt manifeste.”

– Claude Gélinas, Université de Sherbrooke, Histoire sociale/Social History

“I highly recommend Elder Brother and the Law of the People for anyone interested in learning about our First Nations worldviews in a more holistic manner instead of a fragmented one.”

– William Asikinack, First Nations University of Canada/University of Regina, American Indian Culture and Research Journal

About the Author

Robert Alexander Innes is a member of Cowessess First Nation and associate professor in the Indigenous Studies Program and the Department of Political Science at McMaster University. He is the author of Elder Brother and the Law of the People and and co-editor, with Kim Anderson, of Indigenous Men and Masculinities.

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