Elder Brother and the Law of the People

Contemporary Kinship and Cowessess First Nation


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.Elder Brother and the Law of the People presents an entirely new way of viewing Aboriginal cultural identity on the northern plains.


“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

"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, 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, Canadian Journal of History

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.

Table of Contents



Chapter 1: Elder Brother as Cultural Hero: The Law of the People and Contemporary Customary Kinship

Chapter 2: A Historical View of the Iron Alliance

Chapter 3: Multicultural Bands on the Northern Plains and the Notion of “Tribal” Histories

Chapter 4: The Multicultural Compositon of Cowessess First Nation

Chapter 5: Cowessess Band Members and the Importance of Family Ties

Chapter 6: First Nations Response to Membership: Bill C-31 and Cowessess First Nation

Chapter 7: Implementing Treaty Obligations in Saskatchewan: Cowessess First Nation and Treaty Land Entitlement






University of Manitoba Press is grateful for the support it receives for its publishing program from the Government of Canada through the Canada Book Fund; the Canada Council for the Arts; the Manitoba Department of Culture, Heritage, and Tourism; the Manitoba Arts Council; and the Aid to Scholarly Publishing Programme.