29th Mar 2020

Indin' Lovin

Indin' Lovin


Valentine’s day was last month so it’s probably a good time to talk about Indin’ Lovin’. According to Pipestone, Indin’ Lovin’ is when you unknowingly date your cousin. While this is obviously in jest, it does point to an interesting piece of native life; mistakenly bringing home your cousin.

First, while interviewing people for this post, I found myself occasionally needing to explain to a non-native the humor around dating cousins. It became clear during most of these conversations that non-native people just didn’t understand why this was funny. I suspect this is because non-natives have no frame of reference for this type of humor; the interconnectedness of tribes.

For those of you who might not have a frame of reference for this, let me explain. One non-native person I know has an aunt, an uncle, a cousin, and three siblings. That’s it. They have one cousin. On my dad’s side alone, I have three aunts and three uncles, and from those aunts and uncles, I have fourteen first cousins. Furthermore, those cousins have children giving me thirty-three-second cousins.

Some of these cousins I grew up with. I played with them. I cried because they wouldn’t share their toys. We had sleepovers and fought over who got to be Mario. However, there are many cousins I don’t know, and with my family only growing since I was a child it gets increasingly harder to keep track of everybody I’m related to. Therein lies the problem; my family is so big I can’t keep track of who I’m related to. Meaning, if I’m a normal hormonal teenager looking to snag then there is an inevitably high risk of bringing a cousin home. Especially if we factor in that most of my cousins also live on the rez.

Well, I did bring home my cousin. She was quirky, held my hand, and we would share earbuds while riding the bus together. Every middle school kid’s dream. After a couple weeks we were officially dating and were about as cringy as you would expect a couple in middle school to be. Unfortunately, the unstoppable forward march of time was inevitably leading to the moment I had been dreading. Bringing her to meet my family. We walked in the door and my grandma kindly offered her a piece of frybread and soup with lots of sweet “my girls” and “you’re sure you’re not hungry” before she began interrogating her about her family.

“My girl, who’s your folks? Who’s your grandma? Oooh, I know her, what about on your moms’ side? Oh yeah, I know your aunties.”

Now, normally you’d assume that a grandma would wait until your girlfriend left before gently breaking the news to you. However, my grandma was Blackfeet, and Blackfeet grandmas cherish any opportunity to tease the shit out of you. So, she didn’t wait, she broke the news to me and my now ex-girlfriend/cousin right there, much to the amusement of my uncles (who I’m convinced are only capable of communicating in teasing). The next couple of months were agonizing as my newly discovered cousin and I would awkwardly pass each other in the halls, avoiding eye contact. To make matters worse, my uncles asked me where my girlfriend was at least once a day until somebody else did something tease worthy enough to make them forget about me.

This problem isn’t exclusive to me. My dad also dated his cousin when he was young. One of my uncles ended up marrying and having kids with his cousin (he was conspicuously silent while I was getting teased). These kinds of stories aren’t only in my family. Ask anybody from Browning, Belknap, or Rocky Boy, they all have stories like these. And before somebody brings it up, I’m not saying that accidentally dating your cousin is universally a native thing. Some tribes have used things like clan systems to avoid this situation, my tribe just isn’t one of those. Further, in my hormonal 13-year-old self’s defense, I have 47 cousins. The point I’m trying to make here is accidentally bringing home a cousin is pervasive enough that it's awkward/embarrassing nature is relatable, and therefore, humorous to many natives. Thus, it is a unique part of how love works on the reservation. For most people, the timeline for dating goes like this.


And for tribes like mine, it looks more like this.


Traditionally, the Blackfeet had a way of avoiding incest too. We used to go and raid other tribes to steal their women. However, that's not really a socially acceptable strategy today. Riding a horse up to Belknap and kidnapping some poor lady probably wouldn’t get me a coup story and strong medicine, but it would most definitely get me arrested. Now, you might be asking, “Why not just date somebody off rez?” Well, there’s strong social pressure to date within your tribe, or at the very least to date native. Not doing so opens a whole other can of worms which we won’t discuss here but even if there wasn’t the social pressure, there are real issues that arise with dating off your rez, native or not.


A blurry picture of my Grandmothers house

Huge families have other impacts beyond keeping track of forty-seven cousins; for many natives, their entire support system is on the reservation. Further, family by blood is only a small part of it, when I was a kid there were several houses within walking distance where I could walk in unannounced get a meal, sleep, and feel safe even though we weren’t related. Another illustration of this culture is my grandma’s house where I grew up and was also the family gathering place. Christmas at my house was huge and Thanksgiving (yes, I see the irony, a post for another time) was always a chaotic mess. There were no family reunions because I saw my family daily. Cousins, uncles, and family friends were in and out of my grandma’s house daily, and there was always a pot of coffee brewing on the stove that we would offer them. Further, The rez is a cultural hub and there is nowhere else in the world I could go to be surrounded by people who practice Blackfeet spirituality.

It wasn’t until I left for school that I realized there’s nothing like this off the reservation. Sure, I had a support system, but not like the one I had in Browning. There were no houses within walking distance where I could just show up unannounced. The only people in and out of my house were myself and my roommates, and we only drank one pot of coffee a day. There aren’t any uncles teasing me about when I brought my cousin home or grandmas who have seemingly infinite knowledge about the family tree. Leaving my family was hard, it is hard for every native, which is why it is also hard to date someone from another tribe.

Good luck convincing anybody to move in with you on your rez and leave their support system behind. Even dating white suffers problems, asking a partner to move somewhere entirely displaced from their own culture, a problem any native who’s moved off rez knows intimately. How many white people would agree to move to Browning or Pine Ridge or Standing Rock? There are very few. Given these facts, I think it is often easier to date on the rez and risk the embarrassment of accidentally bringing a cousin home. It’s a small price to pay to be surrounded by your family who will both tease you and offer to feed you within the same breath.

So, there you have it. Indin’ Lovin’. A phrase that elicits a chuckle, or at least a smile out of every native I’ve said it to. While on the surface it prompts funny thoughts of dating cousins, it also references the other kinds of love on the rez. The kind of love that teases you, feeds you and keeps a pot coffee on the stove, just in case you decide to come visit.

- Naatosi Fish