December 23, 2008

Can we still be cousins?

In the below article titled "Cousin Marriages Okay by Science", it reveals some interesting facts. Mainly, that the myth about child defects in cousin related births, is not backed by scientific evidence. For anyone from a native community, this should come as a celebration, no? Hahaha. Okay, time for some jokes:

Q: What did the native couple say to the divorce lawyer?

A: Can we still be cousins?

Laugh you ass off, my cousins do. Haha

Within any native community, especially in Canada with it's strange blood-quantum designation of band membership, many family have inter-related marriages. Now, I'm not suggesting first or second cousins unions, but more like 4th or 5th, with the occasional 3rd. One of the problems is lack of knowledge of who your extended family are (because we've become somewhat assimilated), so sometimes there is hook-ups between sort-of distant relatives.

One some levels, especially among the older crowd, it's looked upon as taboo. As my great great grandfather put it, "We don't go with our cousins. We're not dogs who hump our own." (Go ahead, laugh again. lol). That quote has been "passed down" now and many among my family say the same, which ironically, have other members of the family who had kids with cousins. I'm a bit exempt from this as my parents are not related. I know my family tree quite well and can honestly say I can go between 6-8 generations back on multiple sides of my family. I won't name names, but there are many within my family who are related and dating and who some have children together.

My point is, it happens. Many families are related to each other, one way or another. For some it goes back generations, some just a few.

Within Squamish Nation membership laws, you most often have to marry a cousin within your nation for your children or grandchildren to be band members. It's because the laws are blood-quantum based, like most Indian Act bands. Both my parents are registered Squamish band members, thus making me a full band members. My younger sisters only have one Squamish parents, thus they are half. If I have a kid with a non-native, my grandchildren could still be Squamish band members. If my sisters have children with a non-native, their grandchildren will not be band members. Funny eh?

Now here's my personal view, and don't hate me for it (Let's be honest, if you hated me for my views, you wouldn't read my blog...haha). I've never cared for the taboo about cousins marrying, especially in native communities. I never suggesting first cousins, or second cousins or anything like that, but as a term for survival, we need to marry our own. Now, that isn't a race thing for me, but a cultural thing. We need strong children to be raised with parents who come from a strong indigenous background, and in some cases, a strong Coast Salish or Skwxwu7mesh (or whatever nation applies) background. Having a parent from a very different socio-political background will have a different effect on how our children are raised. It goes back to values and where the kids with their values from. To accomplish that, we would have to marry our distant relatives.

With the level of assimilation inflicted and chosen by our past ancestors, many of the old customs don't exist anymore. We are not as connected to our larger family as we once were, and thus, we either don't know our cousins at all, or don't even have a relationship with them. It's not on the same level as general Euro-Canadian society where in many cases, they don't even know any of their 3rd cousins are. If our families were raised in tight-nit circles with many the branches of the family knowing each other, then it would be a different story. But if you never knew the person, and then you find out your related, I don't really care.

Over-all, I'm just laughing about this. It makes me laugh, because it's funny. For the good dinner conversation on the reserve about this person and that person hooking-up, even though they are related, I have a good argument to make now: science doesn't back you up.

The reserve can now celebrate, you damn hillbillies!

Cousin Marriage Okay by Science
By Brandon Keim

In an age of sexual liberation, marriage between cousins remains taboo, at least in the United States — and from a scientific perspective, laws against the unions are a socially legitimized form of genetic and sexual discrimination.

That argument, raised Monday in an editorial in Public Library of Science Biology, may turn the stomachs of people raised to disapprove of any form of incest. But dispassioned analysis suggests that cousin marriage is no more troubling than childbearing by middle-aged women.

"Women over the age of 40 are not prevented from childbearing, nor is anyone suggesting they should be, despite an equivalent risk of birth defects," write zoologists Hamish Spencer and Diane Paul. Bans against cousin marriage, they say, should be repealed, "because neither the scientific nor social assumptions that informed them are any longer defensible."

Thirty-one states outlaw marriage between first cousins, making the United States the only developed country in which the practice is regularly banned. Most were passed in the Civil War's aftermath — not, say Spencer and Paul, to reduce the chance of defects caused by combinations of deleterious genes, but as part of a radical expansion of government authority over private lives.

"Unlike the situation in Britain and much of Europe, cousin marriage in the U.S. was associated not with the aristocracy and upper middle class but with much easier targets: immigrants and the rural poor," they write.

CousinmarriagemapBut their argument is far from consensus: in Forbidden Relatives: The American Myth of Cousin Marriage, Kansas State University anthropologist Martin Ottenheimer argues that the bans were driven by now-discredited 19th century research on birth defects among children born to first cousins.

Whatever their motivations, the laws are not supported by science. According to the National Society of Genetic Counselors, birth defects are 2 to 3 percent more common in children born to first cousins than among the general population — a real risk, but not enough to justify the bans.

"It's a form of discrimination that nobody talks about. People worry about not getting health insurance — but saying that someone shouldn't marry based on how they're related, when there's no known harm, to me is a form of discrimination," said Robin Bennett, a University of Washington genetic counselor who led the NSGC study.

Precise statistics on cousin-union frequency in the United States are hard to come by, she said, but discrimination and ignorance have serious consequences.

"I'm aware of people who have been afraid to tell people that they're in love with their cousins, who've become pregnant and potentially terminated a pregnancy based on false information," said Bennett. "Or they didn't marry the person they loved because of their concerns."

"The laws against cousin marriage are archaic, outdated and counterproductive," said Ottenheimer.

Repealing these laws doesn't seem likely in the near future: Gay marriage remains a more pressing issue. But anyone who wants to fight for cousin marriage won't have to fight against science.

"Ultimately it's a political question about what you allow individuals to do, and what that says about the structure of society," said Spencer.

Citation: "'It’s OK, We’re Not Cousins by Blood': The Cousin Marriage Controversy in Historical Perspective." By Diane B. Paul and Hamish G. Spencer. Public Library of Science Biology: Vol. 6 Issue 12, Dec. 22, 2008.

Images: 1. Emma Darwin/Darwin Day Celebration 2. Charles Darwin/WikiMedia Commons (Charles married Emma, his first cousin, shortly after returning from his expedition aboard the Beagle.) 3. Map of U.S. cousin marriage bans/PLoS Biology


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