Indians, North American

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Indians, North American

The regional developments

Summary and conclusions


Americanists of the early twentieth century were primarily interested in historical problems, and the classifications of culture types were designed to that end. Since the 1930s, however, there has been an increasing interest in structural and functional approaches to the understanding of American Indian societies and cultures and a more adequate comprehension of the role of ecological factors in their development. By combining historical and structural-functional methods, it has been possible to control our comparisons to a greater extent, both synchronically and over time, and to recognize certain of the processes involved in cultural continuity and social change. With the aid of new techniques of dating, such as the radiocarbon method and lexicostatistical estimates, and with complex techniques of inference in archeology and linguistics, it is possible to outline the framework for a more adequate reconstruction of the development of New World social and cultural forms. In this article we will be concerned primarily with the Indians of North America, north of Mexico.

The pioneer study of North American social systems was that of L. H. Morgan. In Systems of Consanguinity and Affinity of the Human Family (1871), he presented comparative data on kinship systems and clan organization for much of the region east of the Rocky Mountains, but the evolutionary framework in which he placed his data led to criticism and rejection of most of his contributions. Students of Boas, in the American historical “school,” emphasized a more inductive approach and more cautious reconstructions, with Swanton (1905) and Goldenweiser (1915) presenting preliminary syntheses of North American social organization and Spier (1925) and Lowie (1929) developing empirical classifications of terminological systems of relationship. It was not until after World War II that a more comprehensive analysis and interpretation of the North American data was begun by Murdock (1949; 1955) and Eggan (1955; 1966).

During much of this period American anthropologists were concerned with the identification of the culture types in the New World and the delineation of the resulting culture areas. The work of Wissler (1917), Kroeber (1939), Driver (1961), and Spencer and his colleagues (1965) has contributed to this development, and we shall utilize the culture area as a convenient framework within which to describe social structure. Kroeber viewed the culture area as containing essentially a single growth of culture, or a regionally individualized type, but Boas and others have noted that social structures do not always conform to the culture area. We shall examine a number of such instances in the course of our survey. [SeeBoas; Goldenweiser; Kroeber; Lowie; Spier; Swanton; Wissler.]

North America, north of Mexico, was inhabited in pre-Columbian times by approximately a million Indians, who spoke a variety of languages and dialects and who were organized into a large number of tribes, ranging from small bands to confederacies of considerable size. The Indians are all variants of a basic Mongoloid stock, and their ancestors entered the New World by way of the land bridge across the Bering Strait which was in existence during the last glacial period. While some migrants may have arrived earlier, there is clear evidence for Clovis projectile points associated with mammoth remains in the high Plains and the Southwest between 11,500 and 11,000 years ago, followed by Folsom and other points associated with the hunting of extinct forms of bison and other large game. There is evidence for a parallel development in western North America of an early gathering culture, known generally as the Desert Culture, which exploited wild plant resources and small game and which provided the basis for the later development of agriculture in Mexico and neighboring regions. In the eastern forest regions of North America, the early hunters turned in part to the exploitation of wild plants and forest products, as well as the utilization of mussels and fish, to develop a variety of Archaic cultures whose relationships are being worked out by the archeologists. [SeeHunting and gathering, article onnew world prehistoric societies.]

The first scientific classification of North American Indian languages (Powell 1891) indicated some 53 language stocks north of Mexico, but subsequent research by Sapir (1929) reduced this number to 6, with further reductions in prospect. Until recently there was no clear evidence of genetic relationships with the languages of northeast Asia, but Eskimo-Aleut is now known to be related to Chukchee and Koryak on the Asiatic side of the Bering Strait. In general, there is greater linguistic diversity in western North America than in the East; aboriginal California shows the greatest variety.

Cultural differentiation and development have proceeded from a mesolithic base and have occurred as a result both of migration and of adaptation to differing ecological conditions. The discovery of plant domestication in the regions to the south and its gradual spread northward had a profound effect on many groups. Present evidence indicates that the domestication of corn, beans, squash, cotton, and other crops took place in the Tehuacán and other valleys in the central Mexican highlands between 5000-3500 b.c. and gradually diffused northward (as well as in other directions), reaching the Southwest around 1500 b.c. Here there was also a long developmental period; agriculture was not firmly established until around a.d. 1, by which time it had also reached other areas of North America.

Cultural anthropologists divide North America into some 10 to 12 culture areas, or geographical regions, occupied by societies with generally similar culture patterns. In certain culture areas, such as the Arctic, there is a close correlation between language, physical type, and cultural pattern, but in general, race, language, and culture are differently distributed. Some culture areas, such as the Great Basin, show considerable time depth, with little change in archeologically known artifact types. Other areas, such as the Plains, show evidence of recent migration, with cultural adaptation to a new environment and borrowing as important processes. [Seeculture area.]

The dominant subsistence activities in northern North America centered on the hunting of large game—sea mammals in the Arctic area, caribou and moose in the Canadian Subarctic regions, bison and buffalo on the Plains; salmon was important on the Northwest Coast. In much of western North America, i.e., in the Plateau, California, and Great Basin areas, the gathering of plant foods—acorns, pinon nuts, and wild seeds and roots of various kinds—predominated, with hunting of small game and fishing being generally secondary. Horticulture was important in the Southwest and in the regions east of the Mississippi River, although the hunting of deer and other sedentary game, along with fishing and the gathering of wild fruits and nuts, furnished about half of the subsistence in the latter areas. The introduction of the horse by the Spaniards into the Southwest and its subsequent diffusion to the Plains tribes and their neighbors after a.d. 1600 led to a florescence of Plains culture, but the full utilization of the horse as a domestic animal was not achieved until the reservation period although some groups utilized the horse for food.

The aboriginal Indian population was unevenly distributed in North America. The greatest population densities for the major regions were found in California and the Northwest Coast, areas which were nonagricultural but where natural food resources were both relatively abundant and reliable. In the Southwest, the Pueblo Indians lived in towns with locally dense populations but surrounded by relatively empty semideserts. In the eastern regions there was a more uniform distribution of population. In general, there was a greater density along the coasts than in the interior, reflecting the greater variety and number of food resources. The range of population densities was from a little over 1 per 100 square kilometers (about 38 square miles) in the northern interior Subarctic regions to around 43 per 100 square kilometers in aboriginal California, with 28 per 100 square kilometers on the Northwest Coast, 11 per 100 square kilometers in the Southwest, and 7 per 100 square kilometers in the eastern areas. For North America as a whole the population density was around 5 persons per 100 square kilometers, or about 1 person per 7 square miles.

The social and political organization of the Indians of North America shows a surprising variety of forms but does not attain to the high level of organization reached in Middle America and the Andean regions, where large confederations and states developed in connection with urban life. The low level of technological development and limited resources of aboriginal North America combined to keep it a marginal area in terms of population concentration and social and political elaboration, despite the diffusion of agriculture and other practices from Mexico and some contacts with Asia across the Bering Strait and possibly by sea.

Everywhere in North America the local group or band was important, although there was considerable variation in size and formal organization. In a few regions, such as the Great Basin and the northern regions, the bands were small and of varying structure, as related family groups combined for subsistence and social purposes. In more favorable regions the local groups might have permanent territories and a lineage organization based on unilineal descent and definite residence patterns, or develop into larger composite bands with a central political structure and a feeling of tribal unity. In the agricultural regions the tribal groups were often relatively sedentary, with a village or town organization and a social structure based on unilineal descent groups, or clans, and a more centralized and powerful religious and political structure. In a few regions in the east political confederations developed among related tribes as a means of survival or protection against pressures from the European colonists and alien groups.

Western North America, west of the Rocky Mountains, was generally a region of uncentralized societies with autonomous village communities or local groups. Sometimes, the village community was not a political unit, although usually it had a headman or local leader. This is true even of the more elaborately organized societies of the Northwest Coast, where warfare was common and social stratification well developed. Over much of the in-termontane region, including the Plateau, the Great Basin, and the Pueblo portions of the Southwest, there was a generally peaceful ethos and a lack of social differentiation and stratification. Not until we reach the lower Colorado River, among the Yu-man-speaking peoples and their neighbors, do we find strong tribal organization and fully developed warfare.

The region east of the Rocky Mountains, in contrast, was characterized by politically organized tribes with well-developed chieftainship, considerable social stratification, and an emphasis on war and raiding. There is some archeological evidence for more elaborate sociopolitical structures centering on platform mounds and earthworks, but their focus appears to be primarily religious in character, although the archeological remains give evidence of extensive trade networks. The Arctic and Subarctic regions lacked extensive political development and social stratification, but feuds were common, and there was general enmity between the Eskimos and adjacent Indian groups.

In almost all regions of North America there were seasonal movements relevant to the food quest that brought about new alignments of population and interaction with different groups. Frequently the local group inhabited a winter village and broke up into smaller family or multifamily units during the summer or at other seasons. In some regions the pattern was reversed, as in the high Plains, where bands wintered separately but aggregated in a camp circle during the summer months. In other areas there was a more complex seasonal round. Only the Pueblo (and to a lesser extent the southeastern tribes) and the Iroquois and their neighbors approximated a pattern of sedentary town dwelling. In almost all areas the geographical environment, coupled with a primitive technology, placed an effective population ceiling on the size of the local groups and affected their distribution and complexity. Only in a few places was the technology sufficiently advanced to free peoples from a primary dependence on environmental offerings and allow them to develop larger populations and more complex institutions.

The regional developments

With this brief introduction we might now consider North America region by region, with particular reference to the social and political institutions each has developed and with some attention to historical developments, so far as they are known at present.

The Arctic

The Arctic culture area, which extends from Alaska to Greenland across the northern tundra, is inhabited by a single group, the Eskimo. The Aleutian archipelago was formerly occupied by their linguistic and cultural relatives, the Aleuts, but relatively few of the latter have survived the processes of acculturation, and little is known about their aboriginal institutions. The Eskimo, however, are still flourishing and play an active role in new development programs in the north.

The archeological origins of Eskimo culture were long sought in northern Asia, but there is growing evidence for the culture’s development from meso-lithic complexes in the region of southwestern Alaska and the Bering Strait. Here Eskimo culture went through a number of stages, involving adaptation both to the resources of the sea and of the land. Around one thousand years ago a migration of a portion of the Eskimo took place across northern Canada to Greenland (Thule Eskimo), perhaps following the migrations of the whale, on which they largely depended. Later uplifts in the central regions forced them either to return or to adapt to the severe conditions of the tundra and the ice shelf. Those who remained were the forebears of the modern Central Eskimo, who hunt seal and walrus during the winter and move south during the brief summer to exploit the caribou migrations More favorable conditions in Alaska and parts of Greenland led to greater specializations in subsistence and to more complex social institutions. However, despite a long history of adjustment to differing ecological conditions, there is a generic unity to Eskimo life and culture. The boundary between Eskimo and Indians, on the other hand, is relatively sharp and is maintained by differing patterns of ecological adjustment and by general enmity.

The distribution of the Eskimo-Aleut languages further supports the archeological record. The hypothesis that Eskimo-Aleut is genetically related to Chukchee-Koryak in Siberia suggests the development of Eskimo culture from local origins over a long time period. The major division into Aleut and Eskimo took place in southwestern Alaska several thousand years ago, and Eskimo later separated into Yupik, the language spoken in south Alaska and on both sides of the Bering Strait, and Inu-pik, the language spoken from Norton Sound to Greenland, the dialects of which are still mutually intelligible for the most part. The relative distinc-tiveness of the Eskimo physical type and its resemblances to northeast Asian forms further suggest that the Eskimo have developed from local populations. Whether they are the most recent migrants to the New World, as their geographic position would indicate, is not yet clear.

The Eskimo at the time of contact numbered about 60,000-75,000, with an estimated 10,000-15,000 Aleuts, who have since been reduced to a small fraction of this number. Today there are some 35,000-40,000 Eskimo, the bulk of them divided between Alaska and Greenland, with about 10,000 Eskimo in the central regions. A few, such as the Polar Eskimo, live above the Arctic Circle in Greenland, while other groups, such as the Pacific Eskimo and the South Greenlanders, are accustomed to open water and subarctic conditions. There is a further division between coastal and inland Eskimo, a few groups living primarily on caribou in the Canadian barrens or in Alaska and others exploiting both regions seasonally or through trading relationships.

The Eskimo refer to themselves as inuit, “men,” and set themselves off from their Indian neighbors who occupy the forest zones in the interior. Tribal divisions exist only as geographical units of people linked by bonds of consanguinity and marriage, which are utilized to establish a complex network of relationships that facilitate movement and trade and maintain a common culture and language over wide areas.

Within the geographical divisions are local groups which are bilaterally organized around kin or family nuclei and which may break up or recombine, depending on the season and the available resources. In the central regions the local group generally formed a winter community under the leadership of some respected person who provided advice but had little authority. Certain hunting techniques, such as catching seal at their breathing holes, required a number of men for greater efficiency; and there were community patterns for the sharing of the catch.

Inside the local band the elementary or nuclear families were the basic units. The husband-wife relationship is the most important bond in most Eskimo regions, and the spouses have complementary roles and duties. In favorable areas, extended families might develop through polygamy; patri-local residence, or attachment of siblings or affinal relatives to the group. The size of the local group might vary from twenty-five to thirty at a minimum to two hundred or more, but the actual family composition could change from year to year and from season to season.

Within such a community the chief bonds were those of kinship. Life expectancy was low, and both adoption and infanticide were practiced to provide for maintenance and survival of the group. The chief means of social control centered on feuding and revenge, with satirical sanctions playing an important role. As a last resort the community as a whole could take action against a nonconformist by arranging his execution. Along with kinship relations there were a number of quasi-kinship extensions, e.g., seal flipper associations, which involved the reciprocal distribution of food and the spouse-exchange institutions. In some regions strangers who could not establish kin relationships might be treated as enemies.

The kinship systems of the Eskimo, once thought to be similar to the modern American-European system, are now known to be considerably more complex and variable. Thus, instead of a single set of cousin terms, there is a great variety of combinations, some of which have been tentatively correlated with different ecological situations, perhaps relating to the density and distribution of local groups. Little is known with regard to the Greenland communities as yet, but in the Bering Strait region, on Nunivak and St. Lawrence Island, a more sedentary and denser population is associated with incipient patrilineages and a variant of the Iroquois-Dakota pattern of kinship terminology. A similar development apparently took place among the Aleut as well.

In northern Alaska and the Bering Strait region there was a greater development of voluntary associations related to whaling and to the performance of rituals and dances. Leadership was also more institutionalized, and it centered in part on the ownership of boats and ritual paraphernalia. In addition to the community leader, who was generally selected for his personal qualities and supported by his kin group, the shaman, or angakok, was also an important figure. He mediated between the community and the world of nature. In the central regions he might “visit” Sedna, the goddess of sea mammals, in times of crisis and persuade her to release her “children” for the welfare of the community. Where such crises were thought to be the result of transgressions, the shaman would obtain public confessions to placate the offended deities. The shaman was also responsible for the maintenance of the health of the community, and he utilized trance states and suggestion to that end.

The Eskimo techniques for survival in the Arctic regions are well known and do not need to be described in any detail. Within this environment a number of ecological adaptations are possible, and the Eskimo have exploited most of them. The central regions offer the severest limitations, and the Eskimo groupings here are minimal and subject to seasonal fluctuation. Incipient divisions into people born in summer and those born in winter existed in recent times for limited social and ritual purposes but never developed into effective dual organization. In the west, and possibly in Greenland, more elaborate social institutions developed. Here there was a greater amount of food available, and populations were larger and more sedentary. Such archeological sites as Ipiutak, at Point Hope, were both larger and culturally more complex than modern settlements in the same region.

This raises the question as to whether the modern Central Eskimo social organization is a simplified version of that developed in Alaska or the basic organization on which the latter has developed specialized social structures. In broadest historical perspective both processes have probably been operative. Early Eskimo-Aleut social structure must have been relatively simple, if we can judge from the situation among the Chukchee and Koryak of Siberia, but the greater elaboration of social organization in the Bering Strait region may well have taken place before the Thule migrations. The expansion of the Eskimo across Arctic America apparently was by small groups and was not conducive to the retention of more specialized forms of social structure. In more ecologically favorable localities more elaborate social systems were redeveloped as food resources permitted. Within Eskimo society there is considerable structural regularity, but it has a built-in flexibility which has enabled it to adapt to some of the severest ecological conditions under which man lives anywhere.

The Northwest Coast

The Northwest Coast culture area is a rich and complex region extending from southern Alaska to northwestern California. Like the Eskimo area, much of this region is oriented toward the sea. The topography is extremely rugged, and the coastal climate, as a result of the Japanese Current, is very wet and mild; a coniferous forest is characteristic of the whole region. Here, in addition to the sea mammals available, the annual runs of salmon offered a food supply comparable to that produced by agricultural technology and allowed in favorable regions both a higher population ceiling and the leisure time for the development of elaborate ceremonies and a unique art.

The Indians occupying the Northwest Coast spoke a variety of languages and had different historical backgrounds but shared to a considerable degree a common culture. In the north the Tlingit and Haida were linguistic relatives of the Athabas-kan-speaking peoples of the interior, while the Tsimshian were Penutian speakers, a superstock with many divisions farther south. In the central region the Kwakiutl and Nootka, Wakashan speakers, were linguistically related to the neighboring Coastal Salish, who centered on Puget Sound and had close relatives in the adjacent Plateau area. The Oregon coastal tribes largely spoke languages related to Penutian, but there were Athabaskan-speaking enclaves along the coast as well. Despite this linguistic diversity, the whole region was characterized by similar cultural patterns, attitudes, and values. Even the northwest California tribes, the Hupa, Yurok, and Karok, were closer to the Northwest Coast in culture than to their central Califor-nian neighbors.

The origins of the Northwest Coast peoples and the history of their cultural development are not as yet well known. The distribution of certain culture traits on both sides of the north Pacific suggests occasional contacts in earlier periods, and excavations along the lower Fraser River indicate certain early Eskimoan traits, suggesting a northern origin for the whaling activities of the Nootka and Makah. The initial development of Northwest Coast culture patterns is thought to have taken place in the central region, with later elaborations in the north. Travel in the area is difficult, except by water, and in later times there was much trading along the coast as well as raids for obtaining slaves and other purposes. We now know that much of the elaboration of art took place in the nineteenth century, after the acquisition of iron tools. The fur trade also brought prosperity to this region, modifying seriously the extensive ceremonial exchanges centering on the potlatch. But by the beginning of the twentieth century native life was rapidly disintegrating under the combined influence of missionaries, government agents, and the canning industry.

The population of the Northwest Coast at the time of contact with European explorers is estimated at around 130,000, with a concentration along the coasts and rivers, the hinterland being only sporadically utilized. The tribal groups were relatively large, but each “tribe” generally was divided into a number of smaller local groups, each of which occupied a village center during the winter period, with seasonal shifts in residence during the rest of the year in accordance with subsistence and other activities. Despite the common cultural patterns and values, there was considerable variation with regard to social structure. The northern tribes, the Tlingit, Haida, and Tsimshian, were organized in terms of matrilineal descent; the Kwakiutl and Nootka of the central region were essentially bilateral in descent; and the groups further south emphasized patrilineal affiliations. In all groups, also, there were social divisions: chiefs or nobles, commoners and slaves; but except for the slaves (who were usually captives taken in war), the individuals were ranked on a graded scale in terms of birth position and maintained their status with the aid of their kinsmen.

The Tlingit were divided into matrilineal exoga-mous moieties called Raven and Wolf (or Eagle), which held the whole society together through intermarriage. In addition, there were some 14 local groups, each with a general territory and a winter village, composed of a number of large permanent cedar-plank houses. Each house had its own name and crest and belonged to a local segment of one of the moieties. The two sets of houses exchanged services as well as wives and were the major units in the great public exchanges of property and feasting known as potlatches, which here centered on death and mourning. While descent was matrilineal, the house was owned and occupied by a group of men related through the female line: this was accomplished by sending boys to live with their mothers’ brothers at about the age of eight. The houses on each side were ranked in importance and characterized by the ownership of various crests and privileges and by the control of rights to fishing places, berry patches, and trading activities. Each had a house chief, and the chiefs of the most important houses in each moiety served as community leaders. Neighboring communities were united in part by intermarriages and by local clan segments of the dual divisions, but they would fight with one another on occasion. Beyond the local group there was no formal political organization other than common language and the moiety organization.

Within the village the basic relationships were organized in terms of matrilineal kinship and cross-cousin marriage. The kinship system was a modi-fied Crow type; a man’s closest relationships were with his mother’s brother and other lineage mates rather than with his father, who belonged to the other moiety segment and was treated as an affine. Through cross-cousin marriage the two sets of households were firmly tied together, and the social and ceremonial exchanges were mediated through the kinship system. Inheritance and succession to office were in the matrilineal line, as was authority. However, through avunculocal residence the men belonging to the matrilineage were enabled to live and work together as a unit and to maintain and operate the corporate assets of the household and local clan.

The Haida of Queen Charlotte Islands had a similar, although slightly simpler, social organization. The Tsimshian were more complexly organized, in that they had four matrilineal phratry groupings, each of which was represented in every village, and an Iroquois type of kinship system. A few groups to the south were also matrilineal in descent, but we have relatively little information about them.

Among the Kwakiutl the social structure was formally quite different. Here the village was the local unit, the southern Kwakiutl having some twenty such “tribelets,” but within the village there were smaller bilateral units, called numayma, each of which in theory descended from a mythological ancestor. These units, averaging around one hundred members, occupied houses in one section of the village and consisted of related families bound together by strong social obligations. Originally each numaym may have been a separate village group, and most marriages were between different numayma, although occasionally marriages were arranged within the group to conserve wealth or enhance prestige.

Numaym structure is most easily understood as a set of status positions, each of which had a name, a seat, and a particular rank, as well as being a corporate group owning various types of property and privileges. When a “position” became vacant through the death or retirement of the holder, the numaym group could fill it in various ways. Primogeniture was the normal method, but if a woman should be in line her brother or husband might exercise the privileges of the position until her son was old enough.

While membership in the numaym was through bilateral descent, residence was generally patrilocal, so that the houses were occupied by related males with their wives, who came from other numayma. In such a system an individual might have claims to status positions in several numayma, and a man might go to live with his wife’s group where advantageous. The early depopulation of the Kwakiutl through introduced diseases and the elaboration of the potlatch system as a result of the fur trade make it difficult to specify the actual operation of the social system under aboriginal conditions.

The ranking of the named positions determined the social ranking of the numayma in a particular locality, but changes in social position could be achieved through the potlatch system. The holder of the top position was generally the political leader in the region, and he maintained his position both by distributing surplus wealth to other numaym leaders as guests and by receiving gifts in return. If the numaym could not support the position, other groups might gradually assume the role through being given gifts first at potlatches. The great elaboration of the potlatch as an instrument of aggression in late nineteenth-century Kwakiutl life seems clearly related to the increased competition for status brought about by the concentration of formerly separate groups around the new trading centers. But the chiefs who engaged in these social conflicts were representatives of the numaym groups and required their support to maintain their positions. [SeeExchange and display.]

The Kwakiutl divided the year into a summer season, in which subsistence and secular activities were dominant, and a winter, or sacred, season, in which the spirit world was important. During the winter season the numaym organization gave way to a parallel organization of graded or ranked secret societies, which performed ceremonies and dances and initiated new members. There were some fourteen such societies organized into two sets, relating to land and water respectively, but we have detailed data only on the famous Cannibal Society. The position of members in the winter dance societies corresponded in general with their numaym positions, and initiation into the Cannibal Society was restricted to the sons of important chiefs. The rituals involved possession by spirits and their ultimate taming, but the right to be possessed was transferable and the participants in the initiation were repaid with potlatch gifts. Here shamanistic activities have been organized in terms of the Kwakiutl social system.

The Nootka of Vancouver Island, the Coastal Salish of the Gulf of Georgia and Puget Sound region, and the coastal tribes down to the Chinook at the mouth of the Columbia River participated to varying degrees in the social and cultural institutions just noted. The Nootka had an elaborate whaling technology, supported by rituals for the control of the whale and other sea mammals, and their main dancing society was concerned with wolf spirits. The local group structure showed greater stress on paternal relationships, and local groups were often allied by intermarriage. Among some of the Coastal Salish the whole community might live in a single dwelling, with patrilocal residence insuring male cooperation and solidarity. The Chinook took advantage of their strategic position to become traders, and the Chinook jargon became the trading language for much of the region.

Farther south along the Oregon coast there is little information available on the remnant tribes, but Northwest Coast cultural patterns are found among the Yurok, Karok, and Hupa, who live in the last region where the salmon runs are sufficient for supporting social life. Here the villages were small, and they were occupied by groups of kinsmen related in the male line. There were no headmen, but social control was strong and was embodied in a code of regulations which emphasized the relative status of individuals and families. Only the periodic construction of fish weirs and the holding of ceremonies involved larger units than the village.

These variations in social structure suggest that the peoples of the Northwest Coast have had a complex culture history, a suggestion that is reinforced by their linguistic complexity. However, looking at the household as a relatively permanent unit, it is clear that in each region it was occupied by a group of males who cooperated in subsistence and prestige activities and represented a corporate group of some type, regardless of the differences in formal descent. The local groupings also had a similar over-all character, so far as we know them. Only at the “tribal” level were there significant differences in social structure, but since these larger groupings did not operate as political units, they were not in active competition with one another.

Western interior areas

The western interior areas, such as the western Subarctic culture area, the Plateau, and the Great Basin, along with aboriginal California, were inhabited by a variety of culture types which were closely adjusted to ecological conditions but were also considerably influenced by interaction with their neighbors on the Northwest Coast and elsewhere. The basic subsistence patterns centered on hunting, gathering, and fishing, but the availability of food was such that the population densities were relatively low over most of these regions, with the exception of aboriginal California. The social systems were organized on the basis of the family and the band, for the most part, with seasonal movements and variations. Only in California and in a few other localities did more elaborate social structures develop. Political organization above the band level was relatively weakly developed, except among the Yuman-speaking tribes on the lower Colorado River and the eastern Shoshoneans after they adopted the horse.

Western Subarctic. The western Subarctic culture area, which encompasses the interior of Alaska and northwestern Canada, was occupied by groups of Indians speaking Athabaskan, who exploited the fish and game resources of the northern coniferous forest. They numbered less than 50,000, with an extremely low population density. The basic cultural division is between tribes in the Pacific drainage and tribes in the Mackenzie drainage, but there are many variations, particularly on the margins of these areas. The tribal names essentially refer to linguistic units, the local groups being amorphous bands composed of extended family units which might split up or recombine in varying ways, depending on seasonal availability of food and other resources. In the Mackenzie drainage the bands were relatively small and highly mobile. They usually operated under the leadership of an experienced hunter. The nuclear family was important; kinship was bilateral and not widely extended; and residence at marriage was generally matrilocal, the husband working for his wife’s parents for a period. In a few of the groups there is some suggestion of preferential cross-cousin marriage, but this may be a relatively late development.

The tribes of the Pacific drainage were able to utilize the salmon runs to increase their food supply, and they also engaged in trading relationships with the adjacent Northwest Coast tribes and to some extent with the Eskimo. The utilization of the potlatch as the mechanism for trading led to the organization of several of the interior groups on the model of their Northwest Coast neighbors, so that they came to have a matrilineal moiety organization and intermarried to some extent with the Tlingit and related groups. In this process some Athabaskan groups were absorbed into Tlingit culture, and the matrilineal moiety patterns and cross-cousin marriage spread as far as the Kaska, east of the divide. But there is evidence that during much of the year these elaborations were in abeyance, as the various bands moved seasonally to exploit limited food resources. Nowhere in the interior were the salmon runs sufficient for sedentary life, and the only Athabaskan-speaking group to reach the sea, the Tanaina of Cook Inlet, shows a series of variations approaching the Tlingit pattern. On the southern margins, Athabaskan-speaking groups have broken off and entered the Plains and Southwestern regions, where they make up the various Apache and Navajo tribes; other such groups are found in Oregon and northwestern California, in such tribes as the Tolowa and the Hupa.

The Plateau. The Plateau culture area encompasses the territory between the Cascades and the Rocky Mountains, which is generally within the drainage systems of the Columbia and Fraser rivers. In this geographical region there is considerable ecological diversity, and the boundaries with neighboring regions are transitional rather than sharp. The population of this region, numbering around 50,000, showed considerable linguistic diversity, with Sahaptin- and Klamath-speaking tribes in the west and south and Interior Salish-speaking groups in the north and east, along with Kutenai-speaking groups, which are not clearly placed. Recent archeo-logical investigations indicate that man has been living in this region for a long period, and lexico-statistical studies of the Salishan languages demonstrate a considerable period of development in situ.

The basic culture of the Plateau has been strongly influenced through interaction with Northwest Coast tribes and by the introduction of Plains horse culture, particularly in the nineteenth century. This basic culture type is found in clearest form among the Salish-speaking Sanpoil-Nespelem and their neighbors in the middle Columbia River region. These tribes, numbering only a few thousand, occupied a series of small villages along the Columbia River in open semidesert country. They depended on salmon fishing, gathering of camas roots, and hunting in the nearby mountains. The winter villages were composed of large semisubterranean earthlodges or mat-covered houses which held a number of families, but during the rest of the year the community often broke up into smaller family groups to exploit the root-gathering grounds or fishing and hunting sites.

Two features set off these central Plateau groups from their neighbors—their intense pacifism and their strong sense of individual equality and autonomy. Kinship was bilateral and there was a definite Salish type, but kinship was somewhat subordinated to community activities. Patrilocal residence was general and led to the grouping of related men in the extended households, a process which facilitated their cooperation in hunting and fishing. Root gathering, on the other hand, was the work of women.

The community had a village chief who served as leader and adviser and whose main role was to maintain peace, both between and within villages. He was selected by an assembly composed of all married adults, both men and women, and the assembly met informally at his house to discuss important problems and to achieve consensus. During the salmon-fishing season, a Salmon Chief, who was usually an important shaman, was given power to organize the activities relating to the construction of the fishing weirs and the First Salmon Ceremony, the most important group ceremony. He also supervised the actual fishing procedures, which were in the hands of the men, and the distribution of the catch to the village as a whole.

Beyond the village there was no formal political organization, but both rivalry and cooperation existed in salmon rituals and particularly in the Winter Spirit dances. Guardian-spirit vision quests were highly developed and participated in by both boys and girls. Shamanism depended on successful quests, and the resulting powers were used for both curing sicknesses and the protection of the community. The major expression of the guardian spirit cult came during the winter period, when each village in turn held initiation dances to which other villages came as guests. During these ceremonies the participants imitated their guardian spirits, particularly the bluejay and the owl, and had to be released from their power at the end of the dance.

In the north, the Salish-speaking Lillooet, Shus-wap, and Thompson illustrate the results of long contact and interaction with their coastal neighbors. Here there was greater emphasis on chieftainship and status differences, and both warfare and trade were important. But the local organization and subsistence patterns were not essentially different. Other tribes, such as the Wishram, were trading specialists who utilized their strategic position at The Dalles on the Columbia to control down-river trade with the Chinook and other coastal groups. To the south the Klamath and Modoc illustrate the transition from Plateau life to native Cali-fornian culture patterns. Here the acquisition of wealth on a broad scale became important, and the “rich man” supplanted the peace chief as a dominant figure. But it was in the east that the major changes took place. The introduction of the horse via the eastern Shoshone around a.d. 1700 led to great changes in material culture and techniques of warfare, as well as in band organization and leadership, for both the Plateau and northern Great Basin tribes. Groups such as the Nez Perce and Flathead took over horse culture on a large scale, and horses were traded all the way to the coast.

One interesting development in the central Plateau region was the organization of intervillage and intertribal “task forces” for buffalo hunting and trading expeditions. Such “task forces” might involve a considerable number of families, and they would travel large distances to reach their objectives. Such activities required adequate leadership, organization, and discipline—characteristics which had been developed originally on a local community basis and expanded as a result of new opportunities.

The Great Basin. The Great Basin culture area, which encompasses the great semidesert and desert interior drainage areas lying between the Sierra Nevada and Rocky Mountains and south of the Plateau to the Colorado River, was occupied almost exclusively by Shoshonean-speaking groups—the Northern Paiute, the Shoshone, the Southern Paiute, and the Ute. This is a region of basins and hills, bordered by higher mountains, with relatively low rainfall except on the higher levels and varied but limited flora and fauna.

The aboriginal population is estimated at 25,000-30,000, giving an extremely low density for the region as a whole and reflecting the paucity of food resources. The poorest areas were in the center—here the Nevada Shoshone moved in small family groups or microbands from valley to range, the women gathering wild grass seeds and roots and the men hunting rabbits and other small game. Piñon nuts were the prized food, but the harvests were erratic and undependable. Rabbit drives and occasional antelope drives required cooperation of several groups and allowed for temporary interaction, including social dances, which were important in courtship, and shamanistic competitions.

The Great Basin has been occupied since the end of the Pleistocene and is one of the regions in which the Desert Culture was developed. Despite the continuity in archeological culture type, however, the modern Indian populations entered the region relatively late—around the beginning of the thirteenth century. In the central regions ecological conditions were so severe as to require a seminomadic existence, but on the margins of the Great Basin more favorable conditions existed, which enabled a more sedentary life and a denser population. Thus the Owens Valley Paiute had mountain streams and more concentrated food resources, which enabled them to live in larger communities, and the Northern Shoshone could exploit the salmon that came up the Snake River as well as larger game in the nearby mountains. In the south, limited horticulture in oasis sites enabled the Southern Paiute to supplement hunting and gathering. And the introduction of the horse, noted above, allowed the Ute and Eastern Shoshone to move out toward the plains and to hunt and raid more effectively. Within the central Great Basin there was a peaceful ethos, and there were no sharp boundaries between linguistic groups, although there was some conflict with neighboring groups along the edges of the area.

The social organization of the Great Basin is interesting, both in terms of its simplicity and in terms of its utilization of marriage to create a kinship network which spread across language lines and formed a communication mechanism that aided in survival. Kinship was bilateral and made considerable use of self-reciprocal terminology. The nuclear family could be self-sufficient on occasion, and the division of labor between men and women was roughly equal. But families were more often united in larger units through various marriage practices, particularly for the winter “villages,” which were usually located in some sheltered place adjacent to wood and water.

Brother-sister exchange in marriage was widespread, and along with sororal polygyny and fraternal polyandry, as well as the sororate and levi-rate, provided new bonds for the enlargement and continuity of small family groups. In the poorer ecological regions, such groups might split up and assemble in different combinations seasonally, but in a few central localities resources were stable enough to allow cross-cousin marriage to develop sufficiently to influence the kinship terminology. Cross-cousin marriage, if practiced effectively, tends to break the kinship network with neighboring groups. The Northern Shoshone, under more favorable ecological conditions, apparently shifted from cross-cousin marriage to pseudo-cross-cousin marriage—that is, marriage with a step-cross-cousin—and thus maintained a wider integration.

Although residence patterns were variable, they were commonly matrilocal. In groups such as the Owens Valley Paiute, where the women came to “own” concentrations of wild food plants, matrilocal residence gave rise to matrilocal bands, a process which very possibly underlies the development of matrilineages among the Western Pueblos to the south. The introduction of the horse led to the development of larger, more amorphous bands, led by a chief, in the eastern portions of the area, but in the central part of the region the horse competed with the Shoshone for grass seeds and was generally killed for food rather than utilized for transport. The practice of horticulture had spread from the south as far as the Great Salt Lake but retreated in the thirteenth century in the face of unfavorable climatic changes. Southern Paiute bands were larger and more sedentary in areas where horticulture continued to be feasible.

The California culture area. Aboriginal California, centering on the great central valley drained by the Sacramento and San Joaquin rivers, but including the coastal ranges and the Sierra Nevada as well as the desert areas to the south, offered a great range of ecological environments, and at the time of contact was inhabited by approximately 130,000 Indians speaking a variety of languages and dialects. Food resources were variable but abundant, the acorn being the major staple, supplemented by fish, small game, roots, and marine resources. As a result, much of the population was sedentary or semisedentary, and the local groups claimed territories within which they exploited the resources and kept out trespassers.

The peoples of the central valley spoke mainly Penutian languages, while most of the groups to the north and west spoke variants of Hokan. In the southern regions the population was largely Shoshonean in speech, continuous with the Great Basin, while Yuman-speaking tribes dominated the lower Colorado River. (We have noted earlier the Athabaskan groups and other groups of northwestern California who are part of the Northwest Coast culture area.)

With the exception of the northwestern California groups and the Yuman-speaking peoples of the lower Colorado, who practiced floodwater agriculture and had a genuine tribal organization, the Cal-ifornian groups did not differ greatly in subsistence level, social organization, or religious activity. The gathering, grinding, leaching, and storing of acorns and other plant products was time-consuming but relatively simple, and the crop, unlike the piñon nuts in the Great Basin, seldom failed.

The local group normally occupied a permanent winter village but occasionally moved around in its territory during the other seasons. The average size of the group was around one hundred persons, and patrilocal residence led to the families being related through the male line. In many regions the patrilineage became an important descent unit, controlling territory and exercising rights in common, providing a headman, regulating marriage, and owning ritual possessions.

In a few regions the patrilineal local groups were organized into larger moiety structures. Thus the Yokuts, in the central valley, were made up of approximately fifty local groups, each with its own name, dialect, and territory, and averaging about 250 persons to a group. There were two patrilineal exogamous divisions, the “upstream people” and the “downstream people,” each symbolically associated with totemic animals. These two groups, represented in each village and family, engaged in rivalry and games and mourned for each other’s dead. There were chiefs from each moiety who received presents from the community and were expected to give feasts and property to the people. This pattern extended to the Miwok and neighboring groups. Farther south, some of the Shoshonean-speaking tribes were also organized in terms of exogamous moieties, with animals such as the coyote and the wildcat symbolizing the opposing groups. A few groups, such as the Southern Pomo and the Wappo, apparently had matrilineal descent and a Crow type of kinship system, but most of the peoples in the central valley, including the Wintun, Miwok, and Yokut, had an Omaha type of kinship system, generally associated with patrilineal descent. Some of the Miwok practiced matrilateral cross-cousin marriage, but aboriginal marriage practices did not survive the breakdown of tribal cultures incident to missionization and the gold rush. The kinship systems of the southern California Shoshoneans are not known in any detail, but the lower Colorado Yuman tribes had patrilineal exogamous clans and a distinctive pattern of kinship. Here there are also political chiefs and a feeling of tribal solidarity evidenced in wars with the Pima and Papago to the east. The coastal tribes may have had a distinctive culture, particularly the Chumash who occupied the Channel Islands and utilized plank canoes, but little remains beyond the archeological record and early historical accounts.

Religion in California centered on a complex development of shamanism, but there was some development toward a priesthood in the activities of secret societies, such as the Kuksu cult in central California and the Toloache cult farther south. In the Sierra Nevada region and in southern California the annual mourning ceremony symbolically re-enacted the cremation rites as kinsmen threw goods and clothing on a large fire. In much of southern California the lineage headman acted as a religious leader, performing the rituals associated with a ceremonial bundle belonging to the group. Among the Yuman the song cycles were believed to be received via dreams.

Californian Indians can be viewed in larger perspective as having a specialized development of subsistence and other cultural practices characteristic of the intermontane regions we have been describing, and they also participated to a considerable extent in their peaceful ethos and their lack of social differentiation. The greater availability of food, once the technology had been established, led to more elaborate social systems and religious activities, but cultural achievements—except in basketry—never reached the level of the Northwest Coast or Pueblo neighbors. Even agriculture was never adopted, except in the lower Colorado, although the pattern of winter rainfall may have been the most important factor.

The Southwest

The Southwest culture area, comprising the Colorado plateau and lower desert regions of Arizona and New Mexico, and extending across the Mexican border, is an area of much greater cultural complexity than any of those we have so far surveyed. Here is found, in the well-known Pueblo culture, the highest cultural development north of Mesoamerica, but on the margins and interspersed between the Pueblo groups are hunting and gathering cultures, such as the Apache tribes and the Upland Yuman, some of whom, like the Navajo, have partly adopted agriculture or pastoral activities in more recent times.

The surviving Pueblo groups live in towns and depend primarily on agriculture for subsistence, supplemented by hunting and gathering and sheep-raising. Despite their essential unity as a cultural type they have different archeological backgrounds, speak a variety of languages, and show important differences in social structure. The Basket Maker-Pueblo (Anasazi) archeological tradition developed out of the Desert Culture, as did the Mogollon and Hohokam cultural traditions to the south. These latter cultures were influenced by contacts with Mexico, which gradually introduced agriculture and techniques of pottery making, along with irrigation techniques that made life in the desert practical. The fusion of these culture types in the thirteenth and fourteenth centuries gave rise to the Western Pueblo. The great drought of a.d. 1276-1299, which led to the withdrawal of Pueblo populations from the Mesa Verde and San Juan regions of Colorado and northern Arizona, resulted in migrations both to the western Pueblo regions and to the Rio Grande, where the people became the Eastern Pueblos.

The Upland Yuman-speaking tribes of Arizona, the Walapai, Havasupai, and Yavapai, are essentially gathering and hunting peoples who continue the Desert Culture of the Great Basin, although some groups, such as the Havasupai, have employed agriculture to a considerable extent. (The linguistically related River Yuman, who developed flood-water agriculture along the lower Colorado, have been noted in connection with aboriginal California.) The Athabaskan-speaking peoples of the Southwest, the various Apache tribes, and the Navajo are relatively late migrants from the north, arriving around six hundred years ago and gradually differentiating into the modern groups. The Chiricahua and Mescalero Apache remained hunters and gatherers for the most part, while the Navajo and Western Apache adopted agriculture from their Pueblo neighbors. Later the Navajo and Jicarilla also took over sheep raising and pastoral activities. Farther south, the Pima and Papago and their linguistic relatives in northern Mexico practiced irrigated agriculture and lived in villages along the streams, or in localities favorable for flash-flood farming. The Pima and Papago may be the descendants, in part, of the archeologically known Hohokam.

The aboriginal population of the American Southwest is estimated to be about 100,000 Indians, and today the Indian population is even greater, since the Navajo have increased about eightfold. This is the one region in North America where Indian populations were able to preserve considerable portions of native culture in certain areas, either by developing techniques of concealment or by living in isolated areas.

Pueblo social and ceremonial organization is well known and needs only brief description. Among the Western Pueblo, who speak several unrelated languages, descent is uniformly matrilineal and residence matrilocal. There is little political development, and the chiefs are primarily priests in small theocratic states. The matrilineal clan groups own agricultural land and houses and control ceremonial power. The women are responsible for the household, but the men do much of the agricultural work as well as carry out the ceremonial activities. The ceremonial calendar is organized in terms of a yearly cycle, and the ceremonies are performed by secret societies whose membership cuts across the clan system, although the “owning” clan provides the chief priest and cares for the ritual paraphernalia. Both rain-making and curing activities are important.

The Eastern Pueblo, particularly the Tanoan-speaking groups on the Rio Grande, utilize irrigation techniques and are not so dependent on rainfall. The Tewa villages, north of Santa Fe, are organized in terms of two patrilineal ceremonial divisions, the Summer People and the Winter People, who alternate in control of the community. The cacique is selected for life and with his assistants exercises strong political and ceremonial control; deviants are forced from the pueblo. There are no clans here, and kinship is essentially bilateral; the extended families are based on bilocal residence. While the Tewa are nominally Catholics, the native religious system is still maintained. There is considerable emphasis on curing, and the medicine societies are important, along with societies concerned with hunting, war, and clowning.

The Keresan-speaking Pueblo in part bridge these differences. The western Keresans are related to the Western Pueblo, but the eastern Keresans on the Rio Grande and its tributaries have moved in part toward the Tewa type of kinship pattern. Here a combination of ecological factors and historical factors, including forced migration and forced acculturation under the Spanish, has resulted in basic differences in social organization and social control, while other culture patterns have remained very similar, if not identical.

The various Apache tribes, along with the Navajo, show considerable variation in social structure and ceremonial organization. The Chiricahua and Mescalero were organized in large bands, under the control of headmen, some of whom became famous war leaders in the struggles against the U.S. Army. Each band was further divided into local groups composed of several matrilocal extended families under the leadership of a prominent man. The Navajo and Western Apache were organized in terms of matrilineal descent, and their clans were grouped into phratries. They had some control of agricultural lands. The Jicarilla Apache had dual ceremonial divisions that participated in races and games. Kinship was generally bilateral, although there was considerable variation in detail. The Apache ceremonial system centered on the girls’ puberty rite, which was accompanied by the dancing of masked spirits. Among the Navajo these rituals were greatly elaborated in a series of ceremonial chants which combined myths, rituals, and sandpaintings to effect cures and harmony. Political centralization was not achieved among any of the southern Athabaskan tribes, although with the advent of the horse they became famous raiders and warriors until they were defeated and placed on reservations.

The Pima and the Papago, along with their neighbors and linguistic relatives to the south, occupy the deserts of southern Arizona and northern Mexico and subsist by irrigated farming and hunting and gathering. The two groups are closely related culturally and linguistically. Both were divided into patrilineal moieties which had ceremonial functions but did not regulate marriage. The Pima and Papago also had patrilineal clans, but in recent times these have had few functions. In the Spanish period the Pima had a tribal organization, with a head chief selected by the village chiefs, but the Papago village units were autonomous, with a headman assisted by a council of adult males. Harvest festivals were held periodically, and the Papago had a summer rain ceremony which centered on the drinking of saguaro cactus wine.

The development, under the stimulus of contacts from the south, of sedentary living in permanent villages was an important accomplishment, and Pueblo culture has shown a vitality even to the present. But it has been limited to areas where water was available and corn, beans, and squash could grow. Some communities have been in the same locality since before Spanish penetration. The advent of Athabaskan nomads from the north and other invaders disturbed the peaceful character of Pueblo life, but a portion of the Athabaskan-speak-ing groups, notably the Navajo and the Western Apache, became farmers and pastoralists and adapted Pueblo social structure and ceremony to their own needs and patterns. Today these groups are further adapting to Western ways but are still maintaining their individuality.

The Plains

The Great Plains were occupied by Indian tribes who had developed a distinctive culture, centered on large-scale bison hunting and warfare. The most typical tribes in the High Plains were seminomadic, but the tribal groups in the prairie Plains to the east divided their time between horticulture and hunting and resided in relatively permanent earthlodge villages along streams. The Plains culture area usually is extended to cover both of these regions, but the differences in social structure make it important to treat them as separate areas.

The High Plains were early occupied by post-Pleistocene large-game hunters, but, by the time of Coronado’s expedition, 1540-1542, the area was only sparsely occupied by foot nomads who followed the bison herds and by sedentary populations who combined horticulture and hunting. The introduction of the horse via the Spanish settlements in New Mexico after a.d. 1600 greatly intensified cultural activities and drew marginal groups with a promise of greater rewards into the High Plains orbit. In this process tribes from both the east and west, as well as from the north, gave up their earlier cultural activities and became typical Plains tribes. Others attempted to exploit both ways of life, dividing their time between sedentary agricultural life and the excitement of buffalo hunting and plains raiding and warfare.

The High Plains. The High Plains were occupied by some dozen tribes who ranged the short grass steppe east of the Rocky Mountains from southern Canada to the Mexican border. They spoke a variety of languages but had come to participate in a common culture pattern centered on the communal hunting of bison, a tribal organization for war and raiding, and the annual performance of the Sun Dance and other tribal ceremonies. In the north and center were the Algonkian-speaking Blackfoot confederacy, and the Gros Ventre, Arap-aho, and Cheyenne, as well as the Siouan-speaking Assiniboin, Crow, and Teton Dakota. In the south were the Kiowa and Kiowa-Apache, and the Sho-shonean-speaking Comanche.

All of the typical tribes were divided into a series of bands which camped and hunted independently for much of the year but which came together during the late spring or summer in the form of a tribal camp circle. The bands ranged in size from 150 to 500 persons and varied in composition. Descent was bilateral, although rules of residence were often matrilocal, thus creating matrilocal extended family units within the bands. Change of band affiliation was possible. The tribal organization came into operation during the summer months. Each band had its position in the circle, and a political organization of selected chiefs set up its lodge within the circle. Warrior or military societies drew their membership from all the bands, and ritual bundles and their keepers had special positions. One warrior society was usually selected as the camp police, acting as the enforcement agency for the council of chiefs. Their main task was to organize and police the communal hunts, where violation of the rules might endanger the community food supply. On these occasions they might whip offenders and destroy their lodges and other property.

The oscillation between band and camp circle was closely related to the habits of the buffalo. During the fall and winter the large herds broke up into small groups and scattered widely, seeking shelter and forage. The Plains populations did likewise in order to survive the winter. With the coming of spring the buffalo came together in larger numbers for the mating season. The horse made communal hunting much more effective and enabled larger tribal aggregations during the summer.

The patterns of warfare and raiding in the Plains were also important factors in the size of the groups. Tribes had to maintain control over hunting areas in order to survive, and smaller groups often established symbiotic relations with larger groups, as when the Kiowa-Apache became a band in the Kiowa tribal camp circle, or the Sarsi joined the Blackfoot confederacy. Horses were essential to later life on the Plains and were normally secured by trade or by raiding. Status was acquired through successful raiding and personal combat.

Within the tribe and band, kinship was important and widely extended. The kinship terminology was bilateral and classificatory, with cousins being classed as siblings for the most part. The High Plains tribes were organized in terms of generations, and relatives, especially “brothers,” had important responsibilities for aid and support. Marriages were contracted outside the range of known kinship and were generally arranged by the family groups. Although variable, residence was often taken up with the wife’s parents or other relatives, since an extended family was more effective than a nuclear family in subsistence activities and protection from raids.

The unity of the tribe was represented by a set of sacred symbols and the performance of tribal rituals as well as in the political activities and the kinship network. The Cheyenne, for example, had four sacred medicine arrows, which were symbolically associated with the tribal welfare. A murder within the tribe polluted the arrows and they had to be cleansed and renewed by the keeper in a special ceremony. The Sun Dance ritual not only dramatized tribal values and activities but was also concerned with the fertility of the buffalo, on which so much depended.

The Prairie Plains. The Prairie Plains area (the Missouri River region and extending into Illinois, southern Wisconsin, and northern Indiana) was occupied by a number of semisedentary tribes who lived in permanent villages and depended primarily on horticulture, with hunting of secondary importance. These groups were organized in much more complex fashion than were the High Plains tribes. Thus the Central Siouans—the Omaha and their neighbors in the lower Missouri region—were organized in terms of patrilineal clans grouped into exogamous moieties. These clans had corporate functions in connection with political and ritual positions, and the dual divisions were symbolically associated with various aspects of nature. In addition, there were societies centering on war and curing, some of which were age-graded. All were involved in the calendric tribal ceremonies. The residence pattern in the earthlodge villages, however, was matrilocal. The women of the lodge cultivated gardens in the bottom lands. But after the planting season, the able-bodied members went on a communal hunt in which they utilized the camp circle, with each clan having a special position and the camp circle reflecting the moiety grouping through patrilocal residence.

Farther north, the Hidatsa and Mandan and the Caddoan-speaking Pawnee and Arikara were organized for the most part in terms of matrilineal descent and matrilocal residence. The Hidatsa and Mandan, Siouan-speaking groups, were also divided into dual divisions which were less well developed, and residence in the earthlodges was matrilocal. The Crow, in the northern High Plains, represents an offshoot from the Hidatsa villages in precontact times who became completely nomadic and gave up agriculture, except for the ceremonial planting of tobacco.

Farther east, the Central Algonkian-speaking tribes—the Fox, Sauk, Illinois, Potawatomi, Miami, Shawnee, and others—developed a social structure very similar to that of the Central Siouans, although not so highly elaborated. Here the populations were early disrupted by Iroquois raids and by the pressures of the fur trade, and life was less sedentary and secure.

The kinship systems of the Prairie Plains tribes were organized in terms of the lineage pattern, with the patrilineal groups having Omaha-type systems and the matrilineal groups having a Crow type. This type of system is consonant with uni-lineal descent and is related to the corporate character of the clan system, since groups of relatives are classed together in terms of the clan and have common duties and responsibilities.

This brief comparison indicates that the social structures of the two regions contrast at almost every point and reflect, in part at least, the ecological adjustments which have been made. The social structures of the Prairie Plains are more highly specialized and developed, and they are organized for stability and continuity over time. The High Plains tribes, on the other hand, have a much more flexible structure, based on generation rather than on descent, which is more adapted to the uncertain conditions of Plains life. We know that many of the High Plains groups are recent migrants into the area, and it is evident that tribes with different social structures have come to conform to a common type. In the case of groups such as the Crow, we find that they are halfway between their Hidatsa relatives and their High Plains neighbors, and they illustrate the way in which a specialized social structure is remodeled to meet the new social and ecological conditions which require greater flexibility for survival of the society. On the other hand, groups coming out of the Great Basin into the High Plains, such as the Comanche and the Wind River Shoshone, had to strengthen their tribal structure to maintain their positions among the tribes already there.

The eastern culture areas

The Indian tribes occupying the forested regions of eastern North America show considerable cultural variation, but much less than the variation noted for western North America. About half the aboriginal population resided in the east, if we include the Plains populations, and this is the region first colonized by the French and English. Three centuries and more of contact resulted in most of the Indians being killed off, driven out, or removed to western reservations, so that only remnants remain today in their original habitat.

Modern archeology shows the extension of Clovis and some other large-game hunting traditions into this region, following the melting of the ice sheets. This early period was followed by a long Archaic period, in which adaptation to the new forest conditions was established, including the utilization of acorns, wild plants, and mussels and fish. The introduction of agriculture was slow, but it led to an increase in population and archeological cultures, such as Adena, Hopewell, and Middle Mississippi, with elaborate earthworks and art styles reminiscent of Middle America.

The Indians of the region spoke a variety of languages—Algonkian in the north, Iroquoian in the central areas, and Muskogean and Siouan in the south and east, along with some groups not yet classified. Recent evidence that Algonkian is genetically related to Muskogean and the Gulf languages, along with the probability that Siouan and Iroquoian belong together and are distantly related to Muskogean, suggests a common linguistic basis for the general cultural unity of the whole region.

The eastern forest zone is conveniently divided into a number of culture areas, in part on the basis of whether or not agriculture is possible. The Eastern Subarctic encompasses the region north of the Great Lakes and St. Lawrence River and is inhabited by Algonkian-speaking groups who depended on hunting and fishing in much the same manner as their Athabaskan-speaking neighbors to the west. The Northeastern culture area includes the Iroquoian-speaking tribes of the eastern Great Lakes and their Algonkian neighbors. All or most of these groups practiced agriculture, some of them intensively, and social organization was much more elaborate than in the west. The Southeast culture area centered on the Muskogean-speaking tribes in the south and the Iroquoian, Cherokee, and Siouan Catawba in the east, along with marginal groups speaking other languages.

The Eastern Subarctic. The tribes of the Eastern Subarctic region are generally known as the Northeastern Algonkians, and include the Mon-tagnais-Naskapi of the Labrador Peninsula and the closely related Cree to the west, as well as the Ojibwa and their neighbors, the Ottawa and Potawatomi, who resided near the northern Great Lakes and were later forced west and south under pressures from the fur trade and the Iroquois raids. The Northeastern Algonkians numbered about 60,000, the Ojibwa comprising half of this total, with the population density increasing from north to south in terms of the ecology.

All of these groups were organized in small bands which resided together during the summer but which often broke up into family groups during the winter. The Naskapi, on the edge of the Labrador barren grounds, hunted the migratory caribou during the summer and depended on small game and fish during the winter. The Montagnais to the south divided the forested region into “family hunting territories,” each of which was utilized by two or three related families during the winter and guarded by rules of trespass and conservation. This system, earlier believed to be aboriginal, is now thought to be a reaction to the fur trade.

Within the small bands, which were under the leadership of a headman, kinship was bilateral and cross-cousin marriage was practiced, although in later times Catholic acculturation caused its partial abandonment in many groups. The kinship system is in accordance with these marriage practices, indicating a considerable period of development.

The northern Ojibwa show a similar kinship base and also practice cross-cousin marriage, but in addition they have developed a patrilineal clan-phratry organization which controls marriage and facilitates visiting but does not greatly affect community life. The southern Ojibwa who were forced west and south, however, have given up cross-cousin marriage and developed a more elaborate clan system, supported by more abundant food resources and a greater population density. The Potawatomi, close linguistic relatives, show a clear shift from this pattern to the Central Algonkian patterns, where the clans become corporate groups and an Omaha pattern of kinship develops, as noted in the Prairie Plains. On the other hand, the Ojibwa who moved onto the Plains developed a Plains pattern of social organization and kinship, giving up both the clan organization and cross-cousin marriage.

Political organization was little developed in this area, and the tribal chiefs were largely the creation of white administrators. Warfare was relatively rare and there is some evidence that the populations moved into this region as a result of raids by the Iroquois and other groups farther south. Religion was simple, being based on shamanism. Animals were believed to be controlled by deities who had them in their charge and might withdraw them if taboos and customs were violated.

The Northeast. The tribes of the Iroquois confederacy, along with the Huron, Erie, and other Iroquoian groups, occupied the Lake Ontario region, thus separating the Central Algonkians who expanded southward from the western Great Lakes and the Eastern Algonkian tribes who occupied the coastal regions from the St. Lawrence River south to the Chesapeake Bay. The conflicts between the Iroquois and the Algonkians, aided and abetted by English and French rivalries, played an important role in New World politics and did not cease until after the colonies became independent in 1776.

The Iroquois proper—the Mohawk, Oneida, Onondaga, Cayuga, and Seneca—occupied the Finger Lakes region in upper New York State and are perhaps the best-known tribes of American Indians. When first discovered they were as far north as the St. Lawrence, but archeological research has demonstrated a long period of development in their historic homeland. The Iroquois never numbered more than a few thousand, but their skill in warfare and their abilities in political organization led to their control of the whole region south of the Great Lakes and north of the Ohio River.

The Iroquois were organized in matrilineal exog-amous clans which were grouped into dual divisions for political and ceremonial purposes. In the early historic period each clan segment, or lineage, lived in a longhouse, with the husbands joining their wives at marriage. Women were responsible for most of the agricultural activities, while the men did the hunting and went on raids or to war. The villages were relatively small and moved periodically as the soil became exhausted.

Sometime around a.d. 1600 the Iroquois tribes established a confederation on the model of their tribal councils. The confederation operated with a council composed of fifty chiefs, or sachems, drawn unevenly from the five tribes, with each position being hereditary within a particular lineage. These chiefs were always male, but they were selected by the women of the controlling lineage and confirmed by the moiety and tribe before installation. The council of the League of the Iroquois was primarily concerned with external affairs, such as war and peace and treaties with the Europeans. Each tribe had its own council for internal affairs. The decisions of the council were arrived at by consensus, after much oratory and debate, since the League could act only when the members were unanimous. The confederation foundered when it was unable to agree on whether to support their British allies or the Americans in the Revolutionary War, and some fled to Canada after the British defeat, where they still reside.

The Iroquois held a number of major religious ceremonies which were calendrical and concerned with agriculture, various wild crops, the curing of illness, and thanksgiving for the new year. The organization of the League was not concerned with religious rituals, with the exception of the condolence ceremony on the death of a sachem, which was conducted by the opposite moiety, and the ritual of installation for a new member. In the period of disorganization following the Revolutionary War and the defeat of Iroquois forces, a new religious movement arose, called the Handsome Lake religion, after its founder. Today this is the longhouse religion of the pagan Iroquois, which is preserved on their various reservations and maintains Iroquois values in the face of general acculturation.

The tribes to the west of the Iroquois, including their linguistic relatives the Huron, were largely decimated in wars for control of the fur trade or forced to take refuge in areas beyond Lake Michigan. We have noted the Central Algonkian-speak-ing tribes in connection with the prairie Plains. All practiced some agriculture and were divided into patrilineal clans and ceremonial moieties, for the most part. There is some evidence, as for the Potawatomi, that several of these tribes once had a social organization similar to that of the northern Ojibwa, based on cross-cousin marriage and a simple clan system. The increased population brought about by better conditions for agriculture and the need for protection against raids led to the development of a more complex social structure based on corporate lineages and an Omaha kinship system, similar to that of their Central Siouan neighbors. Here there was considerable interaction and borrowing, but the two developments are partly independent.

The Eastern Algonkians had much in common, culturally, but they ranged from the Micmac, Penobscot, and Abnaki, who were primarily dependent upon hunting and fishing, through the Massachusetts and other southern New England tribes, who practiced maize agriculture to some extent, to the Delaware and Powhatan groups in the Chesapeake Bay region, who were intensive agriculturalists. The northern tribes had a social organisation much like that of the Northeastern Algonkians, although the bands were somewhat larger and had a greater emphasis on patrilocality, particularly with regard to the family hunting territory groups. The southern New England tribes appear briefly in the early historic accounts, but were wiped out by newly introduced diseases before their social organization could be investigated. Farther south, the Delaware and Powhatan confederacy had matrilineal emphases, a reflection of their position on the margins of the Southeast, but they also had hunting territories.

The Southeast. The tribes of the Southeast occupied a solid block of territory east of the Mississippi and south of the Ohio. In general, they conformed to a single culture type, although the Calusa and other groups in Florida and the coastal tribes west of the Mississippi were nonagricultural and varied considerably from the central groups. The Choctaw, Chickasaw, Creek, and Seminole, along with the Natchez, spoke Muskogean, as probably did the now extinct Calusa, while the Cherokee and Tuscarora spoke Iroquoian, and the Yuchi and Tutelo spoke Siouan. The Muskogean-speaking tribes participated in the development of the middle Mississippi cultural tradition and expanded into the Southeast about a century or two before De Soto. Most of these tribes divided their subsistence activities between agriculture and hunting, and they had developed fairly large populations. Thus the Creeks numbered about 20,000, the Seminole 5,000, the Choctaw 15,000, the Chickasaw 5,000, and the Cherokee about 25,000, with smaller numbers for marginal groups.

The population of each tribe resided in “towns” organized around a ceremonial square. The households were scattered among the agricultural plots rather than being concentrated around the center. Each town had a civil chief and a war chief, and this pattern was repeated for the larger groupings into districts and tribes. In some tribes there was a further division of the towns into “red” towns, associated with war, and “white” towns, associated with peace. Each tribe had a system of social classes as well—chiefs, honored men, warriors, and commoners, the last not active in war.

The social structure of the major tribes conformed to a common pattern, based on matrilineal descent and matrilocal residence. Each tribe was composed of a number of matrilineal clans, usually named after animals or birds, which were further grouped into phratries or moieties. Thus the Choctaw originally had their clans grouped into two great matrilineal moieties, which were exogamous, and the Creek had an even more complicated system. The kinship systems were all of the matrilineal lineage, or Crow type, with extensions based on the clan. In each town the households were occupied by an extended family based on matrilocal residence, the husband coming to live in a residence adjacent to his wife’s relatives. The women of the household cultivated gardens in common and gathered fruits and nuts, while the men hunted or went to war.

A number of marginal groups developed variant structures on this basic pattern. Thus the Yuchi had a division of the men into two patrilineal societies, “chiefs” and “warriors,” which crosscut the clan system. These societies were symbolically associated with “peace” and “war” respectively, and they were important in both ceremonial and political life. The Natchez had developed a more complex pattern of social stratification and marriage, as well as a theocratic political system. However, few Natchez survived the French period, and we know little as to the details of how their social system actually worked. For the Calusa of southern Florida, a fairly large but nonagricultural group, there is evidence from the Spanish records of a stratified society with elaborate religious activities; this appears to have a different archeological history.

Everywhere there were similar ceremonial systems, centering on rituals in the town square and culminating in the harvest festival and beginning of the new year. In addition to a variety of shaman-istic performers, there was a class of “fasting men,” or doctors, who had regular instruction in schools and who both cured individuals and protected the community against witches and other supernatural dangers. In the town rituals the social position of the various classes and groups was symbolically expressed, and tribal welfare was emphasized.

There was a dual pattern of chieftainship, with a civil or peace chief who was generally chosen from the same clan as his predecessor, and a war chief, who might also come from a designated clan. Each had a staff of assistants. The civil chief was responsible for town affairs and the settlement of legal disputes, and the war chief was responsible for taking charge when war was decided by the council. War was carried out with much ritual, and captives were sometimes burned or enslaved.

Because of their location between the French, Spanish, and English colonies, the southeastern tribes were subject to intense pressures in the eighteenth century and were forced to organize more effectively or face extinction. Under the leadership of the Creek towns, a confederacy was formed which ultimately included every major tribe in the Southeast, and for a while it was able to act as a unit against the Europeans. But with the retirement of the French and Spaniards the newly established United States, under President Andrew Jackson, began the task of removing all the southeastern tribes to Indian Territory, beginning with the Choctaw in 1832.

In Indian Territory, the Five Civilized Tribes, as the Creek, Choctaw, Chickasaw, Cherokee, and Seminole were called, made remarkable progress under the guidance of Indian agents, missionaries, and army officers, despite all the difficulties and tragedies incident to removal and the later Civil War. Ultimately their lands were allotted, and they became citizens in the new state of Oklahoma. However, a few conservative groups still maintain their language and certain traditional customs, and different groups participate in the Pan-Indian movement, which centers on powwows and social dances.

Summary and conclusions

This brief survey of cultural patterns and social organization in various regions of North America indicates that their development is much more complex than is generally realized. It also suggests that modern social anthropology has developed methods which make possible a more adequate synthesis and interpretation of North American society and culture than we now possess. It has done so not by rejecting the work of earlier students interested in culture history and process but by combining their historical and processual interests with the structural-functional approach of modern social anthropology. Ultimately it should be possible to extend this type of analysis to the whole of the New World and present a reconstruction of culture history that will be satisfying to both historians and social scientists.

Lewis H. Morgan, the pioneer student of American Indian social organization, concluded that all Indians had similar social systems and were at the same stage of evolutionary development. But he was able to survey only the tribes east of the Rocky Mountains and thus had a very inadequate sample. Franz Boas and his students rejected Morgan’s evolutionary stages and emphasized diffusion and borrowing as the major processes in culture building. But in doing so they broke culture into units, rather than treating it as a functional system, and the resulting reconstructions of culture history on the basis of trait distributions turned out to be too simple. [SeeBoas; Morgan, Lewis Henry.]

Over fifty years ago, Edward Sapir, in Time Perspective in Aboriginal American Culture: A Study in Method (1916), outlined the procedures for reconstructing culture history, but their implementation required both the collection of new data from archeology, ethnology, and linguistics and the development of new methods and techniques, as well as a more modern point of view. Social anthropology, by initially concentrating on social structures and their functions, and by looking at them as adaptive systems, has developed a more adequate basis for comparison, both synchronically and over time. This method of controlled comparison, as I have called it, utilizes the archeological record, the linguistic relationships, the historical accounts, and the ethnographic data to evaluate the similarities and differences which are found by comparison and to isolate the factors, ecological or social, which may be involved. As the frame of comparison becomes more precise, so do the conclusions. [SeeSapir.]

The summary account presented above includes mainly the ingredients for a new synthesis and interpretation of American Indian society and culture, but it also foreshadows some of the results. One important factor has been the growing recognition of the significance of the environment with regard to cultural development. American anthropologists, led by Boas, had rejected environmental determinism in its extreme forms and came to view the environment as essentially neutral, considering the coincidences of geographical area and culture type to be primarily the results of the cultural processes of diffusion and borrowing. The modern view of ecology, which presents society, technology, and the environment in dynamic interaction, has had important consequences for social anthropology in emphasizing the processes of social and cultural adaptation and in setting limits to population size and density. In almost every area we have surveyed, the ecological factors have played a significant role, both directly and through their effects on population. But it is also important to note that societies at different levels of cultural complexity have different relationships with the environment.

The Athabaskan-speaking peoples offer an opportunity to illustrate the possibilities of the methods of comparison and points of view we have been discussing. From their western Subarctic base in interior Alaska and northwestern Canada, which almost certainly represents their homeland in North America, they have migrated at determinable times to the adjacent Northwest Coast, to northwest California and the Oregon coast, to the High Plains, and to the Southwest. In each of these regions, including their homeland, they have developed new adaptations and have interacted with their neighbors to produce new social and cultural forms. Here we can compare peoples with similar social and cultural institutions going into different ecological conditions. Conversely, a close comparison of peoples moving into a relatively uniform ecological area, such as the High Plains, illustrates what happens when groups with different social systems and cultural patterns enter into interaction in a similar environment. In such situations we have some approximation of experimental conditions, and from them we can develop hypotheses to test elsewhere.

Our knowledge about social structures can also be further developed, both by seeing how they change under new conditions and by noting the degree to which variant types can achieve the same ends. Social structures have tasks to perform and they change in predictable ways. Unlike culture patterns, there seem to be a limited number of stable forms of social structure, although there may be considerable latitude in their operation. Here we can learn a great deal by studying what has happened to American Indian societies as they have been placed on reservations or have partially merged with white society. The great amount of documentary data available in the various archives of Canada and the United States is just beginning to be exploited and will ultimately result in the revision of our histories of Indian-white contacts. We can also see, as with the Five Civilized Tribes removed to Oklahoma, that similar changes in social structures have taken place under similar types of acculturation pressure. We can utilize what we learn about regularities of change and the relative effectiveness of different forms of social structure for different purposes in order to further interpret the archeological record. Here archeolo-gists are reconstructing paleoenvironments through the utilization of pollen analysis and other techniques and are providing new data on settlement patterns and household activities. By means of cluster analysis techniques, utilizing computers to develop the various combinations, it is beginning to be possible to present hypotheses as to the nature of residence and descent patterns in prehistoric communities with a considerable degree of confidence and in favorable instances to note changes in such patterns over time. [SeeArcheology, article Onreseach methods.]

These and other developments have revived the interest of anthropologists in social and cultural evolution. Morgan viewed the American Indians as essentially at the same stage of evolutionary development, although he had to reduce the Aztecs to an Iroquois-style confederacy to do so. He likewise thought that the stages of savagery, barbarism, and civilization were connected with one another “in a natural as well as necessary sequence of progress” and that this sequence was historically true as well. But he also made an important distinction between social evolution and cultural evolution, although they were interrelated in his grand scheme. Social evolution was concerned with domestic institutions that express the growth of certain ideas and passions and unfold in a certain order, whereas cultural evolution was concerned with the great sequence of inventions and discoveries that were cumulative and progressive, and ultimately led to modern civilization.

The summary data presented above confirms the views of most anthropologists that Morgan’s conception of necessary sequences is erroneous. But anthropologists are more interested than ever in social and cultural development and its possible regularities. Archeologists find V. Gordon Childe’s reformulation of archeological stages and cultural revolutions useful and stimulating, although the evidence from both Mexico and the Southwest indicating that the domestication of food plants took some 1,500 years to become effective does not sound particularly revolutionary.

The data do suggest, however, that social systems are quite sensitive to new conditions of various types and that it may be possible to generalize these changes in more satisfactory form. Thus G. P. Murdock, in a preliminary survey of “North American Social Organization,” concluded that “…the North American Indians are basically characterized by social systems of bilateral type and have acquired unilinear systems only here and there, not through any single evolutionary process nor through successive waves of diffusion, but independently in widely separated regions in response to peculiarly favorable local conditions” (1955, p. 95). Edward Spicer and his collaborators, in Perspectives in American Indian Culture Change (see Interuniversity …1961), have begun to deal with the complexities of culture-contact situations and the processes of change in terms of documentary and other records. My own view is that the situation is even more complex than Murdock envisages and that there has been an alternation between simple, flexible social systems and more complex and specialized social systems as the ecological social conditions that groups have to adapt to change or are modified. This is a working hypothesis that can be applied to the whole range of New World societies and that can be tested, in part at least, with the more sophisticated archeological methods now being developed; it emphasizes adaptation as a cultural process but suggests that there are recurring conditions which result in similar forms, as well as the obvious borrowings through interaction and contact. The resulting evolutionary sequences will be complex, but they will have an empirical historical base that Morgan did not provide.

Fred Eggan

[Other relevant material may be found inEcology, article oncultural ecology; Ethnology; Kinship; Stateless society; Tribal society.]


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