Quechan - Sociopolitical Organization

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Social Organization. There may have been gradations of status in Quechan families, but the basis for them is not clear. Individual ritualists and leaders possessing dream power had high prestige, as did warriors of exceptional bravery. The Several rancherías were largely autonomous social units for much of the year. Quechan tribal structure became apparent during large war expeditions, harvest festivals, and major rituals mourning the death of prominent people. On the modern reservation the tribal identity has replaced most of the older ranchería identity. The elderly as a group are publicly treated with respect.

Political Organization. Most of the time the rancherías operated as autonomous political entities, each with a headman noted for his wisdom and speaking ability. He served at the will of his ranchería and was expected to be generous with his time and property. The key to leaders' effectiveness was the special power derived from dreams; this power was manifest in their performance. There were both civil leaders and war leaders. Traditionally these leadership positions were held by males. Since 1938 the tribe has been governed by an elected seven-member tribal council. Women have often been elected to the council, and the first woman tribal president was elected in 1987.

Social Control. Gossip was probably a frequently used mechanism of social control in the past; it continues to be the most popular means. Sorcery and occasionally murder were used against repeated and flagrant social deviance. Late in the 1800s a Quechan leader reportedly ordered public floggings for drunkards, but such punishment of misbehavior may not be traditional. Children were and are scolded for misbehavior, but seldom spanked. In the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries government superintendents, with their appointed agency police force, upheld federal law on the reservation. Responsibility for both civil and criminal cases now lies with the Imperial County, California, sheriff's office; the federal government remains the law enforcement authority for major crimes on the reservation.

Conflict. The natural lines of conflict traditionally were between rancherías, and after European contact the most serious conflicts erupted over how best to deal with Whites. Despite changes in specific issues, this has persisted as a fundamental source of political factionalism. Another is the performance of elected tribal officials. Now factions consist of clusters of close relatives.


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