Sociopolitical Organization and Social Control. The best way to depict Tepehuan sociopolitical organization is to visualize it as nested in hierarchical strata of national, state, local, and cultural sociopolitical systems. The matter is further complicated by the presence of mixed populations of Tepehuan, Tarahumara, and mestizos wherein officeholders represent the dominant group in any single community. There are national and state representatives of various agencies, ranging from those who control Indian affairs to those who maintain roads and members of the state judiciary. Locally, the complexity of organization begins with the municipio. Elected leaders include the president of the municipio and those in charge of policing and other services. Land-tenure organizations such as ejidos and comunidades have leadership structures and responsibility for—and control of—land; the comunidad is more likely to have total Indian autonomy. Ejidos are governed by a president of the ejido commission, a secretary, a treasurer, and a president of the oversight council ( consejo de vigilancia ). Comunidades have a governor ( gobernador ), a vice governor ( segundo gobernador ), auxiliary secretary ( seer exario auxiliar ), and a police commissioner ( comisario de policía ). They make decisions in group meetings (asambleas), at which all male and some female members vote.
Pueblos are townships that act as centers of governance for surrounding rancherías. The pueblo hierarchy combines elements of ancient and colonial ritual and bureaucracy. Each gobernancia (pueblo) elects a gobernador, an assistant for a two-year term, and other officials dealing with policing. The capitán-general, appointed by the gobernadores, oversees all six regions, and along with an assistant and seven justicias, is the guardian of order and justice. Traditionally, punishment for serious offenses was public whipping in the churchyard, clearly another European custom learned from the Spanish missionaries. Meetings are held every other Sunday when the gobernador calls together the justicias to hear and resolve complaints. A lower tier of officials serves shorter terms and carries out ceremonial duties dealing with the maintenance of the church and the organizing of fiestas. The residential units, the rancherías, do not have a governing structure. The only person with quasi-authority and influence is the native curer.
Some towns are divided into subsections by common references to "the people of arriba " (those who live upstream) and "the people of abajo " (those who live downstream). This division is most apparent in the loyalties and rivalries that are expressed during ceremonies, the popular foot races and ball games that take place during fiestas, and in the elaborate political hierarchy. Arriba-abajo distinctions are common throughout Latin American small towns and are not moiety divisions in the strict ethnological sense; however, they may be utilized in this manner by some indigenous groups.