Sociopolitical organization is complicated by the presence of sometimes conflicting forms of land tenure and systems introduced at different times by the Spaniards and Mexicans that crosscut traditional organization. There are two forms of communal land tenure present in the region. The comunidad is an older, indigenous form, in which land is held patrilineally and inherited by sons or widows. The ejido is a form of communal land-tenure system provided for in the constitution of 1917, following the Mexican Revolution. It allocated communal lands to applicants—whether Indian, mestizo, or together—to be held as long as the land is used economically. Under the ejidal system, land is not officially or legally inheritable, but actual practice often violates this proviso. An elected body of officials governs the ejido and its economic business. Residential units found within ejidos and comunidades include towns and rancherías.
Comunidades are governed by a popularly elected asamblea (assembly of voting members), who decide upon matters presented and select minor political and economic officials. The asamblea officers include the traditional gobernador, representatives from each of the anexos, and others who act as police and church assistants, as well as those who announce and conduct religious ceremonies and similar activities. Overlapping this group—and conflicting with them—are ejidal officers, in those instances where the ejido controls the land-tenure system. A comisario is elected for a three-year term to transact business with lumber companies (where sawmills exploiting ejidal forest land are present); other officials supervise sawmills, work in the forest, watch over forest exploitation according to established rules, and deal with officials of the Secretaría de la Reforma Agraria, the federal agency that oversees and adjudicates matters regarding ejidos.
The traditional gobernador (ixkai) is responsibile for public works, supervision of communal work, maintaining public order, and ceremonies honoring the community's patron saint. In some communities he is also in charge of the xiotahl ritual (see "Religion and Expressive Culture"), judges minor cases of crime and family disputes, and imposes punishment as necessary. The gobernador segundo acts in the place of the former in his absence. Regidores act as the gobernador's messengers. Alguaciles are in charge of keeping order and dispensing punishment (such as whippings) in some cases. The topil is an assistant. The position of teportado is filled by a youth who accompanies the governor during fiestas and calls the community by beating a drum. The kapchin is charged with matters dealing with boundaries. The alférez and others are assistants in communal religious and political matters, for instance, keeping order during Holy Week.
Religious festivals are held on days designated by the Catholic church (e.g., Holy Week) and to celebrate the patron saint's day. Mayordomías, officers within a cargosystem hierarchy, are in charge of this important festival. Mayordomos are in control, with assistants called priostas ; pasioneros accompany the image of the saint, and a fiscal is the sacristan in charge of the images of the saints. The numbers and duties of these officials vary from community to community. Generally, they are in charge of the appropriate traditional performance of the ceremonies, the operation of communal kitchens, and keeping order during the ritual.
The political system is overlaid with systems of personal influence, municipal jurisdictions and officials, and political activities dealing with national, state, and municipal elections. Unofficial governance, influence, and power is also imposed by caciques, local bosses who enforce their rule through violence and torture. The municipio is divided into manzanas , or cuarteles, each with an appointed chief who may act as a parallel authority and often displaces the traditional ixkai. A Supreme Council of the Tepehuan has been created to provide a single voice for the whole of the Southern Tepehuan, but it seems to have little authority. Political parties such as the Partido del Pueblo Mexicano (PPM) and others are making their appearance in some communities to oppose the ruling state party, the Partido Revolucionario Institucional (PRI).