Catawba - Sociopolitical Organization

Social Organization. Until the early nineteenth century, men achieved status through their skills as hunters, warriors, and speakers. Age conferred status on both men and women. Women, who enjoyed equal status with men, may also have acquired status through their skills as potters—a status that may have increased in the nineteenth century as pottery's economic role became more important. Although surrounded after 1750 by a slave-owning culture, the Catawba owned few slaves themselves. Indeed, they tended to shun African-Americans.

Political Organization. Towns were largely independent before the arrival of Europeans, with each town possessing a council of elders, a headman, and a war captain. At some point in the early colonial period the six or seven villages that came to compose the core of the Catawba Nation developed a tribal government along the same lines as the town political organization: a chief ( eractasswa ), apparently always drawn from a specific kin group, was selected by a council made up of leaders from each town. During the eighteenth century, refugee groups—Cheraw, Wateree, and others—from other parts of the Piedmont arrived in the Catawba Nation, built their own towns, and participated in this national council until eventually they were thoroughly incorporated into Catawba culture.

In 1944, as part of their agreement with the federal Government, the Catawba drew up a formai constitution along the lines laid down in the Indian Reorganization Act (1934). Federal termination ended this constitutional government, but the basic political structure of chief and council continues today, with every adult member of the tribe eligible to vote for these officers.

Social Control. Until the late nineteenth century the maintenance of order among Catawbas was left to the tribe. Ostracism and ridicule were vital elements in ensuring good behavior, but more serious crimes such as homicide often led to revenge by the kin of the victim. Since the late nineteenth century the Catawba have been subject to the laws of the surrounding society. In addition, Mormon codes of conduct have been important in setting the standards of behavior.

Conflict. Alcohol was a common cause of violence in the eighteenth century; early in the next century, rights to land leases on the reservation were a point of contention between families. Apparently the decision to sell the reservation in 1840 was also a source of conflict, as was the debate about whether to remove to the west. The decision to terminate the nation's relationship with the federal government divided the Catawba in 1959, and today there are disagreements over the best strategy for seeking compensation for the Treaty of Nation Ford, which was never ratified by Congress as federal law requires.

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