Chipewyan - Sociopolitical Organization

Social Organization. Aboriginally, hunting groups linked by ties of marriage and descent constituted local bands averaging between fifty and sixty persons. Several local bands, in turn, made up regional bands of two hundred to four hundred persons who identified with particular caribou wintering areas and migration routes. In the mid-nineteenth century five such regional bands existed. The organization of local and Regional bands remained fairly well intact until the mid-twentieth century when increasing sedentization resulted in the deterioration of larger group identity and solidarity.

Political Organization. Positions of leadership embodying power and authority were not present among the aboriginal and early-contact Chipewyan; however, individuals with unique proven ability were accorded respect and influence. Such men were often hunting group and band leaders. After contact, participation in the fur trade and the desire of Europeans to deal with groups rather than individuals led to the development of the trading chief whose responsibility it was to command small expeditions to European trading posts. In 1900 the Canadian government created the position of chief in order to facilitate its official dealings with the Chipewyan. Until the 1930s this elected position was occupied by Respected leaders, but since that time the position has lost much of its influence as Chipewyan have tended to interact with the government on a more individual basis.

Conflict and Social Control. In the past the fluidity of local and regional band structure served to diffuse group tensions. This outlet, however, has become increasingly less available as the Chipewyan have settled in permanent Villages. In the mid-twentieth century the tensions resulting from settled life and the concentration of large groups of People from different local bands have been exacerbated by the breakdown of traditional patterns of sharing and cooperation under the influence of a cash economy. In response to these tensions, some families have returned to the more nomadic hunting and trapping way of life in the bush.

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