Copper Eskimo - Sociopolitical Organization



Social Organization. Although the ties of kinship beyond the nuclear family were less pronounced than in other Eskimo societies, there were several ways of extending such linkages. One was spouse exchange, as the children of couples engaged in this practice were regarded as quasi siblings. Adoption also served to create ties between the parental donor and recipient couples. There were, in addition, a number of dyadic relationships that taken together created a multiplicity of ties exclusive of or incidental to kinship. Partnerships in dancing, Together with the creation of spouse exchange partnerships, provided mechanisms whereby travelers could gain peaceful entry into aggregations of Copper Eskimo other than their usual groups of association. Joking partnerships and song partnerships were other means of formalizing friendships. Given the absence of compulsory sharing of meat beyond the nuclear family, the system of seal-sharing partnerships was the most important insurance against shortages. Each hunter had a roster of men with whom he exchanged specific parts of the seal, a practice that helped compensate for the vagaries of the hunt. Meat was also shared through communal eating, which, though not compulsory, was widely practiced within local groupings during any season.

Political Organization. The Copper Eskimo cannot be said to have had anything that could be properly labeled Political organization or government. There were no chiefs. Shamans were believed to have supernatural powers, but their secular influence was limited. Certain men were respected for their judgment or helped organize hunts, but such status did not extend automatically beyond the immediate situation.

Social Control and Conflict. Certain men were feared for their aggressiveness or violent tendencies, but they almost invariably met with violent ends themselves. The high rate of homicide among the Copper Eskimo attests to the ineffectiveness of social control mechanisms. The vengeance acts of the blood feud were one area of kinship that extended beyond the nuclear family. During the earlier years of the Royal Canadian Mounted Police (RCMP) presence, a number of homicides were investigated and several individuals punished under Canadian law. But in traditional times, about the only means of social control were executions of especially troublesome individuals, derision singing, and, simply, withdrawal from local groups where one might feel antagonisms. In the recent period of centralized living the Copper Eskimo have been involved in only a few conflict situations, most related to alcohol-induced violence. While early contacts between Whites and Copper Eskimo were usually of a peaceful nature, there were several early homicides that did involve priests, traders, and the RCMP.


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