Social Organization. Organization was hierarchical, with status conferred by inherited position and special knowledge. Those developing new environmental knowledge, craft skill, or running speed acquired status. Hard work, precision, neatness, and industriousness contributed to status and wealth. Individuals could shift from band to band if land were available and the new group willing. Subservient landless persons existed and had no voice in band affairs.
Political Organization. Each band was independent, but was part of a Kumeyaay federation under a tribal leader, Kuchut Kwataay, who managed relations and ceremonies with other tribes, participated in solving interband disputes, organized defense, and managed tribal communications with a system of lookouts and relay runners carrying messages or warning of enemies. Each band also had a Kwaaypaay (capitan or leader), who managed band social, economic, Political, and religious affairs aided by a council of shamans (priests, singers, sun, and ecological specialists). Unlike the case in some neighboring tribes, a leader did not command, but was followed when found competent and knowledgeable. A primary duty was to adjudicate disputes within the band. At his death, all Kwaaypaay met to choose a successor from among their trained sons, one without sib mates or close kin in the band. By 1885, tribal and band leadership was underground, suppressed by Indian agents' requirements for annual elections of men obedient to the agent and by the attack on religion. Traditional leaders began organizations opposing government actions and bringing lawsuits against the government. Public Law 280 ended the need for opposition; Gradually, elected councils and chairmen began managing reservation affairs. Often they are descendants of traditional leaders.
Social Control. Social control devices included shaming and teasing for minor offenses, fear of witchcraft, whipping, and exile for major offenses, and death for murder and witchcraft. Under the Indian agents, untrained police were often abusive as were the opposition tribal police. Now civil and criminal offenses are under state law ineffectually enforced by county sheriffs and local courts. Because traditional sanctions are not allowed, in effect none exist.
Conflict. Conflict occurred over trespass by stealing plants from family, band, or tribal land, or hunting on another band's land. After 1846, conflict developed over how to deal with Indian agents—whether to obey them or fight them in courts and Congress. While most agree on desired results, disagreements continue over economic development and preservation of land, and for some, over major issues resulting from Bureau of Indian Affairs actions.