Micmac - Sociopolitical Organization



Social Organization. In early postcontact times, men held superior status, though women had equality and greater Status in some respects. Elder men and women were sought for their advice and approval. Presently, ability with the English language and success off the reserve or in business brings the most prestige. Although men have lost status since they ceased subsistence hunting and fishing, they still hold the bulk of political and domestic authority. As in early postContact times, identification as a member of an extended family is of central importance. There are no economic classes. Micmac are organized by the federal government into bands; usually, one reserve is assigned to each band.

Political Organization. The traditional saqmaw (sachem or sagamore), translated by the Micmac as "chief," was actually a headman or big man who ruled a particular area demarcated by bays or rivers. His power came from his position in a large, wealthy, well-allied family and sometimes as well from his ability to instill fear in his followers through sorcery. His activities included the redistribution of wealth, the leading of war parties, the conclusion of agreements with other chiefs, other Indian peoples, and colonial governments, and the adjudication of intragroup civil disputes. Preponderantly, chiefs gave their positions to their sons. There is evidence that Micmac individuals and nuclear families were often quite mobile, not always remaining within the territory of a single chief. After the end of the colonial wars, the British banished most Roman Catholic priests from the region, and the prime duty of the chiefs became to lead prayer and speak on Religious subjects. From the late nineteenth through the mid-twentieth centuries, traditional chiefs were replaced one by one with chiefs elected under the provisions of the Indian Act; the last traditional chiefs to be replaced were the Members of the Grand Council, a unified body of chiefs who governed the Micmac of Cape Breton Island, the traditional Micmac "head district." The Grand Council survives, but has lost real authority. The Indian Act chiefs, and the councilors who assist them, are democratically elected and work as employees of the Department of Indian Affairs primarily as Bureaucratic administrators of government aid.

Social Control. Ostracism remains the most important form of social control. In cases of serious wrongdoing, it Usually results in the offender leaving the community for months or years. Otherwise, the saqmaw lectured wrongdoers and, in later times, brought them to the police. Today, Micmac Police officers control criminal behavior. Revenge has Traditionally played a great role in social control, and the threat of revenge serves to circumscribe the offender's social circle.

Conflict. Politically, divisiveness occurs along geographic-linguistic lines. The Union of Nova Scotia Indians, created by the federal government, is often split into two factions: one lives on Cape Breton and speaks Micmac; the other lives on the mainland and most of its members do not speak Micmac. The Union of New Brunswick Indians often experiences schisms along Micmac-Maliseet lines. These disputes are Usually over allocations of federal funds and Micmac representation to the federal government. There are also rivalries Between bands, usually played out among young adults in organized sporting events and occasionally in fights. In matters of love, some women will occasionally fight over men, though men almost never fight over women. Most violence involves alcohol. When interpersonal conflict occurs, the extended family functions as a group to ostracize the outsider or to exact revenge.


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