Social Organization. In aboriginal times, age conferred the greatest status on individuals. Younger men and women participated about equally in decision making, given that each had important roles in subsistence. Distinctions based on wealth were lacking. Only the shaman was in part supported by the group. Generosity and sharing, as primary values, function even today as leveling mechanisms.
Political Organization. Prior to contact, political authority was vested in local headmen. These individuals served as advisers, reminding people about proper behavior toward Others and often suggesting the subsistence activities for the day. Occasionally such persons were leaders of communal hunts, although headmanship and task leadership might not be coterminous. Headmen tried to get the individual parties involved in disputes to settle their differences on their own, but if that were not possible they rendered decisions. Most decisions were reached through consensus, achieved in discussions with all adults. Modern tribal councils, most organized under the Indian Rights Act, also attempt to govern by consensus. Each operates independently on its own reservation or colony.
Social Control. Shame and ridicule by relatives and peers were effective means to bring about conformity.
Conflict. Precontact conflicts were primarily with tribes to the west and north, but were characterized by raids and skirmishes rather than large-scale battles. Postcontact relationships with Whites were likewise sometimes hostile, although this varied from area to area. In the North, and as far south as central Nevada, small groups of mounted raiders operated from roughly the 1850s to the mid-1870s. A few of the Leaders of these groups, such as Winnemucca, Ocheo, Egan, and others, achieved a degree of prominence for their prowess in warfare. In Owens Valley, with displacement of the people from rich irrigated wild seed lands by ranchers, open conflict flared from 1861 to 1863. Troops finally waged a scorched earth policy against the people, and in 1863, nine hundred prisoners were marched to Fort Tejon in California's Central Valley. After three years they were returned to their own Valley to eke out a living as best they could. Raiding groups in the North were induced to settle on reserved lands, especially at McDermitt, Nevada, and Surprise Valley, California. After that time, individuals and groups had to adjust to more subtle types of conflict over land, water, access to jobs, and the exercise of personal rights. In recent years, several groups have been engaged in lengthy court battles over land and water.