Social Organization. In aboriginal and early historic times the Ojibwa were divided into small autonomous bands of interrelated families. Band organization was loose and flexible, and social relations, apart from divisions along the lines of age and sex, were egalitarian. With involvement in the European fur trade, band organization was modified. Among eighteenth-century Southeastern Ojibwa and Southwestern Chippewa, bands numbered several hundred people; among the Northern Ojibwa, bands were smaller, with about fifty to seventy-five members. Plains Ojibwa bands were loose, shifting units.
Political Organization. Each Ojibwa band was headed by a chief whose position was earned on the basis of hunting ability, personal appeal, and religious knowledge, but was also dependent on kinship connections. Shamans were respected and feared individuals who sometimes also functioned as band leaders. Among the eighteenth-century Southeastern Ojibwa, bands were headed by chiefs, but as farming and a more permanent settlement pattern were adopted local Political organization evolved to include an elected chief, assistant chiefs, and a local council. This form of political organization was in part a government-imposed system. Among the Northern Ojibwa band leadership was supplied by a senior male whose kin group formed the basis of the band's membership. In addition, he was usually also a skilled trader. Among the Plains Ojibwa each band had several chiefs, one of whom was recognized as the head chief. The head chief usually inherited his position, held it for life, and was assisted by councillors elected by the adult male members of the band. Secondary chiefs among the Plains Ojibwa achieved their position by virtue of their deeds in war, skills in hunting, generosity, and leadership ability.
Social Control. Censure by means of ridicule and Ostracism was the primary mechanism of social control. In addition, among some Ojibwa groups mutilation and execution were punishments for certain offenses. Among the Plains Ojibwa a wife found to have committed adultery could be mutilated or killed by her husband, and among the Southeastern Ojibwa mutilation was the prescribed punishment for violating mourning taboos. Chiefs among Plains Ojibwa sometimes mediated serious disputes, and when the people gathered on the open plains, camp police, or okitsita, composed of war heroes, maintained peace and order.
Conflict. Overt face-to-face hostility was rare in Ojibwa society. However, alcohol consumption seems to have increased the frequency and intensity of interpersonal conflict and physical violence. The Ojibwa believed sorcery to be the cause of individual misfortune and often employed sorcery in retaliation against their enemies. Suspicion of sorcery was a cause of conflict and could result in long-lasting feuds Between families. Conflict also stemmed from encroachments on hunting and trapping territories.