Tanana - Sociopolitical Organization



Social Organization. Leadership was provided by men who held the position of chief either by ascription or achievement. Their status had to be continually validated by their exhibiting qualities associated with chieftainships—wealth, generosity, wisdom, and hunting prowess. In some cases a wealthy woman who had exhibited industriousness and skill- fulness in subsistence activities could regulate activities in and out of camp. Both men and women had an equal voice in community affairs, and influential individuals of both sexes in modern communities are respected for their wisdom, industriousness, and generosity.

Political Organization. Prior to contact, bands, like Villages today, were politically independent from others. Trading chiefs were prominent during the Russian period (c. 1820-1867), but they had no power unless they also exhibited the qualities of a traditional leader. Similarly, in modern villages an elected chief of a tribal council formed under the provisions of the Indian Reorganization Act may or may not be a leader in the traditional sense. Traditional leaders and chiefs continue to be influential in community matters.

Social Control. Within Tanana society, social control was a family matter, whereas leaders often negotiated with those of other bands to settle disputes between bands. Social avoidance prevented confrontation as did temporary emigration from the camp or village. In some cases, emigration was forced through overt or subtle social pressure by community or family heads. Although members are subject to state and federal laws, traditional social controls often sanction offending persons as well.

Conflict. The Tanana have never entered into overt conflict with European-American society. Rather, individuals were judged on their personal qualities and characteristics. In historic and modern times, Tanana Athapaskans have been at the heart of native efforts to bring about claims settlements. They have been active leaders beginning with the first Tanana Chiefs Conference held in 1915 and, since the late 1960s, within the nonprofit native organization of the same name, which provides health, social, and advocacy services to natives of all of interior Alaska.


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