Tlingit - Sociopolitical Organization

Social Organization. The Tlingit were stratified into three social classes: (1) high-class anyaddi, (2) commoners, or kanackideh, and (3) low-class nitckakaku. Individuals and groups were also ranked within the clan and between clans, depending upon their wealth, titles, and achievements. Highclass people managed and controlled strategic resources and used them to promote individual and group status. Class and rank remain important in Tlingit villages.

Political Organization. Each aboriginal settlement was owned by a localized clan whose claims were documented through stories and symbols, with other clans residing in their village viewed as guests. Leadership and councils at the household, clan, and local moiety levels were traditional political units and remain influential. Today, three ethnic associations address Tlingit concerns. The Alaska Native Brotherhood serves as cultural broker and advocate; the Tlingit-Haida Organization with some 14,500 members of Tlingit descent promotes housing and social welfare; and Sealaska, the largest corporation in Alaska, provides growing economic and political clout.

Social Control. Shame and rank were powerful motivators for enforcing traditional social norms. Individuals were said to define their status by the way they conducted themselves, with all ill-mannered persons bringing shame upon their lineage and clan. Thus, elders held a tight rein on youths. Fear of accusation of witchcraft or ridicule also influenced behavior. Several Tlingit villages now have their own mayor, city council, police force, and school boards along with other administrative services.

Conflict. Aboriginally, conflicts arose over assaults, insults, or damages suffered by individuals and groups to themselves or their property. Such conflicts were usually resolved through payment of wealth or, in some cases, killing the offender. Conflicts with Whites over the past century centered around aboriginal resources, civil rights, and civil liberties. The persistence of these conflicts contributes to alcohol abuse and other drug abuse.

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