Western Apache - Sociopolitical Organization



Social Organization. The only groups were those based on kinship, territoriality, and co-residence. Individuals who were leaders of these various units were titled nant'an. Occasionally the prestige of some of these leaders exceeded the boundaries of their respective units, and they might be recognized outside their own local group. Depending on the unit involved, leadership was either inherited matrilineally or achieved. Leaders had no power and little formal authority because of the high value placed on individual autonomy, and they were primarily spokespersons and wealthy individuals with the largest farms in their area. Being wealthy gave them economic clout, and their charisma and their ability to talk and make good decisions meant that they were listened to and highly respected. Relatives often supplied labor for their farms in exchange for being provided for. The only other prominent role in the society was that of shaman.

Political Organization. Today San Carlos, Fort Apache, and Camp Verde have tribal councils and governments based on constitutions authorized under the Indian Reorganization Act of 1934. Elections are vigorously contested.

Social Control. The general Athapaskan value of Individual autonomy is evidenced here as well. Traditional social control focused heavily on the threat of witchcraft accusation, which if supported by community consensus resulted in execution. Witchcraft accusation still plays a role in social control, and some murders may be explained as witch executions. Positive role models for behavior are provided by stories repeated by elders in reference to events that have taken place at specific locations in the area. Apaches refer to this as being "stalked by stories." Gossip and indirect criticism also are traditional means of enforcing conformity to accepted standards of behavior. Only when under the influence of alcohol do individuals directly confront each other. Both federal and tribal laws and ordinances are enforced by tribal police and government agents.

Conflict. Western Apaches for the most part avoided direct conflict with American settlers and the military after the 1850s. Minor problems were caused by nativistic movements in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. Traditional feuds between territorial or kinship groups sometimes were carried on through shamans trying to counteract the magic believed to be emanating from the adversary groups. In some cases feuds resulted in violence. Contemporary elections often take on an atmosphere that involves conflict, and accusations of ballot stuffing may be leveled. Some contemporary vandalism is rumored to be reflective of old feuds. There has recently been some conflict between the leadership of the White Mountain Apache Tribe and business leaders and citizens in neighboring communities over issues relating to reservation boundaries, income from tourists, and leased land within the reservation. There has also been some conflict over land and water use with the federal government.


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