Zuni - Sociopolitical Organization

Social Organization. The interconnectedness of the Zuni social, political, and religious systems and their complexities have been described as almost impossible for non-Zunis to comprehend. In essence, no part of the system can be isolated. At the base is the maternal household; it is the social, economic, and religious unit composed of elder members of the maternal lineage, their daughters with their children, unmarried sons, and male in-laws. Within this setting, the status of women is high, particularly for matrons. Males joining households as husbands may achieve relatively high status almost immediately because of knowledge and skills that bring financial support to the family, but their ties and obligations to their maternal households continue.

Political Organization. Aboriginally, members of the bow priesthood controlled both internal and external political matters. The functioning of the bow priests as a council, an arm of the all-powerful religious priests, may date to preContact times. The Spanish instituted the positions of governor (with a cane of office), lieutenant governor, and assistants perhaps as early as the late 1500s and certainly by 1692 (the reconquest). The head bow priest normally would be governor. Installation by the head priests involved presenting the individual with the Spanish cane and, later, another one from Abraham Lincoln (the Lincoln cane). Selection and appointment by the religious hierarchy continued until 1934, when a nominating committee was selected to present two nominees to the priests. At a public meeting, the individual receiving the most "male stand-up" votes was installed as governor; the other, as lieutenant governor. They then had some say about the remaining members of the council. Women, although not officially excluded, did not vote until 1965, when secret balloting was also initiated.

Significant changes occurred in 1970, when the Zuni constitution was ratified. Terms of office for the governor and council were set at four years, and salaries for the first time were guaranteed from federally derived funds via the Bureau of Indian Affairs. On July 1, 1970, the Tribal Council, following application, gained control of all functions of both the Tribal Council and the reservation with an Indian agent (the secretary of the interior's representative) acting as adviser to tribal programs. This was part of an overall comprehensive development plan whereby Zuni would receive increased funds to bring numerous improvements and job opportunities to the reservation. Funding was based on Federal Law 25 U.S.C. 48, passed in 1834; Zuni was the first to apply. The funding led to forty-three modernization programs, and today the pueblo, with its paved streets, sidewalks, and streetlights, appears little different outwardly from other Southwestern communities its size.

Social Control. Aboriginally, the bow priests were central figures in social control. Many infractions were directly tied to accusations of witchcraft; punishments included public whipping and even death. The last public trials of witches were held in 1925, but belief in witchcraft continues. Now it is resolved privately between the person who catches the witch in the act and the witch. Any infractions against the gods are punished directly by them. Gossip and ridicule play an active role in social control; sacred clowns may publicly expose improper behavior in the plaza on various occasions. Zuni also has a tribal police force and jail, as well as access to the state police, the sheriff's office, and federal agents (the FBI in Gallup) as needed.

Conflict. Internal problems appear to have been minimal given the functioning theocratic aboriginal system. During the twentieth century, factionalism, involving pro- and anti-Catholic groups, religious hierarchy versus political groups, and various combinations, has been a problem. Political differences in 1940 resulted in the Sun Priest (highest priest) refusing to serve; he moved to Gallup and the office lapsed with his death in 1952. In 1984, the religious hierarchy, acting on behalf of the people, requested the return of the canes of office from the Tribal Council, citing gross neglect of duty. The priests appointed an interim council, but it was not recognized by the Bureau of Indian Affairs until an election was conducted. Most recently, in 1990, the religious hierarchy objected to the Tribal Council's plan with the National Park Service for the first cultural park on a reservation after it was approved by Congress. A pueblo-wide vote was taken, and negative results ended the plan.

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This is a really good article, it gives me so much info on the Zuni tribe social structure.

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