About the Native American Indian Tribal System
It is difficult to describe an Indian tribe by the affirmative elements of its composition. Nevertheless it is clearly marked, and is the ultimate organization of the great body of the American aborigines. The large number of independent tribes into which they had fallen by the natural process of segmentation is the striking characteristic of their condition. Each tribe was individualized by a name, by a separate dialect, by a supreme government, and by the possession of a territory which it occupied and defended as its own. The tribes were as numerous as the dialects, for separation did not become complete until dialectical variation had commenced. Indian tribes, therefore, are natural growths through the separation of the same people in the area of their occupation, followed by divergence of speech, segmentation, and independence.
The exclusive possession of a dialect and of a territory has led to the application of the term nation to many Indian tribes, notwithstanding the fewness of the people in each. Tribe and nation, however, are not strict equivalents. A nation does not arise, under gentile institutions, until the tribes united under the same government have coalesced into one people, as the four Athenian tribes coalesced in Attica, three Dorian tribes at Sparta, and three Latin and Sabine tribes at Rome. Federation requires independent tribes in separate territorial areas; but coalescence unites them by a higher process in the same area, although the tendency to local separation by gentes and by tribes would continue. The confederacy is the nearest analogue of the nation, but not strictly equivalent. Where the gentile organization exists, the organic series gives all the terms which are needed for a correct description.
An Indian tribe is composed of several gentes, developed from two or more, all the members of which are intermingled by marriage, and all of whom speak the same dialect. To a stranger the tribe is visible, and not the gens. The instances are extremely rare, among the American aborigines, in which the tribe embraced peoples speaking different dialects. When such cases are found it has resulted from the union of a weaker with a stronger tribe speaking a closely related dialect, as the union of the Missouris with the Otoet, after the overthrow of the former. The fact that the great body of the aborigines were found in independent tribes illustrates the slow and difficult growth of the idea of government under gentile institutions. A small portion only had attained to the ultimate stage known Among them, that of a confederacy of tribes speaking dialects of the same stock language. A coalescence of tribes into a nation had not occurred in any case in any part of America.
A constant tendency to disintegration, which has proved such a hindrance to progress among savage and barbarous tribes, existed in the elements of the gentile organization. It was aggravated by a further tendency to divergence of speech, which was inseparable from their social state and the large areas of their occupation. An oral language, although remarkably persistent in its vocables, and still more persistent in its grammatical forms, is incapable of permanence. Separation of the people in area was followed in time by variation in speech; and this, in turn, led to separation in interests and ultimate independence. It was not the work of a brief period, but of centuries of time, aggregating finally into thousands of years; and the multiplication of the languages and dialects of the different families of North and South America probably required for their formation the time measured by three ethnical periods.
New tribes, as well as new gentes, were constantly forming by natural growth, and the process was sensibly accelerated by the great expanse of the American continent. The method was simple. In the first place there would occur a gradual outflow of people from some overstocked geographical center, which possessed superior advantages in the means of subsistence. Continued from year to year, a considerable population would thus be developed at a distance from the original seat of the tribe In course of time the emigrants would become distinct in interests, strangers in feeling, and, last of all, divergent in speech. Separation and independence would follow, although their territories were contiguous. A new tribe was thus created. This is a concise statement of the manner in which the tribes of the American aborigines were formed, but the statement must be taken as general. Repeating itself from age to age in newly acquired as well as in old areas, it must be regarded as a natural as well as inevitable result of the gentile organization, united with the necessities of their condition. When increased numbers pressed upon the means of subsistence, the surplus removed to a new seat, where they established themselves with facility, because the government was perfect in every gens, and in any number of gentes united in a band. Among the Village Indians the same thing repeated itself in a slightly different manner. When a village became overcrowded with numbers, a colony went up or down on the same stream and commenced a new village. Repeated at intervals of time, several such villages would appear, each independent of the other and a self-governing body, but united in a league or confederacy for mutual protection. Dialectic variation would finally spring up, and thus complete their growth into tribes.
The manner in which tribes are evolved from each other can be shown directly by examples. The fact of separation can be derived in part from tradition, in part from the possession by each of a number of the same gentes, and deduced in part from the relations of their dialects. Tribes formed by the subdivisions of an original tribe would possess a number of gentes in common, and speak dialects of the same language. After several centuries of separation they would still have a number of the same gentes. Thus the Hurons, now Wyandots, have six gentes of the same name with six of the gentes of the Seneca-Iroquois, after at least four hundred years of separation. The Potawattamies have eight gentes of the same name with eight among the Ojibwas, while the former have six, and the latter fourteen, which are different, showing that new gentes have been formed in each tribe by segmentation since their separation. A still older offshoot from the Ojibwas, or from the common parent tribe of both, the Miamis, have but three gentes in common with the former, namely, the Wolf, the Loon, and the Eagle. The minute social history of the tribes of the Ganowanian family is locked up in the life and growth of the gentes. If investigation is ever turned strongly in this direction, the gentes themselves would become reliable guides, in respect to the order of separation from each other of the tribes of the same stock.
This process of subdivision has been operating among the American aborigines for thousands of years, until several hundred tribes have been developed from about seventy stocks as existing in as many families of language. Their experience, probably was but a repetition of that of the tribes of Asia, Europe, and Africa when they were in corresponding conditions.
From the preceding observations it is apparent that an American Indian tribe is a very simple as well as humble organization. It required but a few hundred, and, at most, a few thousand people to form a tribe and place it in a respectable position in the Ganowanian family.
It remains to present the functions and attributes of an Indian tribe, which are contained in the following propositions:
I The possession of a territory and a name
II The exclusive possession of a dialect
III The right to invest sachems and chiefs elected by the gentes.
IV The right to depose these sachems and chiefs
V The possession of a religious faith and worship
VI A supreme government consisting of a council of chiefs
VII A head-chief of the tribe in some instances