Dr. Woodrow Morrison: Chief--Becoming. - P.O.W. Report

Friday, April 12, 2019

Dr. Woodrow Morrison: Chief--Becoming.

Once in awhile you come across writers that make you realize that their knowledge of history and real world kultur is much greater than yours. I am 'umble enough to admit that I look forward to Dr. Morrison's posts on the Tlingit and Haida peoples of Alaska facebook page every week because of his knowledge. If you haven't followed [you should here]. Not only is it insightful, you are also promoting history.  


Roles of Chiefs

The Europeans infested every aspect of our lives. First, before we get to the “Roles”, we need to look at what those roles are NOT. The British Royalty system has had a great influence on the Naming of Traditional Haida Leaders. In that system, Kings are Crowned by the Grace of God.

Beginning at birth, the members of the Royal Family are immersed into a world of opulence and privilege. They are taught to believe that their rights and privileges derive directly from God. And, the Royal Scepter is passed from King to his first-born son.

No Haida leader, whether it be Íitláakdaa - (Big Boss who can’t give orders), 'Láanaa 'La'áaygaa (Village Head or Leader) or Na 'La'áay – (House Head or Leader), can claim to be of “Royalty”. Instead, as we shall see, from childhood that person worked to achieve a state of Yi'íi (purity).
This also raised a question in some Haidas minds about whether a Woman can be one of those three Traditional Leaders. The answer is yes and, we will address the issue a little later in this article.
In order to destroy our Tribal Unity the first step was to shatter the cohesiveness of society, much like hitting shatter-proof glass with a hammer. The glass does not break but shatters into thousands of pieces held together by plastic.

We have been shattered like that and are now all displaced individuals who share a common heritage. In order to once again function as before we need to reconstruct our societies, i.e., our indigenous sense of Community.
This is the starting point when discussing the role of our "Chiefs"... Íihlaakdáa - Clan Chief (big boss who cannot give orders), ’Láanaa ’la’áayga - - Village Leader, and Na ’la’áay - Head, Leader of the house.

A major part of that is to learn the traditional familial relationships, i.e., “Who's your Mama, Who's your Uncle, Who's your Daddy, Who's your Auntie, etc. Each human has a special place in the Universe. Once we start with the statement, Díi X̱aat'áagang! (I am Haida – as my dad used to say, “If you have to add the word proud, you probably aren't...).

Then you set about learning what that means, “Where do I fit in the X̱aadas Tla'gáay? (Haida World). Who are my family... who are my relatives (Táwlang)? Linked to this is, Who is Díi Ḵaa? (my Uncle), what is my G̱asíi (Clan Crest)? What X̱ángii Majaay (Face Paint) do I wear? Which are my songs (Ḵagáan - Clan owned Song)? Where is my Tla'gáa (country)?... and so on.


Authority in Gwáay K’aang (Clan), ’Láanaa (town), and in the Na Ts’ee’ii (Household) is vested in their respective Leaders. Any man who owns a dwelling, either through inheritance or by amassing sufficient wealth to erect one for himself, is Na ’la’áay - a house Chief. He directs the economic activities of his household, protects and cares for its members, exercises a mild paternal authority over them, and is treated with deference.

The Íihlaakdáa - Gwáay K’aang (Clan) and ’Láanaa ’la’áayga - ’Láanaa (Village) Chiefs are always also a Na ’la’aay - Na (House) Chief. This person is the"Town Leader" not necessarily because he was the wealthiest and most powerful in the village, instead, each ’Láanaa was started by a "Ḵ’waal" - a House Leader of either Eagle or Raven and, the name of the ’Láana reflected the town’s origins.

Thus, the ’Láanaa ’la’áayga holds his position by inheritance and cannot be deposed. His authority depends on degree of loyalty to which the members of his Crest accord him (reflected by wealth wealth and prestige of his Crest). He can normally count on the support of Na ’la’aay - his House Chiefs, but he cannot command their obedience or punishment insubordination.

A discontented Na ’la’aay - House Chief, if influential enough, can desert the village with a band of followers and establish an independent sub-Clan with himself as Chief, but this is very exceptional. Íihlaakdáay (the Clan Chief), as trustee of the valuable Clan lands, holds a powerful weapon. Where several Clans inhabit a village, one of their Chiefs may enjoy more prestige than the others, but this is due solely to having inherited his position from his Ḵ̱aa (Uncle, Mother’s brother). No Chief wields any actual authority outside of his Clan.


Relevant Relationships

Leadership, both in the Na ts’ee’ii (Household) and in Gwáay K’aangaay (the Clan) is hereditary in the female line. Property, privileges, and authority descend in a body to the next of kin - Dúun a younger brother, or in default thereof to the eldest sister's eldest son - Náat Yáak’uu (True Nephew - one selected to inherit from Ḵáa Uncle - Mother’s brother).

A woman inherits the Leadership only if there are no male heirs either due to death or age. An Íihlaakdáa, during his lifetime has the power to set aside Dúunaay (the younger brother) in favor of a Náat, a junior heir, but he seldom does so unless Dúunaay (the younger brother) already holds an equally high position or is disqualified by reason of physical or mental incapacity, laziness, poverty, or low repute or standing. If a Na ’la’aay - House Chief has not selected his successor, Íihlaakdáa (the Clan Chief) appoints him.

If a Íihlaakdáa - Clan Chief fails to name his heir, all the men and women of Gwáay.k’aangaay (the Clan) meet in a council at which the two, three or four candidates next in line stand up and are Presented. Unless disqualified for adequate reasons, however, Dúunaay (the younger brother) is always selected.

The Haida kinship terms reflect the organization into two K’waal (Moieties) which are subdivided into Gwáay.k’aang (Clans). Separate terms distinguish relatives through the father from similar relatives through the mother, e.g., Yíi for paternal and Ḵaa for maternal uncle, since they belong to different K’waal (Moieties).

Within a Ḵ’wáal Clan, (Mother’s) lineal family and Tawlang (Father’s collateral relatives) are grouped together; a mother's sister and female cousin, for example, are called Aw (mother).

Differences in generation are often ignored; thus any woman of the father's Gwáay.k’aangaay (the Clan) may be addressed as Skaan (Aunt).

The relationship associated with each kinship term involves a series of ascribed (born into and culturally defined) patterns of social behavior.

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