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Native Americans

Social Structure

History >> Native Americans for Kids

Social structure played an important role in traditional Native American societies. Although there were not written rules or complex governments, there was a defined structure and social norms that people were expected to conform to if they wanted to be a part of society.

Tribes and Clans

At the highest level were the tribes or nations. These were large groups of people that had culture, geography, and language in common.

Within each tribe were smaller groups called clans. The members of a clan generally shared a common ancestor and were considered related to one another. Each clan had its own symbol or spirit that gave the clan its name. Many of the clan names were animals, but not all of them. Example clan names include Bear, Deer, Hawk, Snow, and Water.

Chiefs and Leaders

The leaders of the clans and tribes were called chiefs. These men were elected or chosen by the people. They generally did not have total power, but were respected men who provided advice that the tribe or clan generally followed.

Tribes may have both a civil leader and a war leader. The civil leader guided the tribe during times of peace while the war leader took over during times of war.

Villages and Families

Clans were further divided up into villages and families. These groups played a more important role in the daily lives of the people. Large extended families often lived together.

Women and Men

Women and men had distinctly different roles in both the daily work and in leadership. The chiefs and leaders were generally men, however, this did not mean that the women were powerless. Their opinion was respected and the women usually were the leaders inside the home.

Rules and Punishment

Punishment varied from tribe to tribe, but generally did not involve physical punishment. People that committed crimes or went against the tribe were usually shamed and rebuked in front of the tribe. In extreme cases, they were expelled from the tribe.

What was considered valuable?

Native Americans did not put a lot of value into material items. There was little in the way of possessions and ownership. People didn't own land or collect money in the bank. They valued intangible things like respect, honor, and status.

Interesting Facts about Native American Social Structure
Activities For more Native American history:

Culture and Overview
Agriculture and Food
Native American Art
American Indian homes and Dwellings
Homes: The Teepee, Longhouse, and Pueblo
Native American Clothing
Roles of Women and Men
Social Structure
Life as a Child
Mythology and Legends
Glossary and Terms

History and Events
Timeline of Native American History
King Philips War
French and Indian War
Battle of Little Bighorn
Trail of Tears
Wounded Knee Massacre
Indian Reservations
Civil Rights

Tribes and Regions
Apache Tribe
Cherokee Tribe
Cheyenne Tribe
Iroquois Indians
Navajo Nation
Nez Perce
Osage Nation
Sioux Nation

Famous Native Americans
Crazy Horse
Chief Joseph
Sitting Bull
Maria Tallchief
Jim Thorpe
Works Cited

History >> Native Americans for Kids

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