The extended family was the main social unit. Families belonged to one of three classes: wealthy, middle class, or slaves captured from other tribes. The eldest members of the family were its leaders.
The division of labor was based on sex. Men were the primary leaders, did the hunting and trading, and participated in warfare. Women did the gathering and domestic chores while men hunted, fished, trained horses, and conducted war.
Women were treated better than the women in many other native american cultures. Women were respected and enjoyed general equality with men in economic, domestic, religious, and political spheres. While women generally were not allowed to speak in council, they were usually able to influence their male relatives to achieve their goals.
Some animals were kept as pets, including young bears, coyotes, wolves, and deer.
Chelan Historical Political Organization
Before the introduction of the horse and the influence of Plains culture, the village always formed the sociopolitical unit. There was no nation or state that ruled over the villages. The forms of government varied over time, as well as from one tribe to another.
The primary political unit was the village, but the rule of the village differed from tribe to tribe. The principal political leader was the village chief (headman), a position that was sometimes inherited and sometimes elected. Usually the office of chief was hereditary, except in the case of poorly qualified sons.
Most groups had specialized chiefs, such as a war chief or a salmon chief who took charge only during special circumstances. Chiefs were usually males, although females were occasionally chiefs.
Each village had a council and each adult had the right to voice his or her view on matters of concern.
Nez Perce Social Organization
The Nez Perces lived primarily in small villages along the many streams and rivers that cut through their aboriginal territory. These small villages primarily consisted of thirty to two hundred individuals, which were politically unified into bands that, in turn, were organized into composite bands. Villages were identified with the smaller feeder streams, bands with the larger tributaries, and composite bands with larger rivers.
The composite band was as high as the political structure went among the villages. The people as a whole comprised an ethnic entity because of cultural and liguistic similarities, a common background, and blood and marriage interrelationships. But there was no head chief, permanent council, or political organization that could speak for all of them. Even the leaders of the bands and composite groups could not force individual members to go along with the majority.
Aboriginal Nez Perce villages were usually made up of several related, extended families and led by a headman. Generally he was the eldest able man in the group and was often assisted by prominent younger men. The headman's duties were to demonstrate exemplary behavior, act as spokesman for the village, mediate intravillage disputes, and attend to the general welfare of village members.
Most older relatives took part in training children. A grandfather would usually direct a boy's first attempts at hunting, fishing, sweatbathing, and horse riding; a grandmother would usually direct a girl's first root digging or berry picking.
Among the aboriginal Nez Perce age brought wealth and power.
Sanpoil Social Structure
The Sanpoil had a more structured form of government - the village had a chief, a subchief, and a general assembly in which every adult had a vote (except for young men who were not married).
Sometimes groups from several villages came together at certain fishing sites or camas meadows, and on these occasions the leading men of the villages constituted an informal council.
Early in the 19th century this organization was overruled when families from different villages joined to form bands for the autumn hunts on the Plains. The authority of the village chiefs lapsed as good hunters and fighters became band chiefs.
As a result of pressure from missionary and governmental agencies, a tribal head chief was appointed to each tribe in the 1840s, but he was unable to win any influence over the people collectively.
Bands / Clans:
Kinship was bilateral and most groups did not recognize clans.