UBC Theses and Dissertations

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UBC Theses and Dissertations

The socio-history of the units of Kwakiutl property tenure Lando, Peter Louis


In this thesis I have set out to examine the historic change in the primary unit of Kwakiutl property tenure as it reflects the changing character of social relations between the members of this society. In order to follow this particular development the units of Kwakiutl social organization have been situated within the history of the period under scrutiny. This study commences with the speculative reconstruction of Kwakiutl social organization just prior to direct European contact. The namima is presented here as a property holding descent group with an inalienable attachment to an exclusive estate composed of specific territories, supernatural powers, and prerogatives. As a unit of economic production and consumption the namima was able to derive all of its material sustenance from this estate. The relations between individuals and the degree of access to the fruits of the harvest were organized according to the hierarchical order within each of these descent groups. The Kwakiutl became involved in the fur trade before the end of the 18th century as European entrepreneurs extended their trans-continental network. The wealth gleaned from this trade was integrated into the Kwakiutl economy to the enhancement of the existing social order. European settlement on the Northwest coast introduced the option of participation in the wage economy. This economy offered individual Kwakiutl men and women the experience of creating wealth outside of the traditional economic unit. Individuals began to seek status on the basis of their achievements. This change exemplified the new mode of relations. Individuals who had previously related as members of a descent group were now distinguished on the basis of their acquired wealth. While namima members of high birth maintained their title to traditional properties, these properties no longer, figured significantly in the native economy. In the 1880's the Department of Indian Affairs imposed units of property tenure upon the Kwakiutl without regard for the traditional native units. The populations identified within each administrative units were forced to recognize the imposed structure in order to represent their interests. In the years following 1830, then, the namima declined as the primary unit of Kwakiutl property tenure. The Kwakiutl redefined the units of social interaction as the character of social relations changed due to the introduction of new forms of wealth and land tenure. Today the namima is a specialized concept shared by a few Kwakiutl elders, anthropologists, and several Kwakiutl individuals involved in cultural revitalization. As the Kwakiutl acquire greater political and administrative independence in the near future it is certain that the namima will continue to be redefined.

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