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The Lillooet: an account of the basis of individual status Nastich, Milena

Abstract

The Lillooet are a Salish speaking people living in the interior of southwestern British Columbia. In the light of recent archaeological and linguistic research in the Plateau, it seems likely that Lillooet boundaries in pre-White times, were different from those held at the time of White contact. Borden and Swadesh have presented evidence which suggests that Athapaskan speaking peoples were moving south, displacing and dispersing formerly contiguous groups. My own information indicates that in late pre-historic times at least, pressures exerted by the Chilcotin and Shuswap were keenly felt by the Lillooet. The Lillooet on the other hand, were not on good terms with the Stalo to the south of them and engaged in periodic scuffles with them over hunting rights. It is thus possible that the Lillooet under pressure from the north moved south where they came into conflict with the normally peaceful Stalo, who resisted Lillooet advances into their territory. The Lillooet were not organized into one large political unit. The ties of kinship, common language, and culture encouraged a loose sense of unity which did not, however, find expression in political unity. The villages were grouped together into local bands, the significant political units. Each band had a hereditary chief whose power lay in the orderly regulation of peace time affairs. This power did not extend beyond the band. High social standing was based on achievement and the respect which such achievement inspired. Most families of high social standing attempted to preserve their position in the community by controlling the marriages of their children and by teaching them the techniques and behaviour upon which success and respect were based. Thus the Lillooet considered the "training to live" period an important part of the individual’s life. It was felt that people of prestige would inculcate the proper qualities in their children and aid them in acquiring powerful spirits, which in turn, would increase their prestige and social standing in the community. A family of high standing tried to choose marriage partners for their offspring from a family of equal or of greater social status, for it was felt that only families of prestige and achievement would "train" their children in the proper manner. Poverty and inability were considered to be the results of poor training and of lazy and careless behaviour. To introduce such characteristics into a household would be to endanger the status of that household. Serious training commenced at puberty and consisted of isolation, fasting, frequent bathing and scrubbing, the observance of a number of restrictions and the enactment of prescribed symbolic behaviour, as well as a more intense instruction in handicrafts and other practical tasks. It was at this time that boys usually sought spirit aid in hunting, fishing and curing, and it was for this purpose that they endured a period of isolation and observed a number of restrictions. The persistence and sincerity with which this training was carried out was reflected in later successes. Because accomplishment was the basis of prestige and respect, and hence power, and because accomplishment depended a great deal upon the way people conducted themselves during this critical period, the training period was considered to be of great importance.

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