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Study notes

Structure of Plains Indian Society

  • Levels: GCSE
  • Exam boards: Edexcel

The term ‘Plains Indians’ refers to many different tribes of American Indian people who lived on the Great Plains of North America. Each tribe was made up of different ‘bands’ with the size of each band ranging from 20 to hundreds of people.

The term ‘Plains Indians’ refers to many different tribes of American Indian people who lived on the Great Plains of North America. Each tribe was made up of different ‘bands’ with the size of each band ranging from 20 to hundreds of people.

 

In charge of each tribe were chiefs. Chiefs were always male and were chosen because of their wisdom and skill. Tribes usually had several chiefs who were in charge of different aspects of tribal life. For example there may be a medicine chief and a spiritual chief. Each band also had a ‘band chief’. These men were responsible for the safety of their individual band. Finally, each tribe also had warrior brotherhoods. Warrior brotherhoods were groups of young men who were renowned for their fighting skills and bravery. They would defend their tribe in a war and sometimes raid neighbouring tribes for goods.

 

Important decisions about a tribe were made at the tribe’s council. The tribe’s council consisted of the chiefs, band chiefs, and elders. Important issues would be discussed and no decisions would be made unless everyone agreed.

 

It is important to note that in many tribes the chiefs and tribe councils had no power to command all of their people. Bands ultimately made their own decisions.  Likewise, warrior brotherhoods did not have to follow the chief’s or council’s will. This is important as it caused confusion and tension between the US government and Plains Indians. Often the US government would make formal treaties and agreements with chiefs. However, individual Plains Indians would break the terms of these treaties as they were under no obligation to follow their chief’s instruction. The US government found this both confusing and frustrating. 

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