Leadership in Public Arenas

Leadership was a matter of rank among the Tlingit. People of higher rank had power and authority over those of lesser rank. Within households, the highest-ranked person was called the hitsaati, or house chief. According to the avunculocal rule this person should be male, although cases of female hitsaati have been referred to (de Laguna, 1972; Emmons, 1991). Hitsaati was the most formal leadership position. The highest-ranking hitsaati in a village was called "village chief," and the highest-ranked hitsaati in a clan has been called "clan chief." In reality, however, these individual categories had little substance outside of the rank and force of personality of the person holding it.

Those of high rank, both male and female, had authority over all those lower in rank. In cases of dispute the rank of the disputants was the most important criterion.

Even in criminal disputes, rank was the issue that determined punishment. For example, if a person of lower rank killed one of high rank in another clan, the life of the killer was not sufficient compensation. A member of the killer's clan who was equal to the victim had to be voluntarily forfeited to avoid clan war (Oberg, 1973).

While women rarely held the "offices" of political power and authority, it would be a mistake to dismiss their public power and authority. They were able to speak at public meetings and to assert the force of their personal ranking.

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