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Native Americans and the Vote

It's often overlooked that self-government in America was practiced by Native Americans, long before the formation of the United States government. Today, voting is our primary means of group decision making, of enacting legislation, and choosing leaders. Traditional decision making among native Americans differed from this system (and sometimes differed greatly from group to group).

Here, Verne Ray describes the Nez Perce's form of government and illustrates how it changed between times of war and peace:

Tribal organization was present among the Nez Perce since a tribal council whose decisions were binding upon all members of the group was coupled with an elective war chief with wide powers. Yet even here each village had its individual peace time chief with authority limited to his own village and during peace there was little relationship among villages.

The tribal council was a gathering of select members of the tribe who convened to make decisions and elect chiefs. In addition to the political duties of these gatherings, tribal councils also had a certain ceremonial significance:

The Nez Perce delegation arrived at the Walla Walla council ground. Planting their flag, the Nez Perces, splendidly mounted, painted, and in full regalia, began their advance..."Then, the warriors, to the number of 600 rode by columns, two abreast and passed through our camp, and returned to their banner."

Do political gatherings today, such as conventions, have the same dual purpose? What other aspects of U.S. government and politics have ceremonial as well as political significance?

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