1 — Theories of Ethnicity & Ethnic Survival

Chap­ter One

The­o­ries of Eth­nic­ity & Eth­nic Survival

The Delawares of Idaho are a group of Native Amer­i­can descen­dants who are presently under­go­ing changes in sev­eral aspects of their social struc­ture.  They regard them­selves, and are regarded by oth­ers, as hav­ing a unique eth­nic iden­tity.  This eth­nic iden­tity, or the eth­nic “bound­ary” that sep­a­rates them from oth­ers, cir­cum­scribes a known assem­blage of indi­vid­u­als.  It is within this bound­ary that their eth­nic­ity devel­ops, to revi­tal­ize, mobi­lize and bol­ster them in their pur­suit of shared goals.

They are dis­tin­guished among small groups by their high degree of polit­i­cal orga­ni­za­tion. Their self-ascribed sep­a­rate­ness of iden­tity from other Delawares, other Indi­ans, and oth­ers among their non-Indian neigh­bors is regarded in anthro­po­log­i­cal terms as their eth­nic­ity.  It is thus a sub­ject for the full range of the­o­ret­i­cal and method­olog­i­cal anthropology.

Eth­nic­ity and Cul­ture Change

Eth­nic revivals, and eth­ni­fi­ca­tion, are exam­ples of cul­ture change, of which an impor­tant cat­e­gory of analy­sis is that of comparison.

Com­par­a­tive   cul­tural   stud­ies   should   inter­est them­selves in recur­rent phe­nom­ena as well as in unique phe­nom­ena and that anthro­pol­ogy explic­itly rec­og­nizes that a legit­i­mate and ulti­mate objec­tive is to see through the dif­fer­ences   of   cul­tures   to   the sim­i­lar­i­ties, to ascer­tain processes that are dupli­cated inde­pen­dently in cul­tural sequences, and to rec­og­nize cause and effect in both tem­po­ral and func­tional rela­tion­ships (Stew­ard 1955:180).

All of the impor­tant the­o­ret­i­cal lit­er­a­ture sur­veyed for this report has been derived almost entirely from stud­ies of such divi­sions as race, nation, geo­graph­i­cal region, lan­guage com­mu­nity, or reli­gious affil­i­a­tion. Most Indian groups, and cer­tainly those as few in num­ber as the Delawares of Idaho, even if they are able to main­tain a high level of eth­nic  (self)  con­scious­ness by draw­ing from tra­di­tions of ear­lier forms, are extinct in the polit­i­cal sense.  It would be dif­fi­cult to find a group in the ethno­graphic record hav­ing at once so few mem­bers and such a high degree of polit­i­cal organization.

The­o­ret­i­cal Roots

No dis­cus­sion or the­o­ret­i­cal for­mu­la­tion of eth­nic­ity vis-à-vis eth­nic bound­aries is pos­si­ble with­out first acknowl­edg­ing the sem­i­nal con­tri­bu­tion of Fredrik Barth (1968).  He exam­ined the notion that cul­ture devel­ops dis­tinc­tive char­ac­ter­is­tics of struc­ture and con­tent as the result of iso­la­tion from other groups. He claimed to have made two dis­cov­er­ies which show the inad­e­quacy of that view.

Firstly, the obser­va­tion that eth­nic bound­aries per­sist despite a flow of per­son­nel across them showed that cat­e­gor­i­cal eth­nic dis­tinc­tions do not depend on absence of mobil­ity, con­tact and infor­ma­tion but do include social processes of exclu­sion and incor­po­ra­tion whereby dis­crete cat­e­gories are main­tained despite chang­ing membership.

Sec­ondly, sta­ble, per­sist­ing, often vitally impor­tant social rela­tions are main­tained across such bound­aries and fre­quently based pre­cisely on the dichotomized eth­nic sta­tuses (p.9 – 10). Naroll’s (1964) list of qual­i­fy­ing char­ac­ter­is­tics of an eth­nic group, mis­tak­enly empha­sized bio­log­i­cal self-perpetuation, shared val­ues, overt for­mal unity, and a field of interaction/communication, min­i­miz­ing the impor­tance of the ascrip­tion of eth­nic­ity by self and others.

The flaw in this view, Barth main­tained, is that while pur­port­ing to give an ideal type model of a recur­ring empir­i­cal form, it implies a pre­con­ceived view of what are sig­nif­i­cant fac­tors in the gen­e­sis, struc­ture and func­tion of such groups. Most crit­i­cally, it implies racial dif­fer­ence, cul­tural dif­fer­ence, social sep­a­ra­tion, and lan­guage bar­ri­ers, as well as spon­ta­neous and orga­nized enmity. Cor­rectly, Barth demon­strated that eth­nic bound­aries are open, dynamic sys­tems used by eth­nic groups, which, as forms of social orga­ni­za­tion con­cen­trate on sys­tems which are socially effec­tive (Barth 1968:13). Barth con­cluded, and the Idaho Delaware data appear to con­firm that the crit­i­cal fea­ture of eth­nic bound­aries is their ascrip­tive ori­gin. Whether ascrip­tion is from within or with­out is of sec­ondary impor­tance, as is the cul­tural con­tent of the pri­mary sym­bols of eth­nic dis­crete­ness. The sym­bols can have any mean­ing as long as the “we/they” dichotomiza­tion includes and excludes the same per­son­nel, i.e., oper­ates at the same salient lev­els of propinquity.

None of this, how­ever, makes any eas­ier the iden­ti­fi­ca­tion of rules whereby the dichotomiza­tions are estab­lished.  The place to con­cen­trate the search for these rules is in the struc­ture and role of the fam­ily in rela­tion to other fam­i­lies inside and out­side the par­ent ethny.

Marx­ian synthesis-seeking dialec­tic and the gen­eral soci­o­log­i­cal the­ory of Max Weber are sci­en­tific bench­marks which anchor the best alter­na­tive expla­na­tions of the forces which have most shaped the polit­i­cal and eco­nomic rela­tions of class and race in socially strat­i­fied com­mu­ni­ties.  In the case of Marx, a clear expres­sion of his con­cept of Man and its impact on mod­ern social sci­ence can be found in Friedrich Engel’s grave­side eulogy:

“Just as Dar­win dis­cov­ered the law of devel­op­ment of organic nature, so Marx dis­cov­ered the law of devel­op­ment of human his­tory: the sim­ple fact, hith­erto con­cealed by an over­growth of ide­ol­ogy, that mankind must first of all eat, drink, have shel­ter and cloth­ing, before it can pur­sue pol­i­tics, sci­ence, art, reli­gion, etc.;  that there­fore the pro­duc­tion of the mate­r­ial means of sub­sis­tence and con­se­quently the degree of eco­nomic devel­op­ment attained by a given epoch form the foun­da­tion upon which the state insti­tu­tions, the legal con­cep­tions, art, and even the ideas on reli­gion, of the peo­ple con­cerned have been evolved,  and in the light of which they must, there­fore, be explained, instead of vice versa, which had hith­erto been the case” (Fromm 1961:258).

Weber, in con­trast to Marx, con­cen­trated his own efforts to develop explana­tory and inter­pre­tive themes in social phe­nom­ena through the analy­sis of their mainly psy­cho­log­i­cal (ide­o­log­i­cal) aspects. Thus we find an early dichotomiza­tion in socio-cultural theory-making between the mate­r­ial rela­tions of human life, and the ide­o­log­i­cal rela­tions of it.  We find one branch of deter­min­is­tic sci­ence com­pet­ing with another, reflect­ing the Marx­ian dialec­tic intrin­si­cally, all the while hav­ing a psy­cho­log­i­cal exis­tence as the men­tal behav­ior of social scientists.

These essen­tial view­points can still be noted at deep lev­els of cur­rent con­tri­bu­tions to the study of behav­iors lumped under the com­bined rubrics of eth­nic­ity, eth­nic sur­vival and eth­nic revival.  The main bod­ies of the­ory com­pet­ing for inter­pre­tive hege­mony are essen­tially four: 1) mate­ri­al­ist, or sub­sis­tence based; 2) ide­o­log­i­cal, or symbolic-cognitive; 3) socio-biological, or bioso­cial; and b) eco­log­i­cal, or holistic.

Mate­ri­al­ists, of whom Marx was the fore­run­ner, have seen eth­nic­ity as an ide­o­log­i­cal phe­nom­e­non gen­er­ated by the prac­ti­cal pur­suits loosely grouped under the term econ­omy.  Ide­o­log­i­cal the­o­rists, guided by Weber, see the men­tal phe­nom­ena as pri­mary, and the choice of econ­omy is based on these as they are trans­mit­ted cul­tur­ally through time. Socio-biological the­o­rists of cul­ture (cf. van den Berghe 1981) see eth­nic­ity as a bio­log­i­cally rooted phe­nom­e­non based on kin recog­ni­tion and these the­o­rists focus on the fam­ily as the key (and basic) eth­nic group. Eco­log­i­cal anthro­pol­o­gists, exem­pli­fied by Stew­ard (1976), are more eclec­tic, but see eth­nic­ity as resul­tant from inter­re­la­tions between groups in dif­fer­ent eco­nomic or polit­i­cal niches.

The increas­ing amount of atten­tion being paid eth­nic­ity, its ori­gins and under­ly­ing ratio­nale, has been noted and dis­cussed at great length by a num­ber of anthro­pol­o­gists (Barth 1968; Glazer and Moyni­han 1972; van den Berghe 1981; Cohen 1978; Vin­cent 1974; DeVos and Romanucci-Ross 197?; Smith 1981).  Most writ­ers decry the lack of syn­the­sis and con­sen­sus, owing in part to the com­plex­ity and vari­ety of human rela­tions, and of the method­olog­i­cal approaches of ethnologists.

Each per­spec­tive has been exam­ined for the pres­ence of ideas which might sup­port the attempt to dis­cover whether rela­tions and events described in sub­se­quent chap­ters are best under­stood and explained within one per­spec­tive or by a com­bi­na­tion of the most fer­tile ideas from each.  Each, in its most gen­eral con­fig­u­ra­tion, is found to have sig­nif­i­cant explana­tory value where applied to the Delaware case.

The Unit Problem

A dimen­sion seen as one of two major ones in the eth­nic­ity con­tro­versy has been called ‘the unit prob­lem* and asks two ques­tions:  “Should eth­nic units be iso­lated on the basis of social/cultural cat­e­gories in analy­sis? Or should they be seen as valid when they reflect only those loy­al­ties and ascrip­tions made by a peo­ple about them­selves? (Cohen 1978:381).”

The unit prob­lem then has made us aware that the named eth­nic enti­ties we accept, often unthink­ingly, as basic givens in the lit­er­a­ture are often arbi­trar­ily or, even worse, inac­cu­rately imposed. Barth’s (1968) con­tri­bu­tion was in see­ing this prob­lem and decid­ing to view eth­nic­ity as a sub­jec­tive process of group iden­ti­fi­ca­tion in which peo­ple use eth­nic labels to define them­selves and their inter­ac­tion with oth­ers, …there is a prob­lem here whose solu­tion will take us toward an under­stand­ing of spe­cific cul­ture his­to­ries and gen­eral evo­lu­tion­ary processes of cul­ture growth and change (Cohen 1978:383).

Barth’s con­tri­bu­tion, exam­ined in more detail with regard to eth­nic bound­aries, relies mainly on ascrip­tion as a deter­mi­nant of eth­nic­ity. Credit for a par­tial solu­tion to the ‘unit prob­lem’ goes to Pierre van den Berghe. A term which he has pro­posed is here accepted for nam­ing a taxon for cat­e­gor­i­cal units of col­lec­tive eth­nic­ity in a descrip­tively neu­tral way, unfet­tered with ide­ol­ogy:
At this point, I would like to intro­duce the neol­o­gism ethny for “eth­nic group”. “Eth­nic group” is clumsy and “tribe” has many dif­fer­ent con­no­ta­tions — sev­eral pejo­ra­tive.   The French and Span­ish cog­nates eth­nie and etnia are already in com­mon usage and it is time to start using such a con­ve­nient term in Eng­lish as well.  The ide­ol­ogy usu­ally referred to as ‘eth­no­cen­trism’ might then be more par­si­mo­niously called eth­nism. An ethny can be rep­re­sented as a clus­ter of over­lap­ping, ego-centered, con­cen­tric kin cir­cles, encom­passed within an eth­nic bound­ary (van den Berghe 1981:22).

This term is use­ful in the case of the Delawares, for it ren­ders pos­si­ble the inclu­sion of a group’s mem­bers who are geo­graph­i­cally remote in res­i­dence from the core area, an impli­ca­tion not cov­ered by the phrase ‘eth­nic com­mu­nity’ favored by some (Smith 1981:199) — It is pre­dicted that the term will gain wider use among those attempt­ing to ren­der more pre­cise the descrip­tive and clas­si­fi­ca­tory lex­i­con of ethnog­ra­phy dis­ci­pline
(cf. Agar 1983).

The Con­text Problem

Con­text has long been regarded by anthro­pol­o­gists as a basic method­olog­i­cal tenet. The con­text of eth­nic­ity has grown in impor­tance along with the increas­ing self-awareness of so-called ‘minor­ity groups’ as belong­ing to a larger world.

“Once the new states of the third world emerged, once Amer­i­can Indian groups, Inuit (Eskimo) and oth­ers saw them­selves as parts of larger wholes and used this as a major fea­ture of their own group iden­ti­ties, then mul­ti­eth­nic con­texts became essen­tial to the under­stand­ing of these groups. The older units, cul­ture, tribe and so on had been excised from con­text because (a) they often were iso­lated (indeed the more so the bet­ter!) and (b) we assumed an anal­ogy between the “tribal” unit and an abo­rig­i­nal cul­ture of the same struc­tural type. The assump­tion was use­ful and still is for com­par­a­tive and evo­lu­tion­ary stud­ies. But the study of con­tem­po­rary peo­ples  in a com­plex world has now clearly shifted from eth­nic iso­lates, “tribes”, if you will, to one in which the inter­re­la­tions between such groups in rural, urban, and indus­trial set­tings within and between nation-states is a key, pos­si­bly the key ele­ment in their lives” (Cohen 1978:384).

The process described prompts the ques­tion: What con­di­tions and events can be seen as the his­tor­i­cal ori­gin of what have been regarded alter­nately as eth­nic phe­nom­ena (van den Berghe 1981), groups and bound­aries (Barth 1968), eth­nic iden­tity (DeVos and Romanucci-Ross), eth­nic revival (Smith 1983)1 and sim­ply eth­nic­ity (Glazer and Hoyni­han 197?)?

Eth­nic­ity and Cul­tural Content

The ide­o­log­i­cal con­tent of eth­nic­ity would include such fea­tures as his­tory, lan­guage, arts and crafts, reli­gion, and other cul­tural tra­di­tions. These are reflected on con­stantly as if their con­tent were the point of, and rea­son for, mobi­liza­tion along eth­nic lines.  But the con­tent itself is   of sec­ondary impor­tance. Of pri­mary impor­tance is the degree of shared eth­nic salience. It is impor­tant to point out that, in mat­ters of selec­tion and choice, agree­ment is not nec­es­sary among mem­bers of a fam­ily about the exact mean­ing of us as opposed to they, as, for exam­ple, in sit­u­a­tions where fam­ily mem­bers dis­agree about the choice of mar­riage or eco­nomic partners.

Con­ti­nu­ity can result from incon­sis­tency. Field obser­va­tions and talks with the Idaho Delaware reveal that an attrac­tive polar­iza­tion exists between dues-paying mem­bers of the cor­po­rate group, and mem­bers who acknowl­edge the link of genetic hered­ity with the same Indian ances­tors as the dues-payers but refuse or oth­er­wise fail to pay annual dues to the cor­po­ra­tion. These are paid to the asso­ci­a­tion formed to rep­re­sent the com­mon inter­est of all those qual­i­fied by birth, and these funds along with claim pay­ments con­sti­tute the group’s legal and polit­i­cal war chest.  It is pos­si­ble that this sit­u­a­tion results when, for exam­ple, mem­bers of one fam­ily are more numer­ous in the gov­ern­ing coun­cil, lead­ing mem­bers of other lin­eages to con­clude that the dom­i­nant group, an extended fam­ily, will not rep­re­sent the inter­ests of excluded lin­eages in a fair and bal­anced way.   It is tempt­ing to view these divi­sions as a form of eco­nomic phra­try, because of the clear pres­ence, in the Idaho Delawares, of a line drawn on the basis of pol­i­tics, eco­nom­ics, and most impor­tantly, kin (family).

Eth­nic­ity and the Family

Pierre van den Berghe, obey­ing the par­a­digm of socio­bi­ol­ogy, treats eth­nic­ity as an arti­fact of bio­log­i­cally dri­ven kin selec­tion effec­tu­ated in rela­tions of nepo­tism, resource com­pe­ti­tion and hier­ar­chi­cal coer­cion. This is a for­mu­la­tion which deserves con­sid­er­a­tion and testing.

It is an approach which may be espe­cially use­ful where the unit of analy­sis is the fam­ily. The influ­ence of social, eco­nomic and ide­o­log­i­cal forces meets and the eth­nic bound­ary becomes oper­a­tional­ized within the struc­ture of the indi­vid­ual fam­ily unit.  Global eco­nomic fac­tors such as resource com­pe­ti­tion and sta­tus hier­ar­chies can be rec­og­nized within the micro­cosm of day-to-day fam­ily life. It is within the fam­ily, ulti­mately, where essen­tial fea­tures are pre­served which serve to per­pet­u­ate behav­iors selec­tively advan­ta­geous to the larger ethny.

Herein lies the use­ful­ness of van den Berghe’s schema. A direct link is posited between brain genet­ics and fun­da­men­tal char­ac­ter­is­tics, i.e. pat­terns of kin­ship struc­ture, attrib­uted to the fam­ily in all times and climes.  It is shown how descent alone would leave an ethny with­out bound­aries (even those between species). Eth­nic­ity is thus defined in the last analy­sis by com­mon descent. Descent by itself, how­ever, would leave the ethny unbounded, for, by going back enough, all liv­ing things are related to each other. Eth­nic bound­aries are cre­ated socially by pref­er­en­tial endogamy and phys­i­cally by ter­ri­to­ri­al­ity.  Ter­ri­to­ri­al­ity and endogamy  are,  of  course,  mutu­ally  rein­forc­ing  for with­out phys­i­cal propin­quity peo­ple can hardly meet and mate, and con­versely, suc­cess­ful repro­duc­tion with all the lav­ish parental invest­ment it requires for humans, favors  ter­ri­to­ri­al­ized  kin  groups.  The pro­to­typ­i­cal ethny is thus a descent group bounded socially by inbreed­ing and spa­tially by ter­ri­tory (van den Berghe 1981:210)

Pref­er­en­tial endogamy, for the Delawares of Idaho, means only that mates are pre­ferred with any claim at all upon bio­log­i­cal propin­quity with Native Amer­i­cans, espe­cially Delawares (a rar­ity) or their his­toric Indian neigh­bors.  Thus it might be stated that, polit­i­cally, eth­nic bound­aries are cre­ated by ascrip­tion. An inverse rela­tion­ship is pre­dicted between group size and the fre­quency of mate selec­tion from the individual’s own group. Not sur­pris­ingly, then, the Delawares of Idaho are today com­pletely exog­a­mous, as their Delaware blood quan­tum van­ishes with each suc­ces­sive generation.

It seems curi­ous that endogamy and descent share a cri­te­rion for eth­nic­ity, since the extreme form of the two prin­ci­ples com­bined would be incest. Also, endogamy is not as impor­tant where the eth­nic dia­crit­ics are pri­mar­ily polit­i­cal, e.g. where irre­den­tist claims to ter­ri­tory are the empha­sis of cor­po­rate actions, as in this case.

The dif­fer­ence between van den Berghe’s view of the pro­to­typ­i­cal ethny and the social struc­ture of the Delawares of Idaho is that, in the for­mer, eth­nic bound­aries are cre­ated socially by pref­er­en­tial endogamy and phys­i­cally by ter­ri­to­ri­al­ity. The lat­ter, com­pletely exog­a­mous and with­out a com­mon land or prop­erty base, estab­lish the social and ter­ri­to­r­ial bound­aries through the com­bi­na­tion of descent, and the con­cep­tual trans­for­ma­tion of affi­nal into attribu­tive bio­log­i­cal propin­quity. Ter­ri­to­r­ial goals are sub­sti­tuted for ter­ri­to­r­ial hold­ings.  Of course mar­riage rules have long ceased being used as defin­ing attrib­utes of kin groups (Mur­doch 1960:247) and like­wise for eth­nies, by precedent.

More use­ful is the model of clan exogamy in uni­lin­eal descent eth­nies, in its curi­ously snug fit with early three-clan con­fig­u­ra­tion of Lenape social orga­ni­za­tion, with females exchanged in every pos­si­ble direc­tion.  This type of social exchange sys­tem would seem to com­pli­cate mat­ters of ter­ri­to­ri­al­ity, where it is an impor­tant deter­mi­nant of social and polit­i­cal rela­tions, unless some basic fea­ture of the sys­tem served to reg­u­late and sta­bi­lize inter­re­la­tions where rights of usufruct and trans­fer of a ter­ri­tory might be included.  This is the ratio­nale for the claim that the polit­i­cal and social con­sid­er­a­tions are focused, con­densed and con­cen­trated within fam­ily groups. The pri­mor­dial ethny is thus an extended fam­ily: indeed, the ethny rep­re­sents the outer lim­its of that inbred group of near or dis­tant kins­men whom one knows as inti­mates and whom there­fore one can trust. One intu­itively expects fel­low eth­nies to behave at least some what benev­o­lently toward one because of kin selec­tion, rein­forced by reci­procity. The shared genes pre­dis­pose toward benef­i­cence; the daily inter­de­pen­dence rein­forces that kin selec­tion. Fel­low eth­nies are, in the deep­est sense “our peo­ple” (van den Berghe 1981:25).

In a dis­rupted sys­tem, the clan might become the entire eth­nic group where total num­bers are small. Sys­tems such as those of the Tenete­hara (Brazil) and the Shoshone of Idaho have evolved a Hawaiian-type kin­ship sys­tem for the same rea­son. When it becomes too dif­fi­cult to iden­tify a prop­erly eli­gi­ble mar­riage part­ner, the evo­lu­tion of an exogamy rule for the entire kin­dred, or at least for the prospec­tive suitor’s own por­tion of it, can be predicted.

Kin­ship and Social Organization

Kin­ship, more than any other human cul­tural fea­ture, has been the cen­ter­piece of eth­no­log­i­cal stud­ies since the for­mal begin­nings of west­ern social stud­ies (Mor­gan 1871, Mur­dock 1949, Lowie 1920, Mali­nowski 1944). Atom­istic analy­ses which have been sig­nif­i­cant have been those which clar­ify var­i­ous struc­tures of kin­ship, such as parent-child (Mali­nowski 1930), the seg­men­tary lin­eage (Mid­dle­ton and Tail 1965:155), the clan (White 1939) and the ethny (van den Berghe 1981:22) to name but a few. There always remains the pos­si­bil­ity that the­o­ret­i­cal break­throughs in the study of human behav­ior may yet estab­lish a kin-based explana­tory theroa for many social processes.

Analy­ses of social struc­ture gen­er­ally fol­low cat­e­gories laid out by Mur­dock   (1949).   Fol­low­ing that line, the Lenape/Delaware peo­ples are seen to be a group whose social struc­ture has been chang­ing con­tin­u­ously from the ear­li­est recorded times. Estab­lish­ing con­ti­nu­ity by describ­ing spe­cific changes in spe­cific forms are made all the more dif­fi­cult and spec­u­la­tive because of this, there­fore it is nec­es­sary, before start­ing, to enu­mer­ate the most gen­eral ele­ments of social struc­ture in the case at hand.

In con­trast with uni­lin­eal forms of descent groups,  the present ethny has a cog­natic form of social orga­ni­za­tion, that is,  all  mem­bers  of  the  group  are  “kin  by  birth”   (Mur­dock 1960:236).  This “in the sense that they do not employ either patri­lin­eal or matri­lin­eal descent as a major orga­niz­ing prin­ci­ple in the group­ing of kins­men.” The domes­tic unit, a small fam­ily, is always exog­a­mous, while the kin­dred (all Indian, ide­ally) would be only rarely so.  “The impor­tant point is that the small domes­tic unit is fun­da­men­tally a bilat­eral kin group. It must there­fore be defined in such a way as to exclude any lin­eal prin­ci­ple (Mur­dock 1960:238).”

Mur­dock found that, of the var­i­ous forms of the fam­ily or house­hold recorded in ethnog­ra­phy, only the fol­low­ing fall within such a definition:

  1. The inde­pen­dent monog­a­mous or nuclear fam­ily com­posed of mar­ried par­ents and their children;
  2. The polyg­a­mous fam­ily (with either polyg­yny orpolyandry), which links the chil­dren by two or more spouses to one com­mon parent;
  3. The stem fam­ily, which links the fam­ily of pro­cre­ation of one mar­ried child to his fam­ily of ori­en­ta­tion in a com­mon house­hold; h. the [joint] fam­ily, which links the fam­i­lies of pro­cre­ation of sev­eral mar­ried sib­lings to their com­mon fam­ily of ori­en­ta­tion but which dis­solves with the death of their parents.

It appears to be the case his­tor­i­cally that one of the above cat­e­gories would apply to the small­est domes­tic unit of every known Delaware ethny, what­ever the pre­his­toric social orga­ni­za­tion of the Lenape; clans, tribes, or what­ever.  Evi­dence of this is pre­sented in the next two chapters.

Cul­ture ele­ment sur­vivals can be seen as an exten­sion of kin­ship struc­tures, espe­cially when genealo­gies are used for the pur­pose of legal authen­ti­ca­tion of descent and/or eth­nic­ity, such as in the Delaware case.  Kin rela­tions, in the realm of eco­nomic adap­ta­tion, are of para­mount impor­tance in cul­tural per­sis­tence (Freilich 1918, Stocks 1983). All of the eco­nomic affairs of a com­mu­nity, and all of the power rela­tions can be expected to have a kin-dimension. Kin struc­tures are a reg­u­la­tory matrix by which age-sex role rela­tions can be flex­i­bly tran­scended or main­tained in sta­bil­ity, con­stantly mobi­liz­ing and reify­ing. The role of the fam­ily in estab­lish­ing an agenda of eth­nic­ity build­ing is eas­ily as impor­tant as num­bers.  The total involve­ment of fam­i­lies, espe­cially of entire lin­eages, is cru­cial, and is in itself a con­vinc­ing inge­nu­ity when viewed by the world at large. The lead­ers of a group may then pro­claim, “Step as close as you like, and look as closely as you can. We are what we are”. Polit­i­cal rela­tions and eth­nic­ity, in a socio-biological or cul­tural deter­min­ist model, are shaped by imper­a­tives of (kin) group fit­ness max­i­miza­tion.  Through the appli­ca­tion of manip­u­la­tive strate­gies, indi­vid­u­als within a group work toward this goal, con­sciously or not, in the gen­eral view (Vin­cent 1978:175).

The Eth­nic Revival

His­tor­i­cal forces of change gov­ern the eth­nic revival, the roots of which, on a global scale, have been traced to the French Rev­o­lu­tion (Smith 1981).  Idaho Delaware eth­nic­ity can be viewed as part of a gen­eral west­ern resur­gence of eth­nic­ity, which is seen, in turn, as a con­tin­u­a­tion in a spe­cial form, of an ear­lier tra­di­tion, and is best regarded as a vari­ant of the wider and deeper eth­nic revival. Anthony Smith traces the roots of mod­ern polit­i­cal orga­ni­za­tion of eth­nic com­mu­ni­ties to the mid-nineteenth cen­tury and con­cludes: “The truth is that this revival is bound up with the rise of nation­al­ism, con­sti­tut­ing the most numer­ous and sig­nif­i­cant branch of such nation­alisms” (Smith 1981:23).  Nation­al­ism itself, as an ide­o­log­i­cal move­ment, first emerged into polit­i­cal promi­nence in the late eigh­teenth cen­tury, or more pre­cisely at the begin­ning of the French Rev­o­lu­tion.  “The mod­ern eth­nic revival, unlike pre­vi­ous ones, involves the ele­va­tion of eth­nic­ity into the cor­ner­stone of social and polit­i­cal orga­ni­za­tion, at least in the­ory” (Smith 1981:24).  The task becomes a dual one: to ana­lyze the causes of this mod­ern eth­nic revival, and to demon­strate the novel ele­ments in that revival.

Of six strate­gies Smith lists as open to eth­nic com­mu­ni­ties incor­po­rated in poly-ethnic states, only one, ‘irre­den­tism’, is applic­a­ble in the Idaho Delaware case. “An eth­nic com­mu­nity, whose mem­bers are divided and frag­mented in sep­a­rate states, seeks reuni­fi­ca­tion and recov­ery of the ‘lost’ or ‘unre­deemed’ ter­ri­to­ries occu­pied by its mem­bers. In gen­eral, this is only pos­si­ble where the eth­nic com­mu­nity has its mem­ber­ship lying in adjoin­ing states or areas” (Smith 1981:15).  The claim is made that fam­ily rela­tions, in fam­i­lies where one or more indi­vid­u­als has self-ascription of Delaware eth­nic­ity will dis­play ele­ments of behav­ior con­sis­tent, if not con­tin­u­ous, with ear­lier forms.  How can this claim be sub­stan­ti­ated? I have attempted to do it in the fol­low­ing way: First, char­ac­ter­is­tics of fam­ily rela­tions in his­toric and pre­his­toric peri­ods are exam­ined.  Aspects and events of life most likely to be for­mally influ­en­tial in the con­text of fam­ily behav­iors and tra­di­tions, espe­cially oral tra­di­tions, with a mate­r­ial or eco­nomic dimen­sion are the focal emphasis.

Sec­ondly, an attempt is made to trace pri­mary themes of change as reflected by spe­cific events in their his­tor­i­cal con­text, which have oper­ated on eth­nic Delaware fam­i­lies.  This is done  with the  expec­ta­tion  that  mem­o­ries  of  these  events, how­ever dis­torted by time and cul­tural dis­lo­ca­tion, still serve as cog­ni­tive eth­nic anchors, man­i­fest­ing in oral tra­di­tions and other  ‘mem­o­ries’  or  ‘sur­vivals’,  as,  for  exam­ple,  in  the manip­u­la­tion of pri­mary eth­nic symbols.

Finally, I have char­ac­ter­ized the Delawares of Idaho as I have found them since 1984, in terms of the same gen­eral cri­te­ria applied to ear­lier Delaware groups (fam­i­lies) for the pur­pose of com­par­i­son. If for­mal or struc­tural con­gruities are present, this would seem to make a strong case for the propo­si­tion that the Delawares of Idaho are not only a genetic, but a cul­tural, eth­nic survival.

The method is essen­tially the same as that employed by Freilich in his (1948) analy­sis of cul­tural per­sis­tence in accul­tur­ated Mohawk steel­work­ers. In sum­mary, it is pro­posed that eth­nic­ity is a prod­uct of fam­ily rela­tions, and as such springs from an irre­ducible bio­log­i­cal core of kin for­ma­tion. These rela­tions are not reflected on by mem­bers, but are part of the con­text within which a per­cep­tion of con­ti­nu­ity, of self and soci­ety, devel­ops conjointly.

Fur­ther­more, these rela­tions are mir­rored in group rela­tions in groups at every level of size and com­plex­ity, as well as in the rela­tions of social classes. They embody the bio­log­i­cal bases of recog­ni­tion: nepo­tism, resource com­pe­ti­tion and coer­cion. The fam­ily is the least com­mon denom­i­na­tor within which can be found the full range of capa­bil­ity for the expres­sion of cul­tural values.

More­over, it is within fam­i­lies that cul­tural con­tent is elab­o­rated.  Con­tent is only impor­tant for preser­va­tion of cul­tural sta­bil­ity at the level of fam­ily orga­ni­za­tion. The rea­son is that, pre­sum­ing cohab­i­ta­tion, indi­vid­u­als, espe­cially chil­dren, spend more time in the pres­ence of fam­ily mem­bers than is spent with those out­side the imme­di­ate fam­ily, in roost cases.   Finally, the fam­ily both has, and is, a nat­ural, clearly defined yet porous bound­ary, in cul­tures char­ac­ter­ized by dis­crete fam­ily house­holds. Within the household/boundary, con­san­guinal, affi­nal and fic­tive kin round out the dis­crete ethny.

Thus the fam­ily is capa­ble of main­tain­ing gen­er­a­tion bridg­ing eth­nic­ity indef­i­nitely and can be viewed as the small­est eth­nic group with con­sis­tent via­bil­ity. Like­wise, the small­est eth­nic unit is the indi­vid­ual eth­nic mem­ory. The dis­tinc­tion is a nec­es­sary one, if we are to demon­strate the the­sis, for the indi­vid­ual mem­ory, like the indi­vid­ual per­son, has both a bio­log­i­cal and a cul­tural com­po­nent. The indi­vid­ual per­son may choose to acknowl­edge, indeed insist­ing on, an eth­nic sta­tus, or may decide to con­ceal it alto­gether. This hap­pens in sit­u­a­tions where abil­ity exists to dif­fer­en­ti­ate one eth­nic salient from another, and to strat­ify same, in terms of the degree to which self-interest is served, in a typ­i­cal social context.

The The­sis

I present his­tor­i­cal and ethno­graphic evi­dence in an attempt to show how per­sis­tent ele­ments of Delaware fam­ily struc­ture have artic­u­lated with adap­tive strate­gies and sex­ual divi­sion of labor,   and appear from pre-contact times to the present. Fully aware of the con­tro­ver­sial nature of such a claim, still it seems jus­ti­fi­able to view cer­tain ele­ments of Idaho Delaware fam­ily struc­ture and social rela­tions as ele­men­tal ‘sur­vivals’, and to view the polit­i­cal revival of this ethny as the result (i.e., eth­nic prod­uct) of forces oper­at­ing at the level of fam­ily struc­ture.  These forces are a com­bi­na­tion of con­di­tions and con­scious­ness, and reflect the dynam­ics of a dialec­ti­cal inter­face between the ide­olo­gies of Indian-ness and non-Indian-ness. Syn­the­sis occurs as agree­ment upon goals and objec­tives, and is man­i­fested in the pres­ence of adver­sar­ial social pair­ings at, and in, events orga­nized on the basis of the eth­nic bound­ary. This is an enig­matic fun­da­men­tal of eth­nic­ity and eth­nic consciousness.

This con­scious­ness is a cul­tural resource which can be mobi­lized and drawn upon under cer­tain con­di­tions of envi­ron­men­tal flux, in a process of revival and revi­tal­iza­tion.  It is a process well doc­u­mented, if less well understood.


Eth­nic­ity is the pri­mary top­i­cal and the­o­ret­i­cal con­cern of this report.  Most stud­ies of eth­nic­ity begin with an acknowl­edg­ment of the pri­mary impor­tance of the nature of eth­nic bound­aries, their ori­gins and main­te­nance. These invari­ably sin­gle out Barth’s (1969) sem­i­nal defin­i­tive sum­mary of the nec­es­sary and suf­fi­cient con­di­tions for the estab­lish­ment and main­te­nance of eth­nic boundaries.

A source of legal def­i­n­i­tion can be found in gov­ern­men­tal peti­tion spec­i­fi­ca­tions for Native Amer­i­can groups seek­ing acknowl­edg­ment and recog­ni­tion as Indian Tribes. These are the recipe for a man­i­festo of ethnicity.

This ques­tion is seen partly as a prob­lem of iden­ti­fy­ing fac­tors which lead to the sur­vival of eth­nic forms seated deep in the con­scious­ness and imbed­ded in the behav­ior of a group’s mem­bers.  In the case of mod­ern groups of Indian descen­dants, some have regarded it pri­mar­ily as an oppor­tunis­tic man­i­fes­ta­tion, drawn from rudi­men­tary knowl­edge of eth­nic ances­try, in response to a dis­cov­ery of resources which have become avail­able on the basis of ances­tral propin­quity. An under­stand­ing of the ori­gins and nature of these bound­aries, the way they come into play in inter-group rela­tions, and the sig­nif­i­cance of group bound­aries to indi­vid­u­als will enable us to describe the gov­ern­ing influ­ences in bound­ary main­te­nance and change.

The end of a suc­ces­sion of Native Amer­i­can eth­nies pre­sent­ing claims and peti­tions is not in sight.  The process is slow and method­i­cal, with many frus­tra­tions for appli­cants, along the bureau­cratic maze way.  As months and years pass, many such efforts are dropped,  but  the  num­ber  of  suc­cess­ful appli­cants,  and  the  vari­ety  of  cases,  serve  as  scant encour­age­ment for those fac­ing line item rejec­tion of their cases and claims.