Wyandot Tribal Society

Wyandot Government, A Short Study of Tribal Society

Rights Of Person
Each individual has a right to freedom of person and security from personal and bodily injury, unless adjudged guilty of crime by proper authority.

Community Rights
Each gens has the right to the services of all its women in the cultivation of the soil. Each gens has the right to the service of all its male members in avenging wrongs, and the tribe has the right to the service of all its male members in time of war.

Rights Of Religion
Each phratry has the right to certain religious ceremonies and the preparation of certain medicines.

Each gens has the exclusive right to worship its tutelar god, and each individual has the exclusive right to the possession and use of a particular amulet.

The violations of right are crimes. Some of the crimes recognized by the Wyandot are as follows:

A maiden guilty of fornication may be punished by her mother or female guardian, but if the crime is flagrant and repeated, so as to become a matter of general gossip, and the mother fails to correct it, the matter may be taken up by the council women of the gens.

A woman guilty of adultery, for the first offense is punished by having her hair cropped; for repeated offenses her left ear is cut off.

The punishment for theft is twofold restitution. When the prosecutor and prosecuted belong to the same gens, the trial is before the council of the gens, and from it there is no appeal. If the parties involved are of different gentes, the prosecutor, through the head of his household, lays the matter before the council of his own gens; by it the matter is laid before the gentile council of the accused in a formal manner. Thereupon it becomes the duty of the council of the accused to investigate the facts for themselves, and to settle the matter with the council of the plaintiff. Failure thus to do is followed by retaliation in the seizing of any property of the gens which may be found.

Maiming is compounded, and the method of procedure in prosecution is essentially the same as for theft.

In the case of murder, if both parties are members of the same gens, the matter is tried by the gentile council on complaint of the head of the household, but there may be an appeal to the council of the tribe. Where the parties belong to different gentes, complaint is formally made by the injured party, through the chief of his gens, in the following manner:

A wooden tablet is prepared, upon which is inscribed the totem or heraldic emblem of the injured man’s gens, and a picture-writing setting forth the offense follows.

The gentile chief appears before the chief of the council of the offender, and formally states the offense, explaining the picture-writing, which is then delivered.

A council of the offender’s gens is thereupon called and a trial is held. It is the duty of this council to examine the evidence for themselves and to come to a conclusion without further presentation of the matter on the part of the person aggrieved. Having decided the matter among themselves, they appear before the chief of the council of the aggrieved party to offer compensation.

If the gens of the offender fail to settle the matter with the gens of the aggrieved party, it is the duty of his nearest relative to avenge the wrong. Either party may appeal to the council of the tribe. The appeal must be made in due form, by the presentation of a tablet of accusation.

Inquiry into the effect of a failure to observe prescribed formalities developed an interesting fact. In procedure against crime, failure in formality is not considered a violation of the rights of the accused, but proof of his innocence. It is considered supernatural evidence that the charges are false. In trials for all offenses forms of procedure are, therefore, likely to be earnestly questioned.

Huron, Wyandot,

Powell, J. W. Wyandot Government: A short study of tribal society First Annual Report of the Bureau of Ethnology to the secretary of the Smithsonian Institution 1879-1880, p. 57-69. Washington Government Printing Office. 1881.

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