Individualism & Civic Republicanism: A Tribal Perspective

Written by Samuel Clark

As a Yup’ik (Inuit) man, I was raised in what many would consider a unique upbringing that has influenced the way I view the relationship between individualism and civic republicanism. Tribal cultures, particularly Native American cultures have a strong sense of community and support of their kin (and extended families). While not all tribes function the same way, most that I have come to know highly value their community.


This is evidenced by community-centric practices such as the sharing food and game with other members of the tribe. I can say from firsthand experience that in most hunting and fishing seasons, if a family in the tribe has had a bad haul, they can without a doubt rely on someone else in the community to look out for them.


Traditional Smoked Fish Drying Rack


The life Kemis describes in Barn Raising is a direct parallel of tribal life. It is a common notion in tribal Alaska that life is far easier for all, if everyone bands together for common goals. It may be anecdotal evidence, however, what I have come to assess in my life in a rural community, is that despite all the small town politics and drama between families, the community always takes priority. Kemis would argue that because of the rough lifestyle of rural living, civic republicanism (or some form of it) is a luxury that citizens cannot opt out of. This explains the trend to favor confederations as political structures, and further suggests that Alaska Native tribes (or tribal systems in general) would be staunch federalists.


Yup’ik Men in A Hunting Party


A major critique of Kemis is that the rural model doesn’t fit for all societies, especially urban communities. While the point stands, arguably, these republican values also leak into the life of urban Alaska. While the larger cities like Anchorage tend to favor the individualistic, many enclaves of tribal citizens exist and they bring their local values with them. Community events such as potlaches are commonplace for urban natives and chances are, if you look hard enough you’ll find some link to an extended family in the city.

While society as a whole in tribal communities is highly community-centric, there also tends to be streaks of individualism and expression that break the mold. Dancing, crafting, and storytelling are just a few of the ways that cultures such as mine show personal vigor, as well as coordination in a group. Even further supporting this spirit, as a culture that values tricksters, the Yup’ik would tell stories of great men who embodied the typical individualists. What this tells me is that like most cultures, tribes have somewhat of a mix of the two, however are heavily leaning toward civic republicanism.

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5 Responses to Individualism & Civic Republicanism: A Tribal Perspective

  1. Anonymous Student says:

    Appreciated your post and looking on how it correlated with the ideologies we have went over in class. I do agree in cities around the country there seems to be a more individualist approach towards doing things. However you raised a important point on how civic virtues find ways of entering our everyday lives. Looking at my own background growing up in the inner city of Phoenix, there was a sense of people coming together. Whether it be a community doing a car wash for a fund raiser, or people coming together to serve needy individuals in community centers around Christmas time. All of these are examples on how even in individual based atmospheres, civic republicanism values can indirectly compliment a community’s experience.

  2. Anonymous Student says:

    While reading your blog and your examples of people in the tribe looking out for one another regardless of the issues that arise in small communities I thought of my grandparents recalling stories about what they did to survive during the great depression. They told me of how before the government man would show up to count their livestock ( chickens, pigs, cows) they would drive or walk over animals that they had to many of ( government policy at the time limited the number in order to keep prices down on the market, did not work) and give them to family and friends that were under the max allowed. they say that the wisdom of the federal government made no sense to slaughter animals that were over the limit. They saw that as waste. They told how the entire community would come to together without writing anything official and do what was right. I do believe we have become far to individualistic in our urban cities, and I also agree with you that there are pockets within these urban environments where the small town community values strive. While reading your blog I thought of community gardens as an example of this, where people from different walks of life, backgrounds and ages come together and help each other out when the time comes.

  3. Anonymous Student says:

    This is such an awesome post about your background and how it relates to the philosophies we have discussed. Your experience provides great insight into how civic republicanism has and does play out in society. I do wonder, though, if the individual still exists in communitarian cultures such as the one you grew up in. It seems as though you discussed the value placed on individuals in the tribe and that only solidified my contention that civil republicanism as described and played out in American society is a communities of individuals. Of course not individuals in the extremes Ayn Rand describes, but there seems to be value on the individual identity within the community. There seems to be a resurging movement of people in America who wish to “homestead”. Many of these families have youtube channels which document their journey to what they call self sufficiency and life off the urban grid. Though they see themselves as individuals, they do rely on their community of other homesteaders. One family has a tool the others don’t, one a skill the others don’t, and they help eachother out so that they all might thrive. This is why civic republicanism would not exist as a philosophy and way of life without there existing some level of individualism at its root.

  4. Anonymous Student says:

    I really enjoyed this post, and I believe it is very similar to my blog post. I talked about the critique of Kemmis – are his ideas relevant in urban environments? I think your insight into the Inuit world was very interesting, and you noted that those values leak into the life of urban Alaska. I would agree. As an individual who has only ever lived in the suburbs of Arizona, I haven’t had to live in an environment like Kemmis or the Inuits. However, I was involved in Future Farmers of America, an leadership organization centered around agriculture, where I raised a pig. The agriculture community is largely civic republican, and I had to depend on their guidance and help in order to successfully raise the pig. I can resonate with this blog post – although it isn’t a perfect correlation, the values of civic republicanism are very well alive in the individualistic urban environments.

  5. Anonymous Student says:

    Response from the author:
    Chase, yeah I’d say the typical Kemmis civic citizen bleeds into the urban environment. Urban enclaves of ethnic communities are a direct sign of this crossover. Your farmers alliance is pretty relatable. We’re a fishing community and have the typical unions as well as the tribes themselves who protect the workers. It’s entirely community-based, and I would say civic republicanism in action.

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