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Tribal Leader  What They Do

Just the Facts


Insider Info

dotBand chiefs and tribal leaders are the designated heads of a group of First Nations people. They might be of Native American, Metis or Inuit descent. Generally, the band leader is elected by eligible voters of the band or by elected councilors of the band.

dotAboriginal people have lived in North America for as long as 10,000 years. These tribes speak different languages, have different customs and live in vastly different climatic zones.

Although these people's lives have changed since Europeans and other immigrants settled on the land a few hundred years ago, the aboriginal people of North America have struggled to hang on to their cultures.

dotIn the past, leadership positions in these tribes were often hereditary. The chief inherited his title through the mother's family. Some traditional leaders were also chosen based on skills as a hunter or provider. When a chief was deemed to be less successful in these pursuits, a new chief was chosen.

Today, the relationship between elected band chiefs, hereditary chiefs, tribal councils, state organizations and national aboriginal organizations is complex and varied. For example, in some tribal groups, the elected band chief is a spokesperson for the hereditary chief.

dotIn general, tribal leaders and band chiefs head elected councils. They are responsible for making and overseeing decisions that will affect the community. "These decisions include all kinds of political issues, from land rights, resources and highways to community issues," says Cherlyn Billy. Billy is a band chief.

dotTribal leaders generally work in a public office, in conjunction with the tribal council.

Many tribal councils meet every weekday from 9 to 5. "They may have to attend weeknight meetings, different functions and conferences on the weekend," says Brent Merrill. He is the public information coordinator of the Confederated Tribes of the Grand Ronde Community in Oregon. He's also the editor of the tribal newspaper and a band member.

Other band chiefs may only gather for specified meetings. They hold other jobs during the day.

dotTribal leaders may need some physical mobility to travel to conferences, meetings and national assemblies. However, elders and those with physical disabilities are accommodated in these travel arrangements.

At a Glance

Be the head of a tribe or band

  • Aboriginal people have lived in North America for as long as 10,000 years
  • Chiefs are responsible for making and overseeing decisions that will affect the community
  • There are no specific educational requirements