Published on December 2, 2012 by Amy
A Tribal Council is either: a First Nations government in Canada or, an association of Native American bands in the United States; or, the governing body for certain tribes within the United States or elsewhere (since ancient times). In both countries they are generally formed along regional, ethnic or linguistic lines.
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In Canada, the Indian band, usually consisting of one main community, is the fundamental unit of government. Bands may unite to form a tribal council, but they need not do so. Bands that do not belong to a tribal council are said to be independent. Bands may and do withdraw from tribal councils. Furthermore, the authority that bands delegate to their tribal council varies, with some tribal councils serving as a strong, central organization while others are granted limited power by their members.
In the United States, several sovereign American Indian Nations are organized as Tribal Councils. The Navajo Nation, or Dineh, were formally governed by the Navajo Tribal Council, known today as the Navajo Nation Council. The Crow Nation in Montana was once organized as the Crow Tribal Council. Currently, the Crow Nation, after a change in constitution whose legality is disputed, is organized as a three branch government with a ceremonial Crow Tribal General Council.
Tribal councils in Canada and the United States have a somewhat different status. In the United States, the term usually describes the governing body of a tribe that is typically distinct from other tribes as a matter of geography, native language, religion and culture. The tribe, usually comprising a single Reservation (although some tribes have more than one, and many have none) is the basic unit of government. Depending on the state, recognized tribes are considered “domestic dependent nations”, which gives then sovereign status somewhat comparable to the individual American States. Different tribes may choose governance structures for themselves, but most tribes, using the democratic governments in which a Tribal Council or the equivalent functions as a legislative body and an elected or appointed Chairman has an executive role comparable to a President or Prime Minister. Although not necessarily required by US law to recognize legal principles of democracy, separation of powers, legal precedent, etc., most tribes have found it easier to deal with outside authorities if they do. On a few reservations such as the Hopi Reservation, tribal government exists in parallel with the tribe’s more traditional religious and secular government.