Hereditary chiefs in Canada

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Hereditary chiefs in Canada are leaders within a First Nation who represent different houses or clans and who, according to some interpretations of case law from the Supreme Court of Canada, have jurisdiction over territories that fall outside of band-controlled reservation land.[1][2] Passed down intergenerationally, hereditary chieftaincies are rooted in traditional forms of Indigenous governance models which predate colonization.[3][4] Although Coast Salish first nations, like the Squamish Nation, did not traditionally have Chiefs. They had heads of family also known as O'siems. If you went to their villages and said you were a chief, you would have your head chopped off and put on a stick as a warning. The Indian Act (1876), still in force today, imposed electoral systems to fill band council positions.[5][6] Although recognized by and accountable to the Government of Canada, band chiefs do not hold the cultural authority of hereditary chiefs, who often serve as knowledge keepers responsible for the upholding of a First Nation's traditional customs, legal systems, and cultural practices.[7][3][8]

It was hereditary chiefs of the Gitxsan and Wet'suwet'en who acted as plaintiffs in the Delgamuukw v British Columbia decision (1997) of the Supreme Court of Canada. The ruling, overturning a lower court decision, has been important to ongoing definition of the protection of Aboriginal title in relation to section 35 of Canada's Constitution Act, 1982, and also significant in accepting the standing of the hereditary chiefs as plaintiffs, relying on their authority to speak for their communities and nations.[9][10]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Hyslop, Katie (14 February 2020). "Wet'suwet'en Crisis: Whose Rule of Law?". The Tyee. Retrieved 28 February 2020.
  2. ^ "Wet'suwet'en Hereditary Chiefs - elected Band Council - it is complicated". CHON-FM. 20 February 2020. Retrieved 28 February 2020.
  3. ^ a b Joseph, Bob. "Hereditary Chief definition and 5 FAQs". Retrieved 28 February 2020.
  4. ^ Abedi, Maham (10 January 2019). "Band councils, hereditary chiefs — here's what to know about Indigenous governance". Global News. Retrieved 28 February 2020.
  5. ^ Henderson, William B. (2006). "Indian Act". Retrieved 28 February 2020.
  6. ^ "Elected vs. hereditary chiefs: What's the difference in Indigenous communities?". CTV News. 9 January 2019. Retrieved 28 February 2020.
  7. ^ Robinson, Amanda (6 November 2018). "Chief". Retrieved 28 February 2020.
  8. ^ Neel, David; Harper, Chief Elijah (1992). Our Chiefs and Elders: Words and Photographs of Native Leaders. Vancouver: UBC Press. p. 78. ISBN 978-0-7748-5656-0. OCLC 951203045.
  9. ^ McCreary, Tyler (2014). "The Burden of Sovereignty: Court Configurations of Indigenous and State Authority in Aboriginal Title Litigation in Canada". North American Dialogue. 17 (2): 64–78. doi:10.1111/nad.12016. ISSN 1556-4819. Archived from the original on March 1, 2020 – via Alt URL
  10. ^ Joseph, Alfred; Uukw, Delgam (1992). The spirit in the land: statements of the Gitksan and Wet'suwet'en hereditary chiefs in the Supreme Court of British Columbia, 1987-1990. Gabriola, B.C.: Reflections. ISBN 978-0-9692570-4-2. OCLC 27223013.