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PPGPortal > Home > Concept Dictionary > B, C > Chief and Council

Chief and Council  

The government structure of many First Nation communities, as stipulated in the federal Indian Act.

(Sterritt, Neil J. 2003. First Nations Governance Handbook: A Resource for Effective Councils. Ottawa: Indian Affairs and Northern Development.)


The majority of First Nations communities structure their governments according to the stipulations laid out in the Indian Act.  The act indicates that the community leadership must be composed of one Chief, and one councillor for every 100 community members. The Indian Act also prescribes rules governing the conduct of elections, eligibility to stand for office, eligibility to vote, length of term in office, vacancy of office, election appeals, and the rules for the conduct of Band meetings and Council meetings.

Communities can decide to hold ‘custom band elections’ which fit more closely to their customs and tradition, and may differ from the rules outlined in the Indian Act.  According to federal government policy, T\the specific custom election process must be based on a “broad consensus” of the community membership (usually achieved through referendum.

The role of Chief and Council is described by Indian and Northern Affairs Canada in the following way: 

Community members grant power to an elected Chief and Council to govern the land and property of the First Nation for them. Councillors, including the Chief, thereby assume responsibility for program and service delivery, financial management, policy development, and planning and control systems.

As elected representatives of community members, Chief and Council are the authorized First Nation government. As such, they have roles and responsibilities beyond those of an ordinary member. For example, councillors have a fiduciary responsibility always to act in the best interest of the First Nation, and always to use First Nation equitably for the member’s benefit. Failure to do so can result in personal liability being assessed against an individual councillor, or the whole Council.” (Sterritt 2003, 23).

Those communities, which have completed the self-government negotiation process with other levels of government, and have become self-governing, may choose different governance structures. In these cases the Indian Act, and the stipulations held therein, are no longer applicable.


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