Elected tribal leaders in Canada and the US are governing authorities, but their authority is not exclusive. While their authority extends to matters delineated by Ottawa and Washington, the traditional governing authorities of tribes trace their authority back to inherent, indigenous political systems–independent of Canadian and American federal powers. Harmonizing these parallel systems in a process of decolonizing reserves and reservations is challenging, but necessary from a standpoint of cultural survival.
Traditional Chief Sidney Hill of the Onondaga Indian Nation explains why confusion over jurisdiction between elected and traditional authorities is harmful to cultural revitalization. As Hill notes, elective systems are foreign entities, at odds with Haudenosaunee consensual decision-making.
While consensual leadership selection ensures strength through unity, elections are by nature divisive. Decolonizing imposed political structures begins with understanding both the history and the process of assimilation.
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