The Hierarchy of Native American Tribes Explained

For centuries, Native American tribes have existed in North America as sovereign nations. They have unique cultures, languages, and histories that reflect their distinct tribal identities, and their members often follow specific hierarchical structures that help maintain their social, political, and economic systems. Understanding the hierarchy of Native American tribes can shed light on their complex social structures and help individuals appreciate the diversity of Native American communities.

Tribal Sovereignty

Native American tribes in the United States are recognized by the federal government as sovereign nations. The U.S. government has a government-to-government relationship with these tribes, much as it does with foreign countries. This means tribes have their own laws, courts, and police that are separate from state and federal laws. Tribal sovereignty is a key feature of Native American cultural identity, and it has been crucial in preserving their cultures and traditions.

Clans and Lineages

Within a tribe, there may be various subgroups such as clans, bands, or lineages. These subgroups are typically organized around specific cultural or social practices, such as hunting, fishing, or storytelling. These groups may have their own internal hierarchy and leaders that are responsible for maintaining the group’s customs and traditions.

Tribal Councils and Leaders

Most Native American tribes have a council or governing body that is responsible for making decisions on behalf of the tribe. The council is usually made up of elected representatives from the various subgroups, with each representative serving a specific term. The council is responsible for making decisions about the tribe’s social, economic, and political systems.

At the top of the hierarchy is usually a tribal chief or leader, who is responsible for overseeing the council and making final decisions on important matters. The tribal chief is often chosen based on lineage or other factors, such as personal achievements or accomplishments. The tribal chief holds an important role in the community and has a great deal of influence over the decisions made by the council.


Native American tribes have a complex and diverse hierarchical structure that reflects their unique cultures and traditions. Understanding this hierarchy can help individuals appreciate the diversity and richness of Native American communities. By recognizing the importance of tribal sovereignty, clans and lineages, and tribal councils and leaders, it is possible to get a better grasp of the social, political, and economic structures that have helped Native American tribes thrive for centuries.

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