Prior to the establishment of the reservations and the implementation of European ideas of formalized tribal governments, based on the white-colonialist form of government, the Turtle Mountain Band of Chippewa and other Ojibwe bands operated on a traditional system of government that worked well for centuries.
The head chief was often a hereditary position, such as with the Little Shell Chiefs, but others could be elevated to that level through great achievements, or through the will of the people. The position of head chief, depended much on their wisdom, bravery and hospitality as leaders and their influence could serve to attract people to follow and join the band – thereby creating a very strong collective under a great leader.
It was the job of the chief to make sure that people had enough. The chief was supposed to always set a good example in hunting and trapping and in family life…he'd go around and make sure that people were able to take care of themselves and their families. If they weren't, he'd talk to them, find out why, and try to come up with a solution to help them improve. Whenever somebody was sick or couldn't provide their family with food, the chief would appoint a counselor, or a group of men, to go around and collect tea, snuff, sugar, lard, flour, and other goods to help out the family. Everybody had to make a contribution.
The duties of a chief included the presiding at councils of his band, making important decisions that affected the general welfare of the band, and the settlement of small disputes. He represented the band at the signing of treaties, the payment of annuities, and any large gathering of the tribe. However, the chief did not act alone.
Associated with the chief were two “head men” who acted as his protectors and trusted advisors. They were selected from among the warriors and each head man had something to do. One was sort of like a policeman; he had to keep the peace and look after complaints, while the other provided wise advice and was active within the community. Other head men, serving as assistants, would act in various capacities as messengers, spokesmen, or arbiters of justice. One head man assistant was the chief's administrator, who among other things distributed various goods to persons who were in need and who heard complaints from those who needed help. There was even an honorary chief, appointed a kind of spokesman, who would work with the youth and children of the band and who would teach them about the Indian way of life. He was an old man with great wisdom and understanding. In addition to these, there was also a group of older people who were like elder advisers to the chief. They offered their words of wisdom and provided advice to the chief to help him make decisions.
Unlike today, when Tribal councils often work behind closed doors, the traditional work of the chief and council never decided important things alone, or in secrecy. They would call a meeting; calling for everybody to come to the community hall where decisions would be made in the open, and where people would have a chance to speak up if needed.
Would it be possible to return to a system of government like this?