The notion of a "tribal chief" is rather vague and arbitrary; neither chief nor tribe is clearly defined, so in many cases other designations are used for the same institution, such as petty ruler or even headman (in a very small but autonomous community, e.g. in the jungle). In some cases they merely lead a traditional consultative entity within a larger polity, in other cases tribal autonomy comes closer to statehood. A chieftain is a leader of a tribe.
There are many variations on it, but the most common types are the chairman of a council (usually of 'elders') and/or a (broader) popular assembly in 'parliamentary' cultures, the war chief (can be an alternative or additional post in war time), the hereditary chief, the politically dominant medicineman ('theocratic' cultures).
The term is usually distinct from chiefs at still lower levels, such as village headman (geographically defined) or clan chief (an essentially genealogical notion), as the notion 'tribal' rather requires an ethno-cultural identity (racial, linguistic, religious etc.) as well as some political (representative, legislative, executive and/or judicial) expression.
Adivasi in Sanskrit refers to indigenous people who are living from ages. (Adi meaning first and vasi meaning habitant.) These tribes do have "Chiefs" and they are referred by various names. The north eastern states of India with a large tribal population is a valid case study, with tribal chiefs enjoying a lot of power and status in the region. See also Rigvedic tribes.
Arabs, in particular peninsular Arabs and nomadic Beduins are largely organized in tribes, many of whom have official representatives in governments. Tribal chiefs are known as Sheikhs, though this term is also sometimes applied as an honorific title to spiritual leaders Sufism.
The Solomon Islands have a Local Court Act which empowers chiefs to deal with crimes in their communities.
Generally, a tribe or nation are considered to be part of an ethnic group, usually sharing cultural values. For example, the forest-dwelling Chippewa historically built dwellings from the bark of trees, as opposed to the Great Plains-dwelling tribes, who would not have access to trees, except by trade, for example for lodgepoles. Thus the tribes of the Great Plains might typically dwell in skin-covered tipis rather than bark lodges. But some Plains tribes built their lodges of earth, as for example the Pawnee; the Pueblo people built their dwellings of stone and earth; some Puebloans were matrilineal.
A chief might be considered to hold political power, say by oratory or by example. But on the North American continent, it was historically possible to evade the political power of another by migration. The Mingos, for example, were Iroquois who migrated further west to the sparsely populated Ohio Country during the 18th century. Two Haudenosaunee, or Iroquois, Hiawatha and the Great Peacemaker, formulated a constitution for the Iroquois Confederation.
The tribes were pacified by units of the US Army in the nineteenth century, and were also subject to forced schooling in the decades afterward. Thus it is uncommon for today's tribes to have a purely Native American cultural background, and today Native Americans are simply another ethnicity of the secular American people. Because formal education is now respected, some like Peter McDonald, a Navajo, left their jobs in the mainstream US economy to become chairman of the tribal council.
Not all tribal leaders need be men; Wilma Mankiller (1945- ) was a well-known Chief of the Cherokee Nation. Also, though the seat of power might be the chief, they were not free to wield power without the consent of a council of elders. For example: Cherokee men were not permitted to go to war without the consent of the council of women.
Tribal government is an official form of government in the United States and in other countries around the world.
Historically the US government treated tribes as seats of political power, and made treaties with the tribes as legal entities. But frequently the territory of the tribes fell under the authority of the Bureau of Indian Affairs (BIA) as reservations held in trust for the tribes. Citizenship was formerly considered a tribal matter. For example, it was not until 1924 that the Pueblo people were granted US citizenship, and it was not until 1948 that the Puebloans were granted the right to vote in state elections in New Mexico. In Wisconsin, the Menominee Nation has its own county Menominee County, Wisconsin with special car license plates; 87% of the county's population is Native American.
Secular (mainstream) Americans often find pride and comfort in realizing that at least part of their ethnic ancestry is Native American, although the connection is usually only sentimental and not economic or cultural. Thus there is some political power in one's ability to claim a Native American connection (as in the Black Seminole).
Because the Nations were sovereign, with Treaty rights with the Federal government, the Wisconsin tribes innovated Indian gaming (1988), that is, on-reservation gambling casinos, a 14 billion dollar industry, nationwide. This has been imitated in many of the respective states which still have Native American tribes. The money to be made has engendered some political scandal. For example, the Tigua tribe, which fled their ancestral lands in New Mexico during the Pueblo revolt of 1680, and who then settled on land in El Paso County, Texas has paid 4.2 million dollars in political contributions in Texas for a low probable return to the tribe because of the Jack Abramoff publicity.
Many of the tribes use professional management for their money. Thus the Mescalero Apache have renovated their Inn of the Mountain Gods to include gambling as well as the previous tourism, lodging, and skiing in the older Inn, as of 2005.
See also: Economy of the Iroquois
Many minority ethnic groups in many countries have founded semi-autonomous regions in their part of the country such as the Kurds in Iraq. Also, weak governments in Africa usually have no control over far-flung regions with ethnic minorities. During the 600 BC to 200 BC Period, there were many tribes in India. The Tribal Chief, also known as Raja in those times, lead the tribe and was generally the oldest and wisest in the tribe.
In Gaelic Ireland, up to its destruction in the 16th Century, hundreds of families such as the Cunninghams, O'Neills, McMahons, MacCarthys, Byrnes and O'Flahertys, organised as clans like tribes, were ruled by tribal chiefs of the name or taoisigh (a title later adopted for the prime minister of the Republic of Ireland), titled according to their surname as The O'Neill, The O'Flaherty etc. In Federated Kingdoms such as Airgialla, the subKingdom lords competited for the title of The over wider clan kingdom. Gaelic Inaugurations had religious and civil rituals, where new chieftains or Rí would stand on the clans Inauguration stone. This system came to an end at the end of the 16th century.
The following lists are undoubtedly quite incomplete
Huang-di, (黃帝/黄帝 huángdì)(BC 2300) or the Yellow Emperor, was the tribal chief who is considered in Chinese mythology to be the ancestor of all Han Chinese.
Shennong (Traditional Chinese: 神農)(BC 2300), also known as the Yan Emperor (炎帝) or the Emperor of the Five Grains.
Modu Shanyu (Turkic: Mete, Chinese: 冒頓單于) (born 234 BC) was the founder of the Asian Hun Empire (Xiongnu Empire), in 209 BC. According to Chinese records, the name is Modu. The beginning of his rule is also accepted as the formation of the first systematic nomad army. The years of his rule were 209 BCE to 174 BCE.
Wanyan Aguda (Chinese:完颜阿骨打; Han name 完颜旻) (1068–1123, r. 1115-1123) was the chieftain of the Jurchen Wanyan tribe, founder and first emperor of the Jin Dynasty (Chinese:金朝). He was the younger brother of Wanyan Wuyashu and the descendant of Wanyan Hanpu. Aguda was given the temple name Taizu (Chinese:太祖).
He came to power by uniting many of the nomadic tribes of northeast Asia. After founding the Mongol Empire and being proclaimed "Genghis Khan", he started the Mongol invasions and raids of the Kara-Khitan Khanate, Caucasus, Khwarezmid Empire, Western Xia and Jin dynasties. During his life, the Mongol Empire eventually occupied a substantial portion of Central Asia.
Nurhaci is also known as the Taizu Emperor. Nurhaci was the last chieftain of the Jiànzhōu Jurchens and First Khan of Later Jin.