Friday, November 27, 2009

Baby Steps

I am convinced more than ever that history will favour those who advocate political and economic freedom for First Nations.
The Nisga'a property rights step is a small one, but I believe it will erode the will of the Native leaders who will not be able to silence the band members who want change.
I think sheer numbers will achieve this. As more FNs leave reserves and see the outside world, they will want to come back to their community to see changes and will become increasingly jaded at leaders as they deny them.
I see a new generation of indigenous youth who are respectful of their traditions and past, but who refuse to take the lack of opportunity and the corruption of the old boys club on reserves.
As more bands clean up their act and these stories get to mainstream attention, more reserves will know there is a better way forward.
Ever notice how most of the big shot Aboriginal leaders don't leave permanently on reserves? Yes, they probably spend most of their time on reserves, but do they live there? Probably not. They believe they are advocating for their people, but in reality, they have one foot in each world and if they had to choose, they would probably stay in the colonial world. Why? Because of the jobs, income, mobility, and opportunity.
No one predict how the demographics will go completely, but I believe things will come down to a heavily urbanized FN population and an increasingly dissatisfied, but younger and more demanding, on-reserve population. They will want to have the best of both worlds. They respect their traditional homelands, yet want the prosperity and cleaner politics of the mainstream. From there, I predict, will emerge a critical class of people open to changes, including property rights, in order to have reasons to stay.
I hope this newer class works with the government and mainstream society, but there are no guarantees they will.
This is why indigenous youth need to be engaged and encouraged in expressing themselves. Unfortunately, militant groups like Wasase are taking over this role, but these organizations are about tuning yourself away from modernity and towards antagonistic rhetoric.
My greatest fear are the urban Aboriginals who have never really experienced reserve life and visit a few times a year and get angry at any discussion about Aboriginal accountability. I met one such youth at a conference in Calgary. They are eager to show their "Indian" credentials to everyone, they hate the Flanagans and Widdowsons of the world they they think they are supposed to, and they respond to any discussion of FN governance issue in the same negative kneejerk fashion.
These people are disconnected from the reserve people who see corruption every day, want change, and are listening to accountability advocates. They are also generally moderate and conciliatory.
If I am correct, these "two-row wampum belt" (one foot in reserve and one in urban setting) urban activist Indians are going to be the greatest threat to political and economic freedom for First Nations.
I could be all wrong, but I am interested to see how things go.. My experience as a policy analyst who travels to reserves convinces me of the basic truthfulness of the descriptions.

Friday, November 20, 2009

Nisga'a move

As many may now be aware, the Nisga'a Nation of British Columbia has moved to liberate its citizens from the shackles of enforced poverty (read: lack of property rights). Nisga'a citizens will have the opportunity now to voluntarily own small parcels of land in fee simple (about half acre plots, so mainly their home and yard).
The difference is they can put up their home as security as it is truly theirs. They can bring that to the bank and secure loans. They can lease their home for income. They can leverage their equity for investments. In other words, they can do the things that most Canadians take for granted.
I have written about this before, so I won't go in complete detail. I have posted this in a past blog post here.
What is most impressive is this is the first step along a journey. All the naysayers cannot say that all First Nations are in love with collective land ownership. This shows that if given a chance, a voice and an opportunity, First Nations opt for something better.
I think this land system will be studied closely. Other Indian bands will be able to see how a functioning First Nation fee simple system works. All of the land, even if it is lost to outsiders for some reason, will remain Nisga'a land and be subject to Nisga'a land. So, we will see what happens. It will be very interesting. I know I will watching and hope to conduct empirical analyses within the next few years about how it is working.
For now, I lift my glass in praise to this courageous indigenous community for taking this step. I wish them well!

Tuesday, November 3, 2009

War on First Nations??

I receive periodic policy updates from a First Nation individual named Russell Diabo. He publishes a regular update on recent news that pertain to Aboriginal peoples. I have also debated with Diabo on an APTN public affairs panel I am involved with. Diabo seems to advocate a hardcore sovereigntist position within indigenous discourse.
Just recently, I received an update from that worried me somewhat. It was a .pdf document containing presentation notes and it was entitled "Canada's War on First Nations."
Now those who have read this blog or my other writings know I have never tried to deny Canada's shameful history when it came to dealing with indigenous peoples. However, this kind of rhetoric attempts to bring some of the old struggles into the present and even the future. In other words, it wants to make this metaphorical war with the Canadian state the dominant paradigm of indigenous-newcomer relations.
I would have loved to have post it here, but apparently posting pdf documents is an issue on this blog format, so I will just invite you to Google (or your choice of search engine) "Canada's war on First Nations" + "Russell Diabo." I am sure something will come up eventually..
The problem is the choice of words. I find this strategy or way of thinking to be at best counter-productive and at worst, highly dangerous and inflammatory.
While saying First Nations should continue on land and treaty land entitlement claims that they believe they are entitled to, I think adopting a martial rhetoric prevents finding common ground.
Diabo assumes in his writing that because successive governments have not accepted a "third order of government" type way of viewing Aboriginal self-governent, they must be about co-opting and eventually secluding FNs into "ethnic municipalities" as it put it.
First of all, adopting this model of a new order of government is not the only way forward for First Nations. There are many First Nations who I'm sure in the end would not prefer this model. Some First Nations don't want to re-constitute themselves and join other communities to form contiguous nations. This is the reality out there.
The government opposes this because it is a fundamental paradigm shift and would change the way government works completely. More importantly, it would mean changes and complications in how money is collected and re-distributed.
I think this objection on their part is more about state survival logic, rather than a deep-seated prejudice against First Nations or a colonial-like desire to assimilate all First Nations. Diabo is also convinced this means "emptying of Section 35 rights."
In particular, he asserts that all modern treaty arrangements are about surrending Section 35 rights and giving into colonialism.
I think for these self-governing communities is not about giving in. These agreements allow them to maintain their governing structures and continue to live as Indians, while receiving funding to continue.
For them, it is a good bargain.
Why do some of these indigenous writers assume that negotiating or making deals with the government is capitulation? Weren't the historic treaties about engaging the state? Finally, and most controversially for some, why is there this eternal fear of becoming involved within the Canadian state? I mean, why is the "Two-wampum"model of governance the eternal default model for all First Nations, where one can never be both an Indian and a Canadian at the same time?? The Two Wampum model is one model among many and does not have to be the model for all.
In his paper, Diabo mentions the important role of indigenous youth. This is one area I agree with him. But, I worry that if youth read Diabo or other like-minded indigenous writers like Gerald Taiaiake Alfred, they will assume the only model available for First Nations is permanent antagonism. You stay on your side and I'll stay on mine. Already, this model falls apart given that indigenous communities are financially dependent on the colonial federal government.
I am not arguing that all First Nations should jump onto USS Canada and forget their grievances over legitimate policy areas. Engaging Canada must mean it is done on just terms. But, just terms does not mean that any engagement with Canada is somehow seen as treasonous, or an act of capitulation, or whatever. It is just logical to accept that we are all in this together and need to work together..