Thursday, July 1, 2010

"Culture-specific" governance?

I was recently on Alberta Primetime discussing the Frontier Centre's Aboriginal Governance Index. I work on the Index and was the main author of the final report, which can be viewed on
On this panel, there were two other guests. They started out by criticizing the survey, with the first comment being that the report did not take into account "culture-specific" indigenous principles of governance. When the interview is up on the web, I will post the link.
My reply was that the principles we use in the survey are internationally-recognized standards of good governance. Most Aboriginal organizations have endorsed international principles of governance and human rights.
This whole debate surrounding "culture-specific" principles always puzzles me. When we conduct our survey, indigenous people understand the questions and the principles and largely support principles of good governance. Is government responsive to my needs, does it involve input from all stakeholders? Is it efficient?
I fail to see the need for reinventing the wheel of good governance within the context of any specific group. I mean, First Nations have different conceptions of what governance looks like and that is legitimate. But, the principles that governance aims for in most contexts is similar and we try to do that in our Index.
There wasn't enough time, but I wanted to probe this panelist on what they meant. Does this mean First Nations require their own separate category of governance and principles? I will always stand by the idea that older, undemocratic forms of governance do not have a place in modern Canadian life, including for indigenous people. I believe by and large First Nations embrace modern, responsive, democratic governance. This is governance that respects their unique cultures, but is modern, human rights-affirming. The point is not the turn back the clock, but to incorporate the best principles for modern First Nations, while respecting distinctive traditions and cultures that the people desire to be respected.
Am I way off base here? I don't think so.