Sunday, 21 November 2010

The Illusory Boundaries of Politics

The issue of resident requirements for the upcoming band election has been going on for several weeks now (years if we count other issues unresolved in previous elections). I have been trying to understand the issue and listen to as many people as possible before weighing in. Both sides have valid points, but it seems to be degenerating into increasingly personal attacks of the people involved. This serves to divide our people, not bring us together as the best public policies can and must. Let me try to quickly summarize the debate in as neutral of terms as possible and hopefully refocus the argument back on the issues and less on the people putting their opinions forth.

In this election there are members who according to the election officer have failed to meet the minimum resident requirement in order to run for the open councilor positions currently up for election. These individuals had been properly nominated, except for 'Namgis election policies that are being challenged by these members. The debate starts from the diverging opinions on what court cases apply to each party. One naming the Charter of Rights of Freedoms as the ultimate determinant of their right to be included in this election and the other saying that the current band policies as well as being classified under the custom membership code, exempt the band from these court cases. An additional consideration is that the 'Namgis First Nation is a sovereign entity separate from the Canadian state. Now before this ends in a costly, lengthy and needless court action against the band, let us have a public discussion that includes all membership, since it is the membership that ultimately must decide.

Before members feel forced to resort to a court challenge, let us re-examine why we are not being more inclusive of all of our band members in the first place. It is my understanding that there is a general concern that if we were to have off-reserve members running and getting elected, that the focus of limited funds would be directed off reserve. Furthermore, off-reserve members do not fully understand the island life with its many complexities and unique challenges. A reverse angle would prove that on-reserve councilors do not fully understand the urban challenges to over half of the 'Namgis population as witnessed by consistently low turnout to urban meetings. The band receives funding per capita, or per person, and some argue that this means funding should be more evenly split. I do not agree. The main reason people move off reserve is to find employment and many find it. Also, since there are many services available to off-reserve members that support these members, it makes sense that the funds should rightfully serve the members living in our territories. Funding that does support off-reserve members, like education for example, should be directed towards those willing to improve 'Namgis community wellness with the end goal of being able to support members willing and able to move back home and contribute. This means that our policies need to accommodate the people that actually make this effort to return, free from discrimination. This can be done in many ways, but should be a directive of the post-secondary and other policies. Of course there will be unique cases that prevent members from moving back for health or family reasons, but in general I think this provides a proactive long-term approach to improving our community well-being.

(To find the full debate I would recommend visiting the official facebook page of the 'Namgis First Nation.)

Discussion:

It is my understanding that our membership has grown over the past few years and that the population numbers can support two more councilors. Perhaps a good compromise on this long standing issue is to accommodate our off-reserve families by allowing them to occupy the two additional seats that according to our own policies, we should have available anyway. This way those living off reserve or just across the border, but still on-island, can still represent their people and segments of the population that have so far gone ineffectively represented. Having people represented in our governance may help increase voter participation (over half of our membership lives off-reserve). It may engage some of the young bright minds of our nation and assure our membership that we are changing with the times, that their government is still relevant. We need to recognize our unlimited potential by utilizing the best resource we have, our people.

There is no question that our urban membership needs a voice. It seems to me that the most effective way to accomplish this would be through representation. This does not have to threaten the lifestyle of those living on-reserve and any change must keep in mind our responsibilities to our lands within the 'Namgis territories. It is my firm belief that all members of a nation should have the ability to voice their opinion and be heard, represented and accountable to the nation itself. Otherwise we are saying that over half of our population does not matter, that their voices do not count and if we are not willing to give a voice to our urban populations, then what are we offering them? Many have made known that accountability is a primary concern of our current system of government in its lack of mechanisms to hold those in power effectively accountable to the people. Our system of governance must evolve with the changing times to stay relevant. Much has changed in the last two decades and if we are to not only survive economically, but thrive as a people, we must change to meet current challenges.

Thursday, 26 August 2010

Elusive

It starts. I am here and yet unsettled. Cars drive by with curious faces, as I write in the spattering rain. Who is that?... I listen as the tide sounds of lapping waves underneath the boardwalk, calmly, certainly. I feel sad. Having left my papa's grave with peace and purpose, I walk on. I can now say I am practicing what I have preached from distant lands. A land to which I am attached by blood and childhood upbringing, yet was safely sheltered from the realities of everyday living. I was always meant to come home and make it remember my name.

The community is still on a high from the abundance of Sockeye we have "been allowed" to catch. A dangerous development no doubt and a sign of the changed times. So quickly. Asking to feed ourselves from our own country. Nonetheless, a profound gratefulness is felt throughout. Not to a dysfunctional government who feigns management of our sacred resources, but to Mother Earth for being resilient and continuing the struggle to feed our people. I look across the Bay and see the scarred hillsides from hungry timber firms chasing a dream of prosperity that elusively slinks deep in the shadows of North American Citizenship. Will they ever stop pushing, taking? Certainly not until the first generation is wiped out and along with it the memories of generations past. With no ties to this place, foreign ownership will leave when Indian Country is exhausted and can take no more. A collapse that will have to occur in an effort to regain the natural balance that we are meant to live within. Things that are so easily forgotten within civilization are typically and so unfortunately the very principles of sustainability. A newfound buzz word, hijacked as a noble goal on a distant horizon.

I have answered the call to come home by those closest to my heart, possessing wisdom far beyond my years. A duty and a dream I have held close since the passing of my papa. A man who helped instill the teachings that shaped me to become the man I am today. I am to write a book of their stories. Stories that must be remembered.

Laugh, Love, Live. I am absolutely sure that this world's foundations are based upon uncertainty as fact. That the only constant is change and it is with this in mind that I realize the more I learn, the less I truly know. For the truth is elusive…Despite it all, thoughts, words and poetic phrases will come and go till the pen runs dry. Despite it all, we rebuild upon remembered principles almost forgot. Despite it all, we are empowered to remember Laughter, Love and Life...Despite it all.

Thursday, 11 March 2010

Inequities: from top to bottom

With capitalism structured so thoroughly towards enhancing and protecting ever more concentrated wealth, it is a wonder First Nations communities are blindly signing on to 'economic development' without taking a closer look. I am all for making a living for First Nations communities and with this comes some difficult choices. Do we mine, or don't we? Clearcuts? Cultural tourism? Dams? The list of exploitables goes on and on, while our people remain, with less and less. I have been thinking about globalization lately. Kind of a higher level view of how state governments of the developed world, use the inherently exploitive (and dogmatically accepted) structure of economics we recognize as capitalism to control and coerce other less powerful governments. In the end, the rich get richer and the poor get poorer. It is easy to parellel this to Indigenous economies and how state governments, utilizing capitlism, partnered with liberal statism, to control, steal and exploit lands and resources, with no long term investment in the local territories. As we have witnessed, this lack of connection only exasperates the problem by taking away any accountability to the land. When the land is exhausted, the companies and its management move to the next territory, while the people remain.

Introduction:

Globalization has sparked a heated debate among globalists and skeptics about whether liberalizing trade produces a net economic benefit to the overall international community as it is claimed by its proponents. The primary claims are that of increased wealth and a reduction in poverty. There is a growing body of evidence that challenges these assumptions, however, which highlight the growing wealth disparity between developed countries and those that are in the unenviable category of developing. It is important to remember the origins of today’s economic policies and realize the very principles espoused by the developed world are not followed domestically. Uncovering the current hypocritical attitudes of the richer countries exposes the motives underlying their platitudes; that of enhancing their wealth while minimizing competition.

Washington Consensus

“As economic activity becomes increasingly concentrated in the regional cores of the OECD, the result is to limit or block the development prospects of many less develop states” – Held & McGrew

The Washington Consensus is a set of economic policies that are prescribed to developing countries as part of a reform package that comes conditionally with development loans through institutions such as the International Monetary Fund (IMF) and the World Bank (WB). The past twenty years have provided many opportunities to witness the effects of these policies on improving the lives and economies of the developing world. Unfortunately the results are uninspiring. It seems the more purely that a country follows the conditions attached to the loans the worse off their economy becomes. Argentina and Bolivia are examples of ardent followers. They signed on to privatization, deregulation, trade liberalization, tax reform in the early 1990’s. In 2001 Argentina’s economy collapsed (Finnegan 42). Although rich in natural resources after forced structural adjustment Bolivia began its decline and after 15 years it remained the poorest country in South America. It is now paying more to service its debt than it does on health care (Ibid. 45). Even with a diverse clientele located throughout the world (states in sub-Saharan Africa, Latin America, and the ex-Soviet Union), the development loan conditions are surprisingly similar and equally ineffective (Held & McGrew 17).

One of the examples usually given for the promotion of globalization lies in Asia, but if we look at these economies, which are supposedly the “best-performing globalizers” according to a WB study (Taming Globalization 41), we run into countries such as China and India who remain highly protective of their economies and maintain policies that the WB would readily denounce if they had not been growing as fast as they are (Ibid. 31). Even the Four Tigers’ (Hong Kong, Singapore, South Korea and Taiwan) success has been largely attributed to “highly protective tariffs around infant industries, which is contrary to the dogma of the Washington Consensus” (Finnegan 46). These developed countries promote neoliberalism, while their domestic policies are often significantly different.

Hypocrisy

“States matter, above all other political entities, and world order is decisively shaped by the most powerful states” – Held & McGrew

During the industrial age nations maintained protective trade barriers around their infant industries and as their growth continued they slowly liberalized their trade, which is the “basis for the common misunderstanding that trade liberalizing fueled their growth” (Taming Globalization 32). As examples have previously shown, for any country to be able to compete with other developed nations, they need to protect their vulnerabilities against external threats. So why does the WB and IMF insist on developing countries eliminating these protections as a precondition of any development loans? It seems that all of the virtuous talk about liberalized free trade reducing poverty and increasing wealth may not be the primary reason after all. As William Finnegan notes, “the US shoves free trade doctrine down the throat of every country it meets while practicing, when it pleases, protectionism (49)…It is a system of control. It is an economics of Empire” (42). Open markets mean more buyers for the rich countries at a time when the industries within the poor countries cannot compete against sophisticated mass-produced competitors.

Wealth and Power

“The truth is, no government practices free trade…it is a credo, a chimera, a utopian conceit” - Finnegan

It is all about wealth and power. Neoliberalism is conditionally forced on developing nations by the very parties that will benefit from it the most. Naturally since they have most of the world’s wealth, they can afford to lend money to ‘help’ other poorer nations, but everything in capitalism comes at a price. Liberalized markets concentrate benefits among the wealthy, which only further solidifies historic inequalities of dominance and dependence (Finnegan 45; Held & McGrew 85). The IMF and WB externally control nations by threatening to withdraw funding if countries fail to change their policies toward creating “import-replacing” industries that do not challenge those of the West (Taming Globalization 39). The US has created a profitable industry out of these loans. It is estimated that for every dollar contributed to these organizations, American corporations receive $1.35 in procurement contracts (Finnegan 45). To ensure that developing countries continue only to export raw materials, instead of creating even the beginning stages of industrial development by adding value to their products, rich countries charge tariffs in the aggregate four times higher against products coming from other rich countries (Ibid. 50). This condemns these poor countries to be the supplier to the developed world, a form of economic slavery with little recourse under the current system.

Discussion

It becomes clear that this system has no other drive than the control of capital into the hands of a few. We have an ultimately limited world economy due to the very simple fact that there is only one earth, so the need for constant growth in Gross Domestic Product (measure of economic activity within a country) cannot last forever. Even with services or businesses that do not process resources directly from the earth depend on money coming from companies and people that do. The same can be applied nationally. Indigenous peoples have long dealt with the blunt tools of capitalism in regards to their livlihoods within local territories. So is capitalism the way to go in repairing the damage or, as it has been framed, a way of regaining our self-determination as Indigenous peoples? In light of our current standard of living, capitalism is a real part of our lives and as with all things it is not completely all bad, although this is hard to realize when analyzing the forces at work within its system. The question becomes: are there ways of working to minimize capitalism's destructive force, while strengthening more equitable means of wealth distribution that take Indigenous values into account or will the system have to collapse before this becomes a viable possiblity?

References

Finnegan, W. (2003, May). The economics of empire. Harper’s Magazine. Available at http://ezproxy.tru.ca/login?url=http://search.ebscohost.com/login.aspx?direct=true&db=aph&AN=9519699&site=ehostlive.

Held, D. & McGrew, A. (2007). Globalization/anti‐globalization: Beyond the Great Divide. Oxford: Polity Press.

Rose, Andrew K. (March 2004). Do We Really Know that the WTO Increases Trade? The American Economic Review. Vol. 94, No. 1, 98-114.

Stiglitz, Joseph E. (2003). Globalization and Development. In D. Held & M. Koenig‐Archibugi (Eds.), Taming Globalization: Frontiers of Governance. Chapter 2, 47–67. Polity Press.

Stiglitz, Joseph E. (April 2000). Two Principles for the Next Round or, How to Bring Developing Countries in from the Cold. World Economy. Vol. 23, Issue 4, 437-455.