Thursday, August 2, 2007

Can Indigenous Peoples Unite to Leverage Their Voice?

Last week I received some really good feedback on one of my posts. I wrote a couple things on the current situation up in British Columbia over overlapping land claims and the treaty making process. At the end of the post I had suggested that perhaps the various indigenous First Nation groups could get together, form a giant company, and use that as leverage to deal with the Canadian government and natural resource companies in terms of land claims.

Well, I was a little unclear exactly what I was talking about in that last post, so I would like to clarify. I don't know if this will ever happen, but it seems like a good idea. As people were quick to point out, and as I have experienced myself working on dozens of environmental impact assessments, social value analyses, natural resource damage assessments, and even NAGPRA cases, things are extremely complex. There are differing tribes or bands at play, elite family groups (many of whom are rivals), differing tribal entities, "status" and "non-status" or federally recognized and unrecognized groups, various levels and branches of government involved, and of course differing types of industry who all throw their hat into the mix when it comes to dealing with land, its resources, and its management. This is quite a complicated mix to resolve!

My thought was that if indigenous peoples, in this case First Nation tribes, could get together and form either a company or some governmental entity to act on their behalf towards the other "players" in the land claims and management arena, they may have a stronger voice. Then, any disputes between differing elite families, bands, individuals, tribes, etc., could be resolved within the indigenous-controlled entity. This would allow the indigenous people to resolve their claims free of outside colonial forces, using whatever methods or techniques they felt proper for the situation.

Let me try and make this even more clear. Is it possible, say, for all those indigenous First Nation bands (both "status" and "non-status") in British Columbia to form some entity that can act with the government, lawyers, and industry to resolve land claims and management issues on the federal, state, economic, and industry level. Internally this entity, because it is formed by and run for the indigenous peoples themselves, could resolve various issues amongst themselves in a way that they see fit. Could this be applied to the Tsawwassen and Semiahmoo controversy? Not this second, but eventually if it gets put in place it could make a big impact on future cases.

What are some other examples of this? Well, there is the National Congress of American Indians, but that is not really what I am talking about here. No, a closer example to what I am envisioning is the Columbia River Inter-Tribal Fish Commission. This Commission, built on indigenous principles, has been effective in working in the larger arena of fish, power, water, environment, and land along the Columbia River than any of the individual tribes could have been by themselves. Do the members of the Commission get along all the time? No, I have worked on several projects in the region, and just like up in B.C. there are various types of inter-tribal jockeying and posturing. However, the Commission is able to act on behalf of the tribes when it comes to dealing with the State, the federal government, and the giant power companies that control the over 50 dams along the Columbia River.

It may not be a perfect solution; rarely is there one. But at least it would allow the indigenous First Nation bands to have more leverage when dealing with outside colonial entities. How they resolve their internal power struggles is up to them. In this version, it would be resolved indigenously rather than through some colonial process imposed upon them from the outside.

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dirk said...

Peter you raise an important idea.But as for First Nations in Canada i believe any kind of organization that seeks to present a common front must be made up and led by the grassroots.
As Taaiake discusses in his book Wasase(a must read) an example of such a organization would be Wasase;

Peter N. Jones said...


I couldn't agree with you more, it must be grassroots. That is just what I am suggesting, although other organizations or the government may have to make certain incentives available before the grassroot organization can take off and be sustainable. I agree, Wasase is an excellent example.

Anonymous said...

No matter how you look at it, it all about money
greed and control. Colonial or indigenous,
Mother Nature loses.It would seem todays leaders,no matter what race has no concern for her. It's How much, not How that driving it all.

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