Speaking for or about native peoples

Joseph Boyden is an author who has written historical fiction about Canadian and American indigenous people.  He has a little native blood in him and some media people have treated him as a spokesperson on native issues.  He has been challenged in this role on the grounds that he does not have enough native heritage. (Link onelink twolink three)

This blogger has difficulty with the idea that any one person can speak on behalf of indigenous people because they are individuals and represent a wide range of viewpoints.  Who speaks for Americans?  Obama, Clinton or Trump?

However, there are some who are qualified to speak about native people with varying degrees of knowledge and a lot of caring.  Boyden is one and the author of this blog is another.  Beware of natives who claim to speak for their people.  A lot of them are what I call “professional Indians.”  These are people who make careers, if not a living, by serving white people a lot of bull manure about some aspects of native life or culture.  Boyden is qualified to speak about natives because of the research for his books and I am qualified because my wife is a minister in the United Church of Canada and for four years we lived on a British Columbia coastal Indian Reserve.  Also I have an Indian name.  When I commented that there was a lot of teasing in the giving of Indian names to white people I was told it was a great honour to be given a name by the band’s hereditary chief.

Shortly after we arrived in the village they held a nomination meeting for chief and council.  Not being familiar with the concept I decided to attend and was surprised when three or four people, community leaders, joked about nominating me for elected chief.  After being there for a while and observing band politics I could see there might be some appeal to having a chief who was an outsider.

This band had an elected chief and council and four hereditary clan chiefs who took their positions seriously even though the clan system was getting weaker. The chief of the beaver clan was considered the village chief.   We were told chief and council make most decisions but the chiefs had the right to call a meeting and overrule them. The hereditary chief complained his children did not get jobs in the village because he was sometimes critical of council.  Ten years later we returned for a one-day visit to find the village was divided because the chiefs had tried to exercise this power.  During the day we visited two of the chiefs and were seen as being on their side.  That evening there was a dinner organized by chief and council and while most of the people at the dinner gave us a hug and said “welcome home” the organizers did not acknowledge our presence.  For four years they seldom held a dinner at which my wife was not asked to say grace and I expected she would be asked again.

Us Canadians are forever struggling with division of powers between federal and provincial governments.  Back in 1992 our leaders negotiated some revisions to the balance of power and these revisions were put to the people in a referendum. Under the accord, an aboriginal right to self-government would have been enshrined in the Canadian Constitution. Moreover, the accord would have recognized aboriginal governments as a third order of government, analogous to the federal government and the provinces. In other words, aboriginal governments would have been granted their own order of government, which would have been constitutionally autonomous from the federal and provincial levels of government.

I remember the native leadership were excited about this and insisted the results the native vote be published separately from the white vote.  There are several explanations as to why Canadian natives, as well as Canadians in general,  did not support this accord.  Having since lived four years on a reserve I think native leaders do not speak for their people and Canadian natives certainly did not want more native self-government. Nepotism is found everywhere but on reserves it is blatant.

For the record I am very happy neither I nor my children were raised on an Indian reserve.  I also see natives as being and remaining a conquered people. Treaties are and were a fiction which allow us to, with a clear conscience, hold indigenous people in prison camps. Those people who take a politically  correct approach to native issues are making them into scapegoats.  Forget about the evils of residential schools.  What we are currently doing is much worse.

 

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The economic foundation of racism

Is racism an ugly fact of life or is it a symptom of a much larger problem?  I suspect it is mostly the latter in which  case it is a serious problem with lots of potential for inflicting injustice on people who really do not deserve it.

A discussion of racism should start with some basic principles.

* We do not have to like everyone and it is okay to disagree with others.  We do not have to associate with people we dislike.

* Some people enjoy hurting others.  If you want to really hurt another person say something negative about them that is true.

* Physical violence is wrong.

* Verbal and psychological violence is wrong.  It is disgusting and immoral but it should not be considered criminal  because it involves values, morals and some very fine lines.  It may be that a part of growing up is to learn how to cope with negatives and some people may have to do more learning than others.

* Some members of minority groups are obnoxious and we do not have to like or associate with them.

* We sometimes fear the unknown and strangers.

* Minority groups can be racist against majority groups

There is some anecdotal evidence that racism and negativity based on being a part of a group is increasing.  The question is whether or not this is itself a problem.  This writer thinks it is mostly a symptom of a deeper and larger problem of a shortage of energy and mineral resources.  There are lots of these resources left on the surface of our planet but we have “cherry picked” the most easily accessible and those that are left require a lot of time and energy to extract.  The result is that our economy has started into a serious decline.  Lots of people sense that the decline is happening but do not have a clue as to why.

This is where racism comes in.  When things go poorly, we need scapegoats so that we do not have to ourselves take responsibility – in this case for using up the resource base.  Actually we have a double scapegoat scenario developing.  Some people are blaming foreigners for our problems while others are blaming these evil racists among us for the problems.  This writer blames everyone.

Whoever is to blame, we are facing a very difficult situation around the world.  Normal people are aware of this – Brexit, Trump, the Italians – even if people do not understand the negative forces at work.  Some people have a propensity to hate but to treat the rest as criminal is itself an injustice.

The native Peoples in our part of the world have and Indian prayer – that they not criticize another person until they have walked a mile in that persons moccasins.  Most of the people who are considered racist deserve the benefit of that prayer and the rest of us have a need for some clear understanding without which the problem will not be solved and we will all experience a lot of suffering.

My ebook Funny Money: Adapting to a Down Economy discusses this problem and outlines some policies which might ease the suffering.  You can  get a free copy from the link at the top of this weblog.

The unemployed scapegoats

Apparently a lot of people are blaming themselves for their own unemployment.  This is sad because there is a high probability that our committment to the work ethic will make it difficult or impossible to cope humanely with the economic crisis.

I believe economics is largely about relationships and for relationships to be satisfactory they require a  more or less equal two-way exchange including compassion and understanding.  Too often the victims of the economic crisis are being blamed for their misfortune which is neither understanding nor compassionate.  For them to blame themselves must be psychologically devastating.

Our economic problems are a result of our having consumed the most easily accessible energy and mineral resources and are aggravated by a financial system that has a built-in collapse mechanism.  Those of us who have lived through and enjoyed the recent golden age of prosperity should collectively  take responsibility for the crisis even  though we would not be human if we had not used the resources. To blame any one group for what we have all done is to make them into scapegoats.

Our economic problems could be a lot worse than we would like to think and could lead to a population reduction up to 80 per cent.  That is what the native North Americans experienced when the Europeans arrived.  Of course we are exempt from that kind of disaster but there are so many things threatening our civilization and our way of life that we might be wise to think about how we can cope with a serious disaster so as to minimize human suffering.

One approach may be to look at anthropology and history.  How have other cultures organized themselves and how have they organized the exchange of goods and services.  This has allowed me to see that there are other ways of doing things.  Sometimes those other ways are very appealing.

Our culture places too much emphasis on jobs and employment.  Not only do jobs provide us with food, clothing, shelter and entertainment, they also provide us with self-identity.  If one does not have a job one is a nobody and deserves to be look down upon.  The proper place for such people is that famous burning garbage dump in Jerusalem known as hell.

The reality is that full employment is not a realistic expectation.  The huge agricultural surplus we currently produce makes it unnecessary and our having used up the most easily accessible resources makes it impossible. We need to reorganize our economy so that all people can have the opportunity for a standard of living similar to most other people regardless of what they do with their time.  This means we need to look at some sort of universal income scheme.  Before we can have an income scheme we have to get over our committment to the work ethic.

To some extent we all have to take responsibility for how we live our lives within limitations.  Sometimes we must live in circumstances that are beyond our control.

This blogger feels quite pessimistic about the economic future but has to recognize that people have been pessimistic about the future for millenia.  On the other hand, there have been times during the millenia when pessimism has been justified.  Please don’t blame the economic crisis on those people who are suffering from it.

 

If you liked this post your are invited to comment, press the like button and/or click  one of the share buttons. If you disagree you are invited to say why in a comment.  While I like the idea of sharing this platform, my personality is such that I don’t reply to many comments.

 

 

Responsitibilty for the financial crisis

A news report suggests there will never be any criminal prosecutions from the financial crisis.

This is because we are all to blame.

We all want/have wanted the highest possible returns on our investments and pension funds and the people higher up the line have taken advantage of our own greed to line their own pockets.

I suspect that a lot of what happens in courts has more to do with revenge and scapegoats than it does with justice.

The recession scapegoat list

The economics editor of The Guardian has published a long list of the people he claimes are responsible for the recession.  The list includes many high and mighty  including for a former British prime minister, a former U.S. president,  and a couple of central bank bosses.

I don’t  like  the idea of defending these guys, nor do I like usuing people as scapegoats.  One should remember the Indian prayer that one should not criticize another until one has walked a mile in that person’s mocassins.

Most of the names on the list are those of people who are figureheads acting on behalf of the people below them, including most of us.  These people are subjected to lots of lobbying and don’t always have the ability to do what they want.

The recession has most likely been caused by resource depletion, or at least the depletion of those resources most easily accessible and for this most of us are to blame.  Most of us have wanted a good life with lots of things such as computers, nice homes and great holidays.  And we have demanded high returns on our investments and savings.

No doubt the people on the list have made mistakes and acted in the best interests of themselves and their friends.  But the rest of us should also carry some of the blame.

Treating natives as scapegoats or with equality

The following is a comment posted to an article on The Economist about Canadian natives in the Nov. 17, 2011 issue. This may not be about economics but having lived on a reserve for four years it is something about which I have strong feelings.

http://www.economist.com/node/21538794

 

The way in which us Canadians currently  treat our native population is mostly nasty and much worse than anything which happened in the past.

If we are to treat them humanely we must come to terms with two things.

First, they were and still are a conquered people. When the Europeans came to North American,  they conquered the natives with the help of smallpox. The royal decree that they had to negotiate treaties was a fiction to cover the reality.

The second is that the way we currently treat natives is working to make them into scapegoats.  By allowing them special privileges other  Canadians are developing a lot of resentment.  As the economy goes down it will be convenient to be able to blame natives rather than ourselves.  This is already happening with respect to parts of the West coast fishery where natives are being blamed by some people for a decline of the Fraser River salmon run.

The most important thing to do to for natives is to treat them with equality.  They should have the same rights and responsibilities as every other Canadian.

Who’s to blame and what do we do about the economy?

One thing of which there has been no shortage during this economic crisis is words with lots of scapegoats and ideas as to what to do.  Here’s my attempt to summarize.

Who is responsible for this mess?

The two favorites are greedy Wall Street bankers and incompetent politicians who aren’t following the policies which would most benefit the speaker.  The bankers may be greedy and the politicians may be incompetent but are they any more so than their predecessors who ruled during the golden age of prosperity?

The next groups to blame are those who won’t approve stimulus spending and those who object to spending cuts. Sometimes both groups are blamed for refusing to compromise.

Others who can be blamed are the ratings agencies who gave false assurances,  those making negative statements who are thus creating a negative feedback loop and those who spreading lies to create profit opportunities for themselves.

What can we do about the economy?

One approach is to cut government spending especially that which benefits poor people or those whose finances are precarious..  Of course we don’t want to cut government spending which finds its way into our own pockets.

The second approach is to stimulate the economy.  There are several ways of doing this including government spending, creating more money (quantitative easing and the National Infrastructure Bank) or encouraging exports and restricting imports to protect jobs. We could also use people with DBS degrees (the D stands for doctor) to convince us there is no real crisis and everything will be okay.

Now here are the answers to these two questions in the view of the author of this blog.

We are all to blame.  The basic problems is that humans have used up a lot of resources, especially those that are easily accessible,  and most of us have had a part in this.  Most of us have had nice homes, designer cars, interesting vacations, frequent restaurant meals and lots of other things.  Most of us have been demanding high returns on our pensions and savings.

So what should we do about the crisis?

If the problem really is with the resource base,  stimulating the economy will only make things worse and socking it to the poor is mean – and many more  people are likely to join them.

Therefore my vote is that everyone should be expected to accept a lower standard of living starting with those with higher than average incomes supported by taxpayers (most of whom get their high incomes from belonging to a union in a monopoly field) and those with high incomes resulting from legislation that restricts competition.  This includes people whose income comes from copyright and patent legislation and those whose income is protected by licensing requirements.

It is my fear that not enough of us care enough about our neighbors for this to actually happen.

So there you have it.  This post has added 489 words to the economic hot air.

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