Alfred, 1999 [Taiaike, A leading Kanien’kehaka scholar versed in both indigenous and western traditions, PhD at Cornell, direct of the Canadian Indigenous Governance Program, “Peace, Power, Righteousness: an indigenous Manifesto, p. 24-28 ]
Returning to indigenous traditions of leadership will require an intensive effort to understand indigenous political life within the moral and ethical framework established by traditional values. Without obscuring the distinctiveness of individual societies, it is possible to see fundamental similarities in the concept of 'Native leadership' among indigenous cultures. Most agree that the institutions operating in Native communities today have little to do with indigenous belief systems, and that striking commonalities exist among the traditional philosophies that set the parameters for governance. The values that underpin these traditional philosophies constitute a core statement of what indigenous governance is as a style, a structure, and a set of norms. In their most basic values, and even to a certain extent their style, traditional forms of government are not unique: similar characteristics can be found in other systems. The special nature of Native American government consists in the prioritization of those values, the rigorous consistency of its principles with those values, and the patterns and procedures of government, as well as the common set of goals (respect, balance, and harmony) that are recognizable across Native American societies. Adherence to those core values made the achievement of the goals possible; it was because of the symbiotic relationship between the traditional value system and the institutions that evolved within the culture that balance and harmony were its hallmarks. Indigenous governance demands respect for the totality of the belief system. It must be rooted in a traditional value system, operate according to principles derived from that system, and seek to achieve goals that can be justified within that system. This is the founding premise of pre-/ decolonized Native politics-and we are in danger of losing it permanently if the practices and institutions currently in place become anyfurther entrenched (and hence validated). On the west coast of Vancouver Island, I spoke with a Nuu-chah-nulth elder who recognized the danger of continuing to think of governance in the terms of the value system and the institutional structures that have been imposed on Native communities by the state. Hereditary chief Moses Smith used to be a band councillor under the Canadian government's Indian Act system, but now he recognizes the harm that system has done to his community. As a leader, he is now committed to teaching his people's traditional philosophy so that an indigenous form of government can be restored. Lamenting the loss both of traditional values and of the structures that promoted good leadership, Moses said that 'in the old days leaders were taught and values were ingrained in hereditary chiefs. The fundamental value was respect.' In his view, contemporary band councils are not operating according to traditional values, and Native leadership premised on traditional power and knowledge will vanish forever unless 'the traditional perspective is taken up by the new generation'. In choosing between revitalizing indigenous forms of government and maintaining the European forms imposed on them, Native communities have a choice between two radically different kinds of social organization: one based on conscience and the authority of the good, the other on coercion and authoritarianism. The Native concept of governance is based on what a great student of indigenous societies, Russell Barsh, has called the 'primacy of conscience'. There is no central or coercive authority, and decision-making is collective. Leaders rely on their persuasive abilities to achieve a consensus that respects the autonomy of individuals, each of whom is free to dissent from and remain unaffected by the collective decision. The clan or family is the basic unit of social organization, and larger forms of organization, from tribe through nation to confederacy, are all predicated on the political autonomy and economic independence of clan units through family-based control of lands and resources. A crucialfeature of the indigenous concept of governance is its respect for individual autonomy. This respect precludes the notion of 'sovereignty'-the idea that there can be a permanent transference of power or authority from the individual to an abstraction of the collective called 'government'. The indigenous tradition sees government as the collective power of the individual members of the nation; there is no separation between society and state. Leadership is exercised by persuading individuals to pool their self-power in the interest of the collective good. By contrast, in the European tradition power is surrendered to the representatives of the majority, whose decisions on what they think is the collective good are then imposed on all citizens. In the indigenous tradition, the idea of self-determination truly starts with the self; political identity-with its inherent freedoms, powers, and responsibilities-is not surrendered to any external entity. Individuals alone determine their interests and destinies. There is no coercion: only the compelling force of conscience based on those inherited and collectively refined principles that structure the society. With the collective inheritance of a cohesive spiritual universe and traditional culture, profound dissent is rare, and is resolved by exemption of the individual from the implementation and implications of the particular decision. When the difference between individual and collective becomes irreconcilable, the individual leaves the group. Collective self-determination depends on the conscious coordination of individual powers of self-determination. The governance process consists in the structured interplay of three kinds of power: individual power, persuasive power, and the power of tradition. These power relations are channelled into forms of decision-making and dispute resolution grounded in the recognition that beyond the individual there exists a natural community of interest: the extended family. Thus in almost all indigenous cultures, the foundational order of government is the clan. And almost all indigenous systems are predicated on a collective decision-making process organized around the clan. It is erosion of this traditional power relationship and the forced dependence on a centralgovernment for provision of sustenance that lie at the root of injustice in the indigenous mind. Barsh recognizes a truth that applies to institutions at both the broad and the local level: The evil of modern states is their power to decide who eats.' Along with armed force, they use dependency-which they have created-to induce people's compliance with the will of an abstract authority structure serving the interests of an economic and political elite. It is an affront to justice that individuals are stripped of their power of self-determination and forced to comply with the decisions of a system based on the consciousness and interests of others.The principles underlying European-style representative government through coercive force stand in fundamental opposition to the values from which indigenous leadership and power derive. In indigenous cultures the core values of equality and respect are reflected in the practices of consensus decision-making and dispute resolution through balanced consideration of all interests and views. In indigenous societies governance results from the interaction of leadership and the autonomous power of the individuals who make up the society. Governance in an indigenist sense can be practised only in a decentralized, small-scale environment among people who share a culture. It centres on the achievement of consensus and the creation of collective power, bounded by six principles: • • • it depends on the active participation of individuals; it balances many layers of equal power; it is dispersed; • • • it is situational; it is non-coercive; and it respects diversity. Contemporary politics in Native communities is shaped by the interplay of people who, socially and culturally, are still basically oriented towards this understanding of government,with a set of structures and political relationships that reflect a very different, almost oppositional, understanding. The imposition of colonial political structures is the source of most factionalism within Native communities. Such institutions operate on principles that can never be truly acceptable to people whose orientations and attitudes are derived from a traditional value system. But they are tolerated by cynical community members as a fact of their colonized political lives.As a result, those structures have solidified into major obstacles to the achievement of peaceand harmonyin Native communities, spawning a non-traditional or anti-traditionalist political subculture among those individuals who draw their status and income from them. The effort needed to bring contemporary political institutions, and the people who inhabit them, into harmony with traditional valuesisvery different from the superficial andpurely symbolic efforts at reform that have taken place in many communities. Symbols are crucially important, but they must not be confused with substance: when terminology, costume, and protocol are all that change, while unjust power relationships and colonized attitudes remain untouched, such 'reform' becomes nothing more than a politically correct smokescreen obscuring the fact that no real progress is being made towards realizing traditionalist goals. Cloaking oneself in the mantle of tradition is no substitute for altering one's behaviour, especially where power is concerned. In too many Native communities, adherence to tradition is a shallow fa<;ade masking a greed for power and success as defined by mainstream society. Recognizable by its lack of community values, this selfish hunger for power holds many Native leaders in its grip and keeps them from working to overturn the colonial system.