Sunday, June 05, 2011


Quotable: Values, Leadership, Sovereignty, Law

Is there a fundamental or inherent difference between indigenous and white society? This is a relevant question, given the tendency of the dominant Western tradition to draw racial distinctions. Indigenous traditions, by contrast, include all human beings as equal members in the regimes of conscience ...

A deep reading of tradition points to a moral universe in which all of humanity is accountable to the same standard ... Though it may be emotionally satisfying for indigenous people to ascribe a greedy, dominating nature to white people, as an intellectual and political position this is self-defeating. It is more hopeful to listen to the way traditional teachings speaks of the various human families: they consider each one gifted and powerful in it own way, each with something different to contribute to the achievement to peace and harmony ...

The value of the indigenous critique of the Western world-view lies not in the creation of false dichotomies but in the insight that the colonial attitudes and structures imposed on the world by Europeans are not manifestations of an inherent evil: they are merely reflections of white society's understanding of its own power and relationship with nature. [pp. 20-21]

In his classic study Leadership (1978), James MacGregor Burns developed the concept of 'moral leadership'. Identifying a fundamental difference between what he called 'power -wielder' and true leaders, he argued that the manipulation of resources to effect the personal will or interest on the manipulator is not leadership at all; leadership must be rooted in a set of personal values consistent with and supportive of the collective's values. Burns's concept of moral leadership complements indigenous ideas. In particular, his critique of 'leaders' who are actually nothing more than politicians resembles the criticism expressed by many indigenous people with respect to their new leaders.

For Burns, the average politician in an electoral system is simply playing a power game in which he structures incentives to induce people to do what he wants--to vote for a certain party, support a particular policy, carry out a given order. [p. 45]

... sovereignty is an exclusionary concept rooted in an adversarial and coercive Western notion of power. Indigenous peoples can never match the awesome coercive force of the state; so long as sovereignty remains the goal of indigenous politics, therefore Native communities will occupy a dependent and reactionary position relative to the state. Acceptance of 'Aboriginal rights' in the context of state sovereignty represents the culmination of white society's efforts to assimilate indigenous people. [p. 59]

'in periods of calm the law may shape reality, in periods of change the law will follow reality and find ways to accommodate and justify it' [p. 83, quoting DJ Elazar, From Statism to Federalism--A Paradigm Shift," International Political Science Review 17(4), p. 428]

There is no inherent conflict between basic indigenous and non-indigenous values. Rather, it is the historical practice of politics (and the institutionalization of these patterns of governance) that contravenes the basic values of liberal-democratic and traditional indigenous philosophies alike. Manipulative mechanisms of control work against the best instincts of both Western and aboriginal value systems. [p. 132]

Source: Peace, Power, Righteousness: An Indigenous Manifesto by Taiaiake Alfred (New York: Oxford UP, 1999)

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