The following quotations are from:
Taiaiake Alfred, Peace, Power, Righteousness: An Indigenous Manifesto
“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 member sin the regimes of conscience. Yet, some Native people have been influenced by the divisive European approach. Representing this perspective in an academic context, Donald Fixico has claimed that white people can never come to terms with indigenous values because they ‘come from a different place on earth.’ He writes,
‘Anglo-Americans and Natives are fundamentally different. These differences in worldview and in the values that go with them mean that there will always exist an Indian view and a White view of the earth.’
I believe, on the contrary, that there is a real danger in believing that views are fixed (and that cultures don’t change). Fixico’s polarization of Indian and European values suggests he believes that white people are incapable fo attaining the level of moral development that indigenous societies promote among their members with respect to, for example, the land. Not only does this dichotomization go against the traditional Native belief in a universal rationality, but it offers a convenient excuse for those who support the state in its colonization of indigenous nations and exploitation of the earth. If Fixico is right, the state can’t help it: The establishment’s world view is preordained.
Challenging mainstream society to question its own structure, its acquisitive, individualistic values system, and the false premises of colonialism is essential if we are to move beyond the problems plaguing all our societies, Native and white, and rebuild relations between our peoples. A deep reading of tradition points to a moral universe in which all of humanity is accountable to the same standard. Our goal should be to convince others of the wisdom of the indigenous perspective. Although it may be emotionally satisfying for indigenous people to ascribe a greedy, dominating nature to white people, taking such an approach leaves one in self-defeating intellectual and political positions. It is more hopeful to listen to the way traditional teachings speak of the various human families: They ask that we consider each one to be gifted and powerful in its own way, each with something different to contribute to the achievement of peace and harmony. Far from condemning different cultures, this position challenges each one to discover its gift in itself and realize it fully, to the benefit of humanity as a whole. It is just as important for Europeans as it is for Native people to cultivate the values that promote peace and harmony.
The value of the indigenous critique of the Western world view lies not 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 it’s own power and relationship with nature. The brutal regime of European technological advancement, intent on domination, confronted its opposite in indigenous societies. The resulting near-extinction of indigenous peoples created a vacuum in which the European regime established its political, economic, and philosophical dominance.
The primitive philosophical premises underpinning that regime were not advanced or refined in the deployment of microbes and weapons. At their core, European states and their colonial offspring still embody the same destructive and disrespectful impulses that they did five hundred years ago. For this reason, questions of justice—social, political, and environmental—are best considered outside the framework of classical European thought and legal traditions. The value of breaking away from old patterns of thought and developing innovative responses has been demonstrated with respect to environmental questions. But, in fact, many of these and other pressing questions have been answered before: Indigenous traditions are the repository of vast experience and deep insight on achieving balance and harmony.
At the time of their first contact with Europeans, the vast majority of Native American societies had achieved true civilization: They did not abuse the earth; they promoted communal responsibility; they practiced equality in gender relations; they respected individual freedom. As the Wendat historian Georges Sioui put it in a lucid summary of the basic values of traditional indigenous political and social thought,
‘With their awareness of the sacred relations that they, as humans, must help maintain between all beings, New World men and women dictate a philosophy for themselves in which the existence and survival of other beings, especially animals and plants, must not be endangered. They recognize and observe the laws and do not reduce the freedom of other creatures. In this way they ensure the protection of their most precious possession, their own freedom.’
The context of life has changed, and indigenous people today live in a materialistic world of consumerism and corporate globalization—a world diametrically opposed to the social and political culture that sustained our communities in the past. It may be difficult to recognize the viability of a philosophy that originated in an era unaffected by European ideas and attitudes. Nevertheless, revitalizing indigenous forms of government offers a real opportunity to inspire and educate mainstream society and to create and empower a genuine alternative to the current system.” 45-46
“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, and the other on coercion and authoritarianism. The Native concept of governance is based on what Russell Barsh, a great student of indigenous societies, 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 crucial feature 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 central government 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:
- Governance depends on the active participation of individuals.
- Governance balances many layers of equal power.
- Governance is dispersed.
- Governance is situational.
- Governance is non-coercive.
- Governance respects diversity.” 49-51
“The indigenous tradition is profoundly egalitarian; it does not put any substantial distance between leaders and other people, let alone allow for the exercise of coercive authority. Yet these are fundamental features of the political systems imposed on Native people. The hard truth is that many of those who hold positions of authority in Native communities have come to depend on the colonial framework for their power, employment, and status. How many of them would still hold their positions if the criteria for leadership reflected indigenous values instead of an ability to serve the interests of mainstream society? Very few contemporary Native politicians can honestly claim to possess the qualities and sills needed to lead in a non-coercive, participatory, transparent, consensus-based system. The hunger for power, money and status prevents many people from seeing what is best for the community in the long run. But even when the people who seek that power do so with the best intentions, for the good of the people, the fact remains that holding non-consensual power over others is contrary to traditional values. Whatever the purpose behind the use of arbitrary authority, the power relationship itself is wrong.” 51-52