Monday, September 3, 2007

84. Prelude to a Collaboration

Peter N. Jones is a social scientist based in Boulder Colorado, with a strong interest in advocating for the rights of indigenous peoples. I discovered his blog, “Indigenous Issues Today” (, a few weeks ago, read some of his posts, and found myself almost continually nodding in agreement. (It turns out that he agrees with me as well, at least as far as the Kalahari debate is concerned: ). I find him to be a sympathetic, intelligent, sensitive but also tough-minded thinker, who shares many of my own concerns, and with whom I’m hoping to develop a dialogue. As a first step in this direction, he’s agreed to collaborate on at least one post, to be simultaneously published in both our blogs.

I'm currently working on my part of the collaborative post, which will be a continuation of the previous one, but in the meantime I thought it would be useful if I posted the following as an introductory statement, from an email I sent Peter in early August:

Hello Peter -- Your last emails have been very much on my mind lately and I've been trying to think of what the best strategy for some joint writing and also action might be. I read a post of yours a while back, the one dealing with certain UN proposals and efforts to water them down, which you oppose. The post is very thoughtful and meaningful and has given me a lot to mull over. I see your point, and yes there is the possibility that the UN statement will be watered down so badly as to have no real effect. On the other hand, some of the issues raised in the cautionary statement you cite are exactly the sort of issues that have led to some really horrible violence in the past. I'm thinking of the sort of thing that happened in former Yugoslavia for example, where the "indigenous rights" of the Croatians and "Moslems" as opposed to the "dominant" Serbs were supported by the Western powers, with disastrous results that have still not been resolved even after all these years. I visited Yugoslavia during the Tito years and as far as I could see it was the best run country I'd ever been in -- no poverty, no slums, no beggars, no signs of repression -- though there WERE signs of unresolved tensions and mistrust, no doubt stemming from WWII related conflicts.

While I'm sure there were things going on the background of which I was ignorant, I do think there was an effort by the central govt. to balance the various claims of all the various "indigenous" groups in a manner that seemed fair and seemed to work. I think this should be the goal, rather than the
breakup of certain already shaky governments into even smaller and shakier political entities, based on ethnic divisions, no matter how compelling the claims. I have a feeling you agree, but there IS a danger that pushing too hard for certain political "rights" and land claims could lead to conflicts similar to what happened in Yugoslavia.I'm thinking that maybe the most practical and nonviolent approach to such problems should be via a stress (at least at first) on cultural rather than land-rights issues, on the question of cultural identity, cultural rights -- and also responsibility on the part of anyone wanting to claim indigenous status for protecting, enriching, and disseminating
his/her own "native" heritage. There's a lot more I could say on all this, but this will give you an idea of where my thoughts have been drifting lately. I'm planning a new post on my blog, hopefully soon, to be entitled "Cultural Equity," a phrase I got from Alan Lomax, whose written a lot of good things on
this topic -- and even founded an organization on that basis -- "The Association for Cultural Equity" (ACE), now run by his daughter, Anna. I'm thinking "equity" in terms of equality, naturally, but also in the sense of an investment, i.e.,
the investment of our common ancestors as well as those currently taking responsibility for the integrity of their own traditions.

A good example might be the little girl in the film "Whale Rider" who identifies so strongly with her Maori heritage, in spite of the opposition of certain "traditionalists," even her grandfather. I think that story has great meaning for those who like us are
trying to sort out what is valuable about tradition, what is destructive about it, and why the differences are so important.

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