Sunday, 6 March 2011

The Push for 'Democratic Reform' in the Middle East: My Rant

(Originally Posted on my Facebook on March 1,2011)

Over the last two (2) months the world has seen much protest and democratic movement for reform in the way of governing within the Middle East. With the toppling of tightly controlled regimes, by dictators, in Tunisia and Egypt, movements have developed, and spread, to Algeria, Libya, Saudi Arabia, Iran, Yemen, and Oman (to name a few). The developed world cheers as these changes occur, knowing full well that, for the most part, the citizens of these nations must push for these changes themselves. All the west can do is call for these regimes to remove themselves from control, or condemn the brutal attack that the ‘leaders’ of these nations do to their own people – such as in Libya.
                I too congratulate the people of these states in pushing for change and democratic reform – an increase in the voice of the people, in my mind, is always a good thing – but they must also remember to be careful of the tyranny of the majority, which we in the west, who come from minorities, have learned as our democracies developed.
                However, while Canada, Australia, and other colonial established states approve and support these changes in governance, and majority of its citizens, there are people within their own ‘borders’ who continue to be denied this idea of democracy. Yes, I am talking about, in Canada specifically, First Nations people and their elected officials. While many in Canada push for the idea of democratic reform and human rights – specifically first generation (civil and political rights) in places like China (Tibet), Iran, various African countries, and other middle-eastern countries – First Nations people continue to have their ability to have democratic representation within their own Chief and Councils is thwarted by the state of Canada and its government – more specifically Indian Affairs and it’s Minister.

A History not Taught:

                A vast majority of Indigenous cultures that share treaties with the British Crown, which is represented by the Canadian government, had various forms of ‘consensus’ governments that were done so in a ‘democratic’ sense. For example, although majority of Canadians learn that there were hereditary Chiefs who controlled their people like despots, the truth is that they were held accountable by various people. The Huadenshaune, who had Chiefs, had clan mothers who always had a final decision in what their Chief decided – or, like Cabinet Ministers in Canada, offered suggestions to their Chief. Furthermore, meetings were held with their tribe members to come to a consensus on decision making. On top of this, the clan mother’s had the right to remove a Chief from their position if they believed they were not doing an effective job – not to mention they also could decide that the next in line to become Chief, due to hereditary ideals, was not sufficient, or efficient, enough to be the leader. This entire process, like a vast majority of other Indigenous groups, allowed male and female members, no matter their possible hierarchal status, to be involved in the decision making – far before the Canadian state allowed this for non-white Christian males.
                For Indigenous governments, this changed as British Subjects, and then the Canadian state, began to gain prominence and more control in what is now North America, and Canada. With the enactment of the Indian Act in the 1870s, the Canadian state began to exert control, more fully, on First Nations governance. As time passed, their systems of government were forced to ‘westernize.’ Disenfranchising the female members of the tribes, and in some cases thus stripping the total governance ideals of many of them – such as the Huadenshaune. Furthermore, the Indian Act allowed complete control of First Nations governances by the Canadian government, despite legal binding treaties that expressed they, and the British Crown, would not intervene in their governing forms. Eventually the Canadian state controlled all aspects of First Nations government, despite no agreement by First Nations to allow them to do so – it was completely imposed. This control included complete decision making in the distribution of finances, jobs, as well as who was elected in the positions of the Chief and its councillors.
                To this day, the results for Chiefs and Councillors that are elected in First Nation territory are finalized by Indian Affairs. Thus, the Indian Affairs ministry has the ability to deny the results of an election if they so choose – which they have done many times in the past when the results showed someone winning who was more traditional and who would challenge the Canadian state. On top of this, the Chief and Councils can be considered like vassal states due to the strings, majority of the time, being pulled by Indian Affairs, and the Canadian government. All decisions that are made are finalized and approved or disapproved by this bureaucracy – whether a majority in a First Nations community agrees or disagrees with a decision.
                On top of this, Indian Affairs continues to deny the ability of First Nations communities to decide if they would prefer to return to a traditional form of consensus governments, how long a term is for Chief and Council, and what forms of recall and accountability that those who elect them can use. This is a major problem as it affects the accountability of First Nations governments. For the few that are corrupt, as long as Indian Affairs does not notice the siphoning of band money into the pockets of their Chief, it can continue on – especially if they have good relations with the government. This is a common occurrence, even when members of the community may know of this, and speak out against it, for years before a media outlet picks up on it. This then spirals into a stereotype of First Nations governments being corrupt and undemocratic – yet Canada, Canadians, and the media outlets do not realize that one of their own Bureaucracy allows this to occur.

The Sad Truth:

                This situation still exists today – in 2011. First Nations people continue to be denied the ability to hold their elected officials accountable, what form of democracy they would like to see enacted, what decisions will be made for them and how it will be done, and to have their voices properly heard. In a democratic world where people can speak out about a government, and in Canada where citizens of a city, province, and government, have the ability to some form of recall on their elected officials, why does Canada continue to deny the same ability to First Nations people? Why are First Nations peoples access to a ‘democratic form of government’ – a form that the west not only adopted from the Greek and Roman ideal of government, but also the Haudenshaune form;  that’s right, American democracy and the idea of universality are First Nation ideas and forms of governing – denied?
                Thus, in a time where we as global citizens, as humans, see change being pushed in Muslim Nations, with Canada and countries like it endorsing this and cheering it on, I believe it is time to allow First Nations people the same right to democracy. It is time to allow First Nations the right to self-government, a right to self-determination, a right to accountability of their elected officials, and a right to their own forms of democracy.
                I find it extremely hypocritical to support and praise movements for inclusion and democracy in the world but continue to deny it to those within a state’s own ‘perceived’ borders. All Canadian Federal Parties should reach out to First Nations people and re-entrench their civil and political rights - rights that are considered a cornerstone in Western society and governance.

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