Atlas Greenspan shrugged, recognizing a possible flaw in his market ideology. To say finally that hard rains must fall on everyone just won’t do.
Comparisons drawn from the natural world cannot describe the last gasp of Western free market capitalism. This was a philosophy and an enforcing apparatus that separated human endeavor from any natural order, including the natural order of animal presence and household and community provisioning. Just as we’ve stopped taking account of the four-leggeds and winged beings and fish who can offer companionship and guidance to our otherwise isolated human species, what has happened in today’s market is that it’s stopped taking account of human nature. But unlike poor marginalized animals, it is more human nature to fight back.
The fight that compels me here is populist backlash. If tens upon tens of millions of decent, middle-income citizens figure out that they’ve been duped by bail-out taxes that still have left them penniless, jobless, homeless, healthless and half-educated – anything could happen. That is why the first item on President Obama’s Native agenda should be a serious, sonorous, respectful and seemly apology. This is a great country built on the richness of diverse cultures. When they choose to hold governments accountable, they will find that the honor of this nation remains in a mutual relationship with the indigenous Nations. Middle-class America is just waking up to the special interests that run government, the same interests we’ve all seen grab our resources in the past. Well governments set precedents, good and bad.
We hope the Obama administration and the Democratic majorities in Congress know a hanging curve when they see one.
In the past year, Canada apologized for drafting Native children into boarding schools; the Australian prime minister apologized to the “Stolen Generation” of Aborigines; Malaysia granted its first-ever recognition of indigenous land rights; Guatemala formally recognized indigenous peoples, including the Mayans; and in a development some of us thought we’d never see, given Japan’s long denial of ethnicity on its islands, the Japanese Diet passed a resolution recognizing the indigenous Ainu and calling for their support. The U.S. can get in step with these developments through an apology to its first peoples.
A good start on fixing our environment and figuring out a half-sane financial system would be for nations to get behind that human solution in all resource management, for instance where the San or “bushmen” of the Kalahari Desert have to plead for their water rights. And from there, America needs to set a better example than the kind of official backlash that is happening in Australia.
After apologizing for its abuse of Aborigines, Australia this year closed a three-decade legal war by permitting Aboriginal owners to regulate a lucrative section of its coastal sea; the High Court definition of waters above Aborigine-owned seabed as traditional lands has all the look of a significant precedent. But the other shoe keeps dropping as massive government intervention policies, separating Aboriginal children from their language, poor farmers from welfare payments, and local communities from their territories, remain in place as a kind of penalty for the apology.
Comparisons drawn from the natural world cannot describe the last gasp of Western free market capitalism.
And it’s not always a backlash we need to worry about. Pretty often it’s the same old tricks. In Greenland, Inuit miners, small-scale artisans, went on trial for “stealing” the rubies traditionally gathered by generations of their ancestors. It should surprise no indigenous person to learn that definitions got dodgy once a corporation “discovered” rubies in Greenland. Observers regard disposition of the case as a test of “teeth” in the U.N. Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples.
The Declaration gained the endorsement of Canada this past year, leaving only the United States, New Zealand and Australia as holdouts among U.N. member nations. We hope the Obama administration and the Democratic majorities in Congress know a hanging curve when they see one.
The National Congress of American Indians may be able to help on that and other fronts, as it commenced a new emphasis on international indigenous affairs in 2008. Just as importantly, NCAI may be of greater use in making sure the Declaration means something.
The National Museum of the American Indian has also taken on a new internationalism – well, not altogether new, but executive director Kevin Gover has extended NMAI’s hemispheric commitment. Bolivian President Evo Morales visited in November. The day before, a meeting on national reconciliation with Native peoples offered hard questions and a correspondingly hard-won inspiration. From several powerful moments, some of them moving and some of them charged with challenge, I found the words of Sagkeeng First Nations National Chief Phil Fontaine the most timely: “As human beings we have nothing if we don’t have hope. ... that interconnection among us all of fairness.”
Finally, on that note, we have to remember 2008 as the 60th anniversary of the U.N.’s Universal Declaration of Human Rights. It placed dignity and justice among the bedrock attributes of human life. Its immediate occasion was the unspeakable atrocity that characterized World War II, but its hopeful message has since nourished many indigenous communities.
Rebecca Adamson is president of First Peoples Worldwide.