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American Indian firms in Iraq: Native diplomacy required

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An American Indian is among those who have died in Iraq, hundreds more are serving honorably throughout that conflict region and soon American Indian tribes and companies will take their place among the range of governments, corporations, agencies and social services engaged in rebuilding that troubled nation.

As reported in an important exclusive by Indian Country Today Associate Editor Jim Adams, as many as ten high-tech Indian-owned companies are being contracted to take on various reconstruction duties in Iraq. While more information is yet forthcoming on the scope of the work and safety conditions in the country, tribal enterprises belonging to the Salish & Kootenai Nation have confirmed having signed contracts with the Department of Defense as primary contractors in Iraq. As well, a spokeswoman for the Chugach Alaska Corporation, a Native Alaskan entity, confirmed it was negotiating terms. Around eight more companies owned by tribes or Native businessmen will be subcontractors. The work, mainly in rebuilding information systems, is supervised by the Department of Defense, which has an active Indian Initiative to direct contracts to Native businesses.

Indian Country Today supported this idea the moment it became clear that America would undertake war against Iraq and that subsequent reconstruction would be needed in the post-war. We thought then and still do that it was inevitable that American Indian entities would emerge in this context, as that sort of emergence is now witnessed in nearly all fields of endeavor. We are not surprised that it has rapidly become reality in Iraq, even as the war lingers and deadly violence continues. Whatever one's opinion on the war, the Iraqi people need understanding and assistance in recreating their national governmental and economic life and communications systems will play a vital role. We submit as well that if American Indian tribes, enterprises and most of all, people, are in fact engaging the Iraqi situation in this low-intensity warfare reality, that this might entail or even require some serious thinking about what that role and that relationship might be for the American Indian nations at this time in history.

Certainly, it seems a fitting development of contemporary life that American Indian nations and enterprises are emerging more and more in the front line of American national life. As Native nations in North America have been recently rebuilding their own communities and economic bases, expertise and enterprise qualities have increased; the ability to compete in many fields has been seriously advanced.

The Iraq assignment, in particular, requires gumption, finesse and luck. It requires clear thinking and planning. In significant ways, it may even represent a grand opportunity for signaling a message of friendship, respect and hope from the heart and mind of America's most ancient cultures to the ancient cultures of Mesopotamia.

We are not thinking here of Saddam's Iraq or even post-Saddam Iraq, we are thinking of what is there culturally, what is aboriginal of the ancient cultures among the peoples of Iraq. We are thinking of how the ways of human beings, the diplomatic and humanitarian concepts inside Native cultures, can be extended in that horribly conflictive region. While America's military and political objectives clearly overarch all endeavors in war-torn Iraq, we would humbly recommend to the American Indian presence that it necessarily generate a potential opportunity for cultural interaction and understanding.

Never underestimate the ability of American Indians to be ambassadors of the best of America and its varied peoples. Arguably, nation building after military and economic devastation has been one of the primary experiences of the Native nations of North America throughout the 20th Century. Understanding how to elicit from America the best America can offer while at the same time defending against and within the aggressiveness and competitive nature of the U.S. system, has been the primary way Indian nations have in fact survived and prospered. Most of the world understands this, even if most of America does not quite yet.

The often-expressed value in Indian cultures, of respect as a governing attitude in guiding relations between nations and peoples, is very important. For American Indian entities entering that troubled region this is the best common motto: "Let respect among peoples prevail."

The accompanying cartoon, by Marty Two Bulls pokes fun at the sense of commonality Indian peoples working in Iraq may find with the average Iraqi citizen. They too are likely to be members of tribes and clans. They too project into the world from their own particular cultures and ways of life. And perhaps better than any other people, American Indians know the good and bad of the American system. America can yet learn significant lessons from the cultural bases and approaches of American Indian nations. Much of the world is organized in accordance with kinship relations. A great deal of friction could be avoided by a better understanding of the things that really matter to tribal peoples and their families in the various parts of the world.

Peace and prosperity, health and opportunity are the aspirations of all good parents for all their children. Let us hope that over time American families and Iraqi families are able to build respectful relations based more upon our similarities than differences. This would be the best reconstruction effort of all.