May 11, 2021

Maori News & Indigenous Views

A korero with Prof Stephen Cornell – Kuini Te Iwa Beattie

24 min read

Stephen Cornell is Professor of Sociology and of Public Administration and Policy and Director of the Udall Center for Studies in Public Policy at the University of Arizona and recently visited Aotearoa. He spoke at Tangatarua Marae at Waiariki Institute of Technology on Wednesday the 1st of September 2010 and we have the pleasure of receiving this transcript from Kuini Te Iwa Beattie- kia ora koe e te tuhituhi ataahua.

“Thank you very much and thanks to all of you for that fabulous welcome…

Its wonderful to sit here in this extraordinary building, its just magnificent and to be welcomed by the first peoples of this land, thank you very much. I feel privileged to be in Te Arawa country/territory and its great to be back in Aotearoa, I was here about 10 years ago, Id been wishing I could return and thanks in part to Whaimutu Dewes, its happened, and I want to thank Whai for that. He asked us if either I or my research partner and colleague Joe Colt come out here for a conference in Wellington on Friday and I jumped at the opportunity. My colleague Joe Colt has teaching responsibilities at Harvard and could not come but I was thrilled by the opportunity and

Im thrilled actually to be here. A couple of people expressed surprise that Whai managed to include this as a stop on our trip. To me this is exactly where we should stop. This is where the future of this tribe and the Maori gets determined. One of the most impressive things about some of the nations I worked with who are successful in reclaiming control over their own futures, is that they think about the long term and they ask themselves who will be sitting in these seats 50 years from now and what weve done to prepare for that, and that to me is what this part of this institution is about and so I honour that thinking on your part, a privilege to be here. As Keith said

Im gonna try, its dangerous to turn a professor loose, so I am going to try to limit my remarks to about 20 minutes and then see what you would like to talk about and see if I can respond to your questions. I thought I should tell you a little bit about what Ive been privileged to learn Im not an indigenous person. Ive been extremely fortunate in my life, to have been taught by a number of indigenous nations, who I think saw an opportunity, when we started the Harvard project on American Indian economic development at Harvard University almost 25 years ago, saw an opportunity to perhaps help a couple of nerd academics from Harvard figure out whats going on, and theyve been generous with their time and as a result Ive been fortunate to spend my professional career for the most part working with indigenous nations. My classrooms in North America largely, Ive been able for the last 10 years to spend a good deal of time in Australia working with the indigenous people there, and Ive been lucky to be here once or twice. But what youre going to hear from me today comes from North America primarily the United States where Ive also worked a lot with first nations in Canada, our programme has and I was meeting with some of the leadership of Ngati Whatua in Auckland the day before yesterday and they had some issues they were wrestling with and they wanted to hear my response to those issues and as they laid those issues out I said to them its interesting our countrys are very different, theres an entire ocean between us, the legal regime in the United States is different from in Aotearoa, but when I hear you talk about the challenges you face I feel like Im talking to the leadership of the American Indian nation because those are their challenges.

So while Im going to talk about what weve learned in North America I hope youll listen for things that might be for the Maori. It would be inappropriate and disrespectful for me to tell you what I think you should do based on the experience…. butI think what I can do is tell you what Ive seen in some other places and hope you can find in that something that maybe useful, and thats for you to say.

I think those of you who know something about the indigenous people of the United States will be familiar with this but let me say a little bit about the people who, and of Canada, the people who we work with. The history of the European invasion and domination in North America in many ways resembles the history here. Massive dispossession of the indigenous peoples of their lands, enforced enculturation, efforts to turn them into white people, or to make them simply go away. Catastrophic population crimes partly from force partly from disease.

The suppression of indigenous languages and cultures, its a history that would be familiar to you and the results would be familiar to you. The indigenous people of the United States who are located on what are called reservations, those are lands reserved for those indigenous people, are the poorest population in the United States. The only people they compete with for that dubious distinction are African-American Latino populations in the innercities. So theres a legacy there of deep poverty, high unemployment, unemployment rates that we would not tolerate elsewhere in the United States but we tolerate from the indigenous… High incidents of disease, social pathology, domestic violence, adolescent suicide, as you may be aware.

Whats interesting though, about whats happening in North America is that in the last 3 decades that situation has begun to change. We dont have all the data yet, the United States does its census every 10 years and the 2010 census was just completed and we wont know what it shows for a while yet. But in the decade for example between 1990 and 2000 we saw significant changes among the indigenous people of the United States, significant increases in incomes, significant decreases in the number of children growing up in poverty. Substantial increases in employment rates, some improvements in health, some modest turnarounds in language, some of which was influenced by you, Ill say something about that in a few minutes. Weve been seeing in other words, some broad changes that are positive for the first time in a very long time, in a century at least. Now, 2 caveats about that, the first is, theres a very long way to go, if the improvements in indigenous economic conditions in the United States that we saw in the years 1990 to 2000, were to continue over the long run, we would still be half a century before economic conditions for indigenous populations would match those … the turn around is significant, theres a very long way to go, because it starts with a very long baseline. Number 2, what Ive just said to you is very aggregated data thats looking at the country as a whole, and of course there are all kinds of variations, variation by gender, variation by region, variation within communities, some people are doing much better than others.

But even if thats the case, the fact is were seeing a turmoil and how do we account for it, thats the interesting question, and thats the question which in a Joe Colt and I set out … to find an answer. Those were early days, we didnt have that aggregate data, what we had was anecdotes. Stories, we hear of a nation that had turned its situation around. We hear about a nation where employment was rising, where they were accomplishing their goals, where they were doing things differently and we realised that if you wanted to understand what was happening you shouldnt sit at Harvard University or the University of Arizona where most of our work appears today. You wouldnt want to sit there and look at aggregate data, you needed to follow the lights in this blanket of darkness, go look at the lights. Those places where things are changing, and go find out the stories. And to be honest with you, for 25 years thats what weve been doing, weve been going out to those nations and communities where things are changing and asking, What happened? What did you do? What changed? So, what have we learned from this, and I could tell you a lot of stories about some of those changes and Ill try to include some of those stories before Im done, because I think thats where the most interesting part, is not some broad census data or something like that, whats interesting is watching a nation reclaim the right to determine its own future, and reclaim governance as an indigenous tradition and as an indigenous practice. So what has happened to explain this turn around?

We think there are two major things involved, one half is at the level of government policy and the other has happened with indigenous nations themselves. At the level of policy, we move to something called self-determination, thats a controversial term. A lot of people arent sure what it means, so I oughta tell you what I mean by it. What I mean by it is, whos calling the shots in your community, on your land. Whos deciding how many board feet of timber should we cut this year, US government or the American Indian nation who the timber belongs to. Whos deciding what the designs of your governing system will be, whether you should have a directly elected Chief Executive or something else. Whos deciding whether you enter into this relationship with a Multi-national, to corroborate somehow on something that matters to you. Whos deciding how the Child Welfare programme will be run, whos deciding how the Housing money will be spent. If the United States government or some Federal Agency is deciding that, thats not self-determination, if youre deciding it it is. So to the extent that indigenous nations replace outsiders as the decision makers in what happens in their own lives, upon their lands in their communities, they become self-determined. What happened in the 1970s the US government rather inadvertently kind of backed into self-determination. Think back to the 1970s we had the 1960s and the early 70s and the United States and the many other parts of the world, massive political activism, political turmoil, Vietnam War, civil rights in the United States, American Indian nations were involved in that. The Federal government wanted to….. so it said okay, okay, you can make some of these decisions for yourselves.

They were dealing with the exhaustion of Federal policy, the fact that the US government for years had been trying to address impoverished ill communities in Indian nations not able to do it. So they adopted this policy called self-determination, I dont think they knew what they were doing. I think the US government, when they thought about self-determination, what they had in mind was something I would call self-administration, what it basically meant was a change in personnel. You can staff the programmes that weve invented for you instead of us. In other words let the Indians run it, same programmes, same designs, same ideas, and they thought that would do the trick. But unfortunately from their point of view, indigenous leadership actually believed they meant what they said when they used the term self-determination and the indigenous leadership said okay. Were gonna start making decisions for ourselves. What we saw, particularly in the period from about 1975, into the late 1980s, was a series of indigenous nations who systematically inserted themselves into the decision-making process, called the governments bluff, said is it self-determination or not and acted on their interpretation and began to takeover decision making power. So that was the first factor and it leads in a sense to the second factor because once you decide that youre going to be self determining, what it means is hello, we gotta make the decisions for ourselves. That means weve gotta figure out what our decision making process looks like, we gotta figure out how we exercise this power that were claiming and so what happened is, we turned the spotlight on indigenous governance and when Indian nations had decided that self-determination meant self-determination, what they were really saying was, we expect to govern.

Now governance is another controversial term and when I work in Canada and often in Australia, I dont know enough about Aotearoa to tell you, but certainly in Australia and Canada, one of the things that bothers me is that the term governance has come to mean corporate governance. Its come to mean good management practices, I happen to believe that good management practices are important and that indigenous nations need to pay attention to them, but I dont think thats what governing is about. Governing is something nations do, governing is about making the law, enforcing law, figuring out what to do with resources, figuring out what steps you need to take so that three generations, seven generations down the road those resources are still supporting them. Thats not corporate management, its nationhood, its governance, its making the decisions that matter. Well, that shift in self determination, that move towards self determination turned the spotlight on governance, just to give you an illustration, some of you may have heard of a nation in British Columbia called the Niska, one of the First Nations of Canada. The Niska spent more than 2 decades trying to negotiate a treaty with the Province of British Columbia and the Canadian Government and they succeeded.

In 2000 they signed a treaty with those two governments, Provincial government and the Canadian government. We took some Aboriginal Australians up to British Columbia to meet with the Niska and some other nations and meet with some natives in the Southwest of the United States, but when we got to Niska they were received in the Council Chambers, the Legislature of the Niska Nation, where their Legislature makes decisions and it makes law for the Niska people. Edmund Wright whod been one of the participants of the long treaty negotiation process, he said to them, We just about killed ourselves getting that treaty together, it had absorbed every ounce of energy we had for years and the day British Columbia and Canada sat here in this room and signed that treaty and looked at each other and said, Oh boy, now weve got to govern. And none of us had thought about it, because we hadnt been told anything about it, wed been absorbed by reshaping this relationship with Canada and British Columbia, that the day that treaty was signed who did the Niska people look to, they looked to us, darn. And for the last 10 years, theyve just celebrated 10 years of Niska self-governance in May of this year. For those 10 years what they have been doing is in essence is trying to figure how do we do that in a way that respects Niska tradition, uses Niska ideas and tools and values … this world we face today for there are so many opportunities and so many threats and we have to be careful and we have to be good at this. Well the last 28 years in North America weve been watching a lot of nations going through, not quite what the Niska went through, but that process. How do we govern? How do we begin to act like Nations? How do we shake off the learned habits of having someone else making your decisions for you, of being dependent on their funding, which means you have to listen to the conditions they place on that funding. Returning to them and saying, do we have permission to do this. Can we do this on our land? Spend a couple of generations living like that, and you learn how to do that. But then you have to rethink and say Ach now we can start making those decisions. We better think about what kinds of tools we need to make those decisions well. So you can see, what I would call the rise of the debate and an effort about how to use governing tools for economic development, for education. All the things that indigenous nations would use. So what do you get when you combine self determination and governance, now Ill tell you a couple of things quickly. You get a shift in accountability. I had the top leader of one American Indian nation say to me, The thing I dont like about this self determination stuff is I can no longer blame the US government when stuff goes wrong, cause my people are all sitting there, theyre blaming me, cause Im now the decision makerand he said and they should be blaming me, theyre right, we are now accountable.

Its not letting the US government off the hook for what it owes indigenous people for all land thats gone and all that has happened, but it is recognizing that when you take the power thats not all you get, you get responsibility and you have to deliver and that was what he was saying. So you get this shift in accountability. Were seeing a new generation of political leadership emerging in some of these nations. We had an older generation that fought a lot of these political battles to secure indigenous rights for self determination and their enemy was the United States government and the rules put in place and that history. But this new generation now is moving into a position where self determination is in their hands and whats encouraging about them is that theyve changed that conversation and instead theyre saying things like, Ok sure, they did this to us, they stole our children, they took our land, they did all of that but if we expect them to fix it, well wait forever, we have to fix it, so lets figure out what we want to do about it, lets figure out the steps were going to take and stop focussing on where we are now, and thats that accountability shift.

Number two, you get through what I call, strategy thinking. Once indigenous nations are in that decision making role, they start realizing whats this all about, what are we trying to do. I figure it as one tribal leader says, its a question of what kind of community do I want on this land 50 years from now. What matters to us. I worked with a nation in the mid-Western United States that has been very successful in economic development because it invested in a casino during a time when there was a boom in casinos, you may have heard that some American Indian nations are involved in the gambling industry, its not the most important thing happening economically at all but its been transformative for a few nations and this nation happened to do very well. But when we got over there to talk to them, we discovered that the issue they were wrestling with was that a lot of people in the nation felt the economic arm had somehow escaped from what they felt really mattered to them, and they were saying, you know we gotta remind ourselves why did we build this casino in the first place? Yes we made money with it, but that wasnt why we started, we started to make money to do things that we felt were important, but now our decisions are being determined by whats good for the casino, not whats good for the nation. We need to reclaim that development arm and recapture it and bring it back into the strategic vision of the people and not just for an economic paradise.

So were getting, were beginning to see in these nations, a lot of thinking about, what are we trying to create, what are we trying to change, what are we trying to protect. We had a meeting with some high school students from some nations in New Mexico, some of them very traditional people, very old ways, and we asked these high school students, When you have children your age, what do you hope will be different in your communities and what do you hope will… and they got such interesting responses, one young woman, probably 15 years old said, I feel in this village that I can go into any house and be safe, I hope when I have a daughter she feels that way, thats a pretty good strategic goal. Another young man said I hope the Rio Grande river still flows for my children, thats not bad, and another young women said the ceremonies, these are kids with video gamers and got rock star sweat shirts on, theyre engaged in popular culture up to their eyeballs. When you ask them that question, what did she say, the ceremonies are what matter to me. If I were speaking to my leadership I would say, Protect the ceremonies.

And I realized listening to them, didnt have any trouble with strategic vision. They can walk into their own leadership and say this is what we should be focussed on, and theyve gotta programme that makes sense. So that kind of thinking is starting to happen not everywhere, but the places that are doing well are thinking about why are we doing this, whats it about , what are we trying to create. You get an enormous diversity of governance solutions, people govern in different ways, it drives central bureaucrats nuts they want a single template to define every group, but the 200 nations in the 48 lower states of the US outside of Alaska and Hawaii. Those nations have very diverse cultures they dont all the same way. And so I worked with one nation, where there is no written constitution, there are no elections, there are no legal codes. Every December 29th the Chief Spiritual Leader in the nation, its a small nation about 2000 people, December 29th he calls the people together in the plaza of their village and he says to them, Do you want to continue to govern ourselves this way? and so far, for more than, I dont know, what we know of them, 300 years, every year they said yes, and then he says ok, then he appoints the 6 individuals who will run the community for the next year, and then he disappears back into the key of other religious activities of the Pueblo, and those 6 individuals run the place until the next December 29th, when the comes out and calls everyone out into the plaza and says do we want to continue to govern ourselves this way. Those 6 positions, Governor, Lieutenant-Governor, Ward-Captain, Lieutenant Ward-Captain, 2 individuals called, when I heard this first I thought well the Governor must be the top guy, well it turns out no, theyve actually got very sophisticated governing system.

The Governors job is to deal with the United States, deal with New Mexico, deal with the school system, deal with the guy who showed up from Harvard asking questions, deal with the world out there, and protect the core of Pueblo life from that outside world and in the core of the Pueblo life the most important person is not the Governor, its the Ward Captain whos in charge of the ceremonial cycle, and the job of the Governor is to be sure the Ward Captain is focussed on what really matters to those people which is that cycle of ceremonies and their growing things on their farms and what they feel they need to do every year to maintain the rhythm of their life, thats a governing system. Thats one I wouldnt recognize, it didnt come out of any textbook Ive read, but it works. Believe it or not that Pueblo runs one of the top Public Golf Courses in the United States, its where the yuppies from Alberquerque, Santa Fe, Los Almos go to play golf, and they run other economic enterprises. But behind all those economic enterprises, keeping that whole thing going is this governing system that has roots in ancient practices, adjusted to deal with the modern world.

And then you go from there to North Western Montana where the Flathead people, 3 nations forced by the US army in 1855 to settle on a single piece of land, 2 of them traditional enemies, the Salish and Kootenai, and how did they govern themselves? Well if you said use your traditions, the Kootenai would say, ok if its Kootenai traditions, but gimme those Salish traditions, we always thought those guys were nuts, were not gonna govern the way they do. And the Salish dont want to govern the way the Kootenai want to govern. So what have they done, theyve taken good old US governing institutions, parliamentary democracy, strong independent judicial system. Its not anyones first choice, turns out to be everybodys second choice and what gives it the legitimacy with the people is not that theyre US governing institutions, its that they chose it. US government didnt tell them to govern this way, the State of Montana didnt tell them to govern this way, some corporation didnt tell them to govern this way, they decided for themselves this is whats best for us, and as a result it works. Theyre one of the most successful nations in the country. So what were seeing is this tremendous diversity in governance solutions because people are taking their own ways and saying how we have to rethink those to deal with the world were a part of today and then theyre acting on it. Were also seeing a fast learning curve with indigenous nations learning very quickly what this governance requires. Some of that theyre learning from each other, were getting this network of innovation, some of it is international.

The Cherokee Nation in Oklahoma for example, about a dozen years ago did a survey and discovered that they had almost no Cherokee speakers under the age of 45 and they treated this as a crisis. They went to see some of the professionals in the universities and said, Whats the best knowledge about how to revitalize the language? and somebody said Talk to the native Hawaiians. So they said okay and talked to the native Hawaiians and they the Hawaiians said, ah ah, Go talk to the Maoriand they did, and today the Cherokee Nation of Oklahoma, there are 93 immersion classrooms for 3 and 4 year olds on whom, in their minds, the future, not just in their language, but their people, depend, and they got it from here. This is an international network of indigenous innovation unfolding across the world as indigenous peoples in the US, Canada, Australia, here, South America, begin to say, What do we need to do to reclaim our voice, reclaim our place, reclaim our power, reclaim the future? So thats happening, some of the lessons people are learning and those of you interested in economic development, theyre discovering politics and business are a bad mix. When the guy on the Tribal Council in South Dakota goes to his Economic Development manager and says, My cousin flew me back to the ________ after 10 years in the Rapid City and he just got on the Council and I want you to hire him. He just undermined their economic development, he just inserted politics into the future of the nation.

He said basically, what matters here is who you voted for and who your relatives are, not what kind of future were creating for our children. And that economic enterprise is going to be in trouble because its starting to be run according to whos got the power in the political centre, instead of being run according to how would we prove a nation with the income it needs so that they can address the problems it has, and finance its own schools and pay for what it wants its children to do and build a future. We have nations in the United States that have tribal courts, these are courts with substantial jurisdiction in civil affairs, modest jurisdiction in criminal affairs, but they matter in peoples lives and they make critical decisions and once again politics was poison in those situations. Think of your own experience, if you ended up in a court in NZ where youre pretty sure that the decision from that court is gonna reflect something over which you dont have much control over, which is which family you were born into, or how your father voted in the last election, instead of on the merits of the case, and pretty soon youll have no respect for that court and you wouldnt expect a fair shake and youll begin to say Where shall I go where I get a fair deal? Indigenous nations are learning and theyre realizing if were going to govern, we have to govern well, and thats the criteria.

So you get this learning curve and then finally you get results. This turnaround is not happening to some process that lifts all votes. We see it in aggregate data, that its been drive by these places where people are learning these lessons, investing in governance. Building governance systems that their own people believe are theirs and making things work.

For a long time in North America, maybe its true here, in North America theres been an obsession with certain alternatives in policy making. A good friend of mine whos a Mohawk Indian from Canada had a conversation with a Canadian government official about 6 or 7 years ago, and this official said to him, Youve got to understand this government is willing to talk with Indian people about equality, but we will not talk about difference. In other words, Well help you be equal, but were all Canadians. Well thats one of those oppositions. Is policy going to be about equality, or is it going to be about difference. The other ones, do we pursue a policy based on needs or do we pursue a policy based on the aspirations of people. Do we focus on closing the gaps in Healthcare or Housing or something like that, or do we focus on empowering communities. Do we focus on Social Welfare which is what governments willing to talk about, or do we focus on self-determination or autonomy which is what indigenous nations want to talk about. Now what bothers me about these, is that theyre presented as choices, but I dont think they are, I think theyre connected. Ill tell you what I mean.

Take the Social Welfare versus self-determination opposition. US government first became interested in addressing indigenous poverty in the 1920s and over the last 90 years they have tried everything they can think of. Now some can argue those attempts have been half-hearted, theyve been under-resourced, whatever. They tried a lot of different things, move all those Indians into the cities where they can get jobs. Have assimilationist education and teach them how to be white people, simply close down their lands, make them go away. In a lot of different policy initiatives, only one policy by the US government has ever been associated with sustained positive change in social policy on indigenous lands and thats the policy of self-determination. Theyre connected, if what you really worry about is social welfare, then invest in self determination. Its not an either/or choice, theyre connected. So I think thats true of other things as well, allowing the indigenous nations to pursue their own aspirations, turns out to be one of the best ways of meeting their needs. Its not shall we have a needs based policy or aspirations based policy, no, ask indigenous nations what they want and support that and guess what, theyll deal with their needs, and find ways. Empowering indigenous communities and I mean real power, turns out to be a key to closing the gaps, because once you put that decision making power in the hands of indigenous communities theyll screw up, we all do, and then theyll say, Well, that didnt work, well try thisand over time, theyll come up with a solution for that problem, if they got support and the freedom to act. Allowing for difference turns out to be one of the paths to equality.

So I think we need to rethink some of these terms, I cant tell you what those lessons of 5 years, I dont know Aotearoa well enough to know if those lessons are relevant here. But I think they have some implications. For government, if you want a slogan, mine would be When in doubt, empower the Natives, I can see it on a bumper sticker and the reason is, indigenous solutions are likely to work better than yours government not because theyre smarter, but because all of us make better decisions for ourselves than other people make for us. Its not just true of indigenous people, its true of all of us, so recognize that, empower the Natives. Guess what? Theyll produce solutions actually, because their future is whats at stake. For indigenous nations I think its recognized that the best defence of rights, is not to go to court or marching the streets, although you may have to do both those things at times, its to exercise those rights effectively. Its to make good use of them, its the Niska problem, now weve got a government. Theres a Tribal Chairman in the US where the term sovereignty is something the Indian nations often talk about, their sovereignty as peoples, who once said to me, the best defence of sovereignty is to exercise it effectively, its to govern well. Its to realize that the governance challenge is the one that really matters, the rights challenge, its simply something that you have to solve to get to the point where you can govern and then you win the big prize in the struggle for self-determination, the challenge of governance. Somebody said to me in Niska, be careful what you wish for, wish for self determination, now we gotta figure out this governance thing. But guess what, you figured it out in the past, governing was something indigenous people were good at for a very long time and I think its time to be good at it again.

Thank you very much…”

Kia ora ano mo to tuhituhi e Kuini. Thank you again for this beautiful transcript, Kuini. Prof Cornell’s talk was very much appreciated and the korero he shared with us is finding many receptive ears.

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