Saturday, March 29, 2008

UVic Journal Summary

The following is the entirety of my reflections during a course on First Nations Governance, Administration and Management that I participated in at the University of Victoria from March 17 to March 21.

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For me, the greatest theme of this most recent session was a reflection on change. Each First Nations community is changing in a different way. Just as it has been said by a wise and far-seeing man, the only constant is change. Building on my journal summary from the last session, it is my firm belief that we are not points in space, but rather vectors -- not islands on a map, but ships on headings. The chief responsibility of any leader has been the management of resources in a long and constant period of transition. My favourite author, William Gibson, wrote in the novel Pattern Recognition a stark but altogether accurate explanation of the world I believe we now live in:

"[W]e have no idea, now, of who or what the inhabitants of our future might be. In that sense, we have no future. Not in the sense that our grandparents had a future, or thought they did. Fully imagined cultural futures were the luxury of another day, one in which 'now' was of some greater duration. For us, of course, things can change so abruptly, so violently, so profoundly, that futures like our grandparents' have insufficient 'now' to stand on. We have no future our because our present is too volatile. ... We have only risk management. The spinning of the given moment's scenarios. Pattern recognition."

I sometimes worry if the vision and goals that I am working toward will result in my community living in this world without a future. How do we reconcile the "long now" of the past with this nigh-constant era flux that seems to be upon us for the foreseeable future? This is why I was quite impressed with our discussion on the first day regarding authentic long term planning -- beyond the fiscal year, beyond the term of office, beyond the infamous five year plan. It evoked images of planning for decades in the future, generations in the future. It evoked images of our ancestors finally nodding their heads in agreement.

I know that we can construct institutions that can last for generations, the trick is learning more from the reed in the wind. What I became concerned about was not the endurance of our processes, but rather the health and capacity of our people. It was by the end of the second day that I had settled on a topic for my individual assignment. I wanted to propose a program that would improve First Nations governance by augmenting its safeguards: the hearts and minds of the people. Upon reflection, it my belief that we have an opportunity embedded in the consequences of our systemic oppression: we can help to create a community that is vital in ways that the current dominant one is not, or has seem to forgotten that it once was... I want to live in a community where every citizen not only has the opportunity to be involved in the decisions that affect us all, but have a real chance at having something to contribute. My proposal would be for the teaching of "First Nations Civics" as a part of social studies.

After looking back at Vine Deloria's writings on education and self-determination, I realize that this is no small task. The term "First Nations Civics" paints an image of bored children sitting in a classroom with an underpaid teacher reading aloud eloquent words in that characteristic droning that the disillusioned tend to utter after decades of disappointment. I merely want to propose that each community would do well to inform its members of not only collective and individual rights, but also individual and collective responsibilities. This can be done without ever a classroom being filled, but the trick becomes choosing the message and selecting the proper mediums. As Deloria wrote, knowledge is not lists and categories but a holistic understanding of relationships and interconnectedness. We all need to know how all relationships, at least in the socially-constructed world of human societies, are reciprocal. Education influences and is influenced by governance, and vice-versa. Linear lines of causality are relics of the past; we need to learn to live in a two-lane world.

I must admit that I have difficulty practicing what I preach. My methods of learning seem very Western in outlook. I learn by lists and categories and breaking things down into its constituent parts. I understand by putting it all back together in my head and trying to repeat the process in the real world. I have discovered much to the amusement of my grandfather, that this is easier said than done. I believe I am partway there -- I do not see myself as someone who will ever specialize too much when it comes to education. My undergraduate degree is in Global Studies, a self-described "interdisciplinary" approach" to the current fundamental shift in global politics, economics and society called globalization.

In any event, I still endeavour to integrate my big ideas and love of theory with the realities of the world. It is all well and good to wax poetic about the virtues of civic understanding, but how do we actually do it? I have trouble with detail. I have learned from those in class, both instructors and fellow students, that details are just as important as visions and ideas. I have often felt isolated, thinking my thoughts and never feeling like I was alllowed to articulate them due to my position in my tribal government. A particular student, a member of my group, Dave, taught me otherwise. I know now that I was merely afraid of my beloved ideas being criticized. I realize now that in order to actually help the condition of my community, I need to speak up and I need to let my ideas be viewed and evaluated. My ego is not as important as the discourse my potentially flawed ideas may instigate.

Trust, as ever, is center stage. It's about time someone took that first leap, it might as well be me.