Indigenous People Must Lead

. . . Because the Land Leads Indigenous People.

Why cannot you, the person who has worked through all this material, graduate into a position of leadership yourself?

“While this information can be transmitted or communicated in many ways, the specificity of it and the requirement of personal involvement eliminate the chance of duplication by anyone through the simple memorization of the mechanics of the phenomenon” (Deloria 1999:101, Italics present in the original passage).

You have taken the first steps. That’s good. However, you literally have no idea how much remains for you to learn. You cannot learn it even from a paper like this one, designed to try to help you engage the cognitive processes that more accurately manifest the real complex way that reality operates so that you’re able to perceive that reality. You can learn by working with Indigenous colleagues on projects if you sincerely uphold relational accountability and keep working to understand what that really means and how to do it. But you are going to be working through this paradigm shift all that time. The work we do together will bring you face to face with Western culture’s bedrock paradigm in all the innumerable places it permeates your life and professional practices — places you don’t even see yet — for a very long time. You will find this process rewarding. But it’s going to be a long time before you’ve come through it far enough to understand what leadership itself really is among Indigenous people.

And how, you might ask, could it be any different if Indigenous people lead, compared to if people of Western culture lead? Isn’t leadership leadership? Aren’t we just talking about exchanging one set of human hands on the reins for another set of human hands on the reins?

First point: The Land is alive and has agency. It holds its own reins. The reason Indigenous people need to lead is that we understand this and don’t try to hold the reins at all. How do we know what to do, if we aren’t holding the reins? Who’s got the power if it’s not us? Well, it’s NOT us. The answer to who has the power is my second point. So:

Second point: The Land has the power. Ceremony permits us to align with the Land in relationship that permits clear communication. The Land tells us what needs to be done. Our cultural traditions are designed to help human beings perceive such Knowledge and respond to it appropriately. We’ve been doing this for thousands of years, and we do it very well. You know that. It’s why you came to us for help with the environmental problems we’re talking about here.

So yes, we can collaborate, Indigenous and Western people together. But years of past experience show us you’ll need to recalibrate the power balance you’re used to assuming in collaborative efforts. You really don’t realize the extent to which you are used to being in control. You think collaborating with us means that we serve you in an advisory capacity or work for you to carry out plans you have made, that simply “include” Indigenous people. That won’t work anymore.

“Collaboration  is not about ‘democratic or equal participation in decision-making’; rather, it is about indigenous peoples having the final say.” — Fiona Cram and Donna Mertens (2016:177) More and more, it is about Indigenous peoples having the FIRST say — initiating what happens, and establishing agenda, goals, methods, and evaluation.

When it comes to the evaluation projects I’m about to suggest, the specifics are these:

“The underlying issue is one of power and control over decision-making in evaluation.” Indigenous evaluators need to set all the priorities “for how resources are allocated, the criteria for evaluative judgments, what counts as valid evidence, and how findings are reported.” — Nan Wehipeihana (2019:78)

The next page lays out a viable path for healing and restoration of people and ecosystems. If you have already read that page, then you have just finished the exercise. Please visit this last page for a small closing ceremony of gratitude and thanks.

(The references on this page were all cited in the Part 2, so may be found here.)