Values and Stakeholders

When it comes to applying a natural value system to the evaluation of natural social-ecological systems, it’s important to keep a particularly close eye on the stakeholder arena. Ultimately, stakeholders are a type of boundary issue that depends more on politics and jurisdiction than on ecosystems (Rowe 2019). John McPhee’s description of the literal impossibility of satisfying the conflicting needs of all the Mississippi River’s stakeholders reminds us that even within Western culture’s profit-based value system, competing interests still make it impossible to adjudicate between the conflicting demands of all the stakeholders (McPhee 1989:22). When the value system of the project is shifted from that of Western culture to the natural value system of the Land itself, the stakeholder system becomes even more impossible to adjudicate in a way that all the parties find satisfactory. Of course, it’s the Land’s natural value system of reciprocity and relational accountability that cannot be violated without destroying the entire system, rendering corporate profit null and void. But there is big enough a lag time between most environmental actions and their consequences that it’s difficult to connect the two in a meaningful way that all the stakeholders accept as valid.

It’s also essential to realize that the twinned powers of profit and control can create genuinely dangerous conflict between competing stakeholders who have very different value systems. Environmental activists working to limit the power of corporate or political stakeholders engaged in extractive practices have long been the targets of violent reprisal, and 2020 saw the highest recorded number of environmental activist killings on record. One-third of them were Indigenous people even though we make up less than 5% of the world’s population (Neuman 2021). This tells you not only where the stakes are being grabbed by corporate hands, but whose lands are being targeted as natural resources run out in other places.

There are good reasons to apply values to stakeholder participation, no matter how hard those stakeholders resist it. For the system of extractive economic practices to change, this has to happen. It will require changes in the legal system and will have to happen, at least initially, on lands that Indigenous people have, or can acquire, the legal right to control. The difference between Western culture’s value system and that of the Land and Indigenous people is a landscape marked by centuries of violence.  It is why Nan Wehipeihana warns you fairly that, if you work with us, you will need “courage to embark on a journey that will be personally and professionally confronting, and tenacity to stay the course and stand up to cynics, critics, and racists” (2019:380).

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