Saturday, December 2, 2006

How Old Crow, Yukon is doing the unthinkable

We're so used to hearing about rampant health problems among Canada's Métis, Inuit and North American Indians; as well as corrupt Aboriginal band councils, that we rarely hear about the genuine good news stories. The Toronto Star has one of those today, talking about the the Gwitchin of Old Crow, Yukon.

About the only time we hear about Old Crow is during the Yukon Assembly elections every four years, and a district with so few people that elections for the area's MLA are often decided by a vote or two. Yet this remarkable town of 300 people on the Beaufort Sea and closer to Alaska than to most other towns in the Yukon has one of the healthiest native populations in the country, students who actually graduate high school, and not one reported suicide in the last ten years. (Compare that to Northern Ontario with a suicide rate 40 times higher.) What makes the difference? Well, for one thing, they've been somewhat luckier than others -- their natural food habitat is still mostly intact. But the more important thing is they have real self-government, one that actually works; something which appears to be true of other native tribes in the Klondike as well. Government is kept small, and is run by consensus.

I've taken a look at the Yukon model the last few years (which includes, among other things, a share of income tax revenues), and while I've wondered at times how well it would work in other parts of the country, I'm now convinced more than ever that Indian Affairs should move aggressively to implement it on a national basis. However, I also think many if not most band councils in Canada would never agree to it. Nepotism and klepotcracy are unfortunate consequences of even the limited powers they have under the current Indian Act, leaving so many natives impoverished; and unless there is a strong tradition of democracy within a community, there are inevitably battles between those who support a more open process versus a traditional form of government where one's position is based on birth rather than merit. (Not that the clan mothers or traditional chiefs at Six Nations, for instance, are bad; but as someone asked not too long ago, who picks the clan mothers or traditional chiefs? And with an elected band council competing for loyalties, who's really in charge?)

And given the rate at which DIAND settles land claims, does anyone think they're going to give up their powers? Ha! Especially with Stephen Harper in power.

Still, it's a ray of light in what others see as general darkness. The specifics may have to be worked out for each tribe, but if Old Crow can do it maybe the rest of Canada could follow their example. Including non-natives in their governance models, who prefer confrontation and partisanship over conciliation and partnership.

UPDATE (12:49 PM EST, 1749 GMT): Fixing a bad link.

Vote for this article at Progressive Bloggers.

No comments: