Strong nations are like good families.
They owe their existence to ancestors who had strong personal beliefs and values, and who made a practice of passing those traditions on to their children and their children’s children.
Whether they’re the Seven Grandfather Teachings or the Golden Rule, such values are important tools in creating common ground between people who often have very different personalities.
Families have a responsibility to keep their children healthy and educated, to prepare them to enter a world where a strong work ethic and respect for others will give them a better chance to prosper and succeed. They establish expectations and rules of conduct and prescribe consequences to lessen the likelihood that misbehaviour can cause permanent damage to the family’s dreams for the future.
Nations can play a similar role. For example, members of the Anishinabek family have agreed on the need for their own laws and at June's annual assembly proclaimed a Chi-Naaknigewan (constitution). The preamble -- Ngo Dwe Wangizid Anishinaabe – describes the common values and teachings that give the constitution moral authority, rather than just legal force.
Governments can be seen as playing the role of parents, in the sense that they provide guidance and direction to their family members. The Anishinabek are patiently working towards establishing our own model of national governance through negotiations that have continued for the past 15 years with the goal to have Canada recognize the validity of our jurisdiction to manage our own affairs. That inherent right is already enshrined in Canada’s Constitution, but the political endorsement of such principles is required to achieve such goals in practice, and not just theory.
In the meantime, the Union of Ontario Indians , under the direction of the Grand Council Chief, acts with authority delegated by the nation’s 39 Chiefs to provide ideas, direction and support designed to help each member community succeed. Small First Nations with 100-or-so citizens simply don’t have the wherewithal to develop all the tools they need to achieve everything of which they are capable.
That’s why the UOI political organization can use its staff to do the R & D – research and development - required to create tools like an economic blueprint, templates for laws on important issues like citizenship, and communications products and services like a newspaper and website – all of which are designed and intended to benefit individual member communities and increase the opportunities which they are able to provide their own members.
Parents often must come to the defence of children who get bullied in the schoolyard, or taken advantage of by unscrupulous people. The Anishinabek can count on their political leadership to defend their collective position against federal, provincial or municipal governments on key issues like tax exemption, or territorial infringements.
Family members can count on one another to feel safe and secure, for support and protection, for help in achieving their goals. But it’s a two-way street.
The inter-connectedness enjoyed by successful families requires them to give as well as get, to be willing to stand up for one another, as well as be honest enough to express disappointment to siblings when they are behaving badly. Because a delinquent child – or parent – can give the whole family a bad name.
Unity is the glue that builds successful nations. Can you imagine a Canada in which every premier of every province and territory stood shoulder-to-shoulder with the country’s prime minister on an issue, instead of bickering about pipeline royalty rights and transfer payment shares? The party system has turned most national political landscapes around the world into something akin to a Three Stooges food fight.
(Actually, the only time in recent political memory that there was unanimity and unity among Canadian political leaders was on their 2008 agreement in the Kelowna Accord. The legislation was intended to “improve the socio-economic conditions of aboriginal people in Canada” in a comprehensive, instead of the historic piecemeal way. This rare achievement in legislative cohesion has been miserably squandered by the Harper Conservatives, who rely on a divide-and-conquer approach to retain their grip on political power.)
Unity requires discipline and determination, often a tall order to expect of any group larger than one person. For example, when Anishinabek leaders encourage their citizens to support their own businesses and stop the flow of 80 cents of every dollar out of First Nations, it’s disappointing when people decide not to because they can buy a loaf of bread five cents cheaper at a store 20 miles away. There is nothing politically stronger than people speaking with one voice.
Unity is supposed to be, as the clergymen tell newlyweds, in sickness and in health
We haven’t really talked about the family members who get into real trouble – at their school, with the law, with the neighbours. Well, the first thing a good parent does is talk to the child to get their side of the story before deciding if any punishment or remedial action is in order.
Nations or governments don’t spank most unbehaving citizens – just the worst cases. But they do need to have an open dialogue with individual communities or citizens to remind them that their actions reflect badly on the whole. Just watch the media when a First Nation goes into third-party management, or a citizen accuses a Chief of misconduct.
The bottom line is that members of families and nations have responsibilities to people other than themselves, a link that should govern all their actions.
Strong nations are like good families.
Maurice Switzer is a citizen of the Mississaugas of Alderville First Nation. He serves as director of Communications for the Union of Ontario Indians and editor of the Anishinabek News.