Self-Governance and Economic Self-Sufficiency: Success Factors for Sustainable Economic Development in Indigenous Communities of the Circumpolar North?

Lead Author Tor, Gjertsen
Institution Contact UiT The Arctic University of Norway Campus Alta
Theme Theme 3: Local and Traditional Knowledge
Session Name 3.2 Local and traditional knowledge in supporting business and community development in indigenous regions of the North
Datetime Thu, Sep 15, 2016 01:30 PM - 01:45 PM
Presentation Type Oral
Abstract text The question I would like to raise is how Indigenous peoples and communities can move toward economic prosperity, and still retain their traditional cultural practices that they view as essential parts of their lives?
The first and foremost function of a culture, indigenous or non-indigenous peoples, is to satisfy their basic needs for living and surviving. “If Indians are to live and survive as Indians in the modern, economic, political, and social environment, then they must adapt and develop their traditional cultures with reference to that environment” (Bolt, 1993, 179). Cultural adaption and development cannot be constrained by prescriptive customs and traditions conceived in another time and place. The first priority for cultural adaption and development, according to Bolt, must be; “to derive a framework of traditional fundamental philosophies and principles that will serve as a guide in adapting and developing their cultures for surviving and living in the contemporary world” (Bolt, 1993, 184).
Bolt is warning against revivalism, that we can observe in some Indigenous societies where they are striving to find back to their traditional cultural identity after years of oppression and assimilation by central government and administration. Traditional culture and values does not always support the social and economic change and development they need. Going back to ‘the land’ and traditional way of life will usually not secure economic self-sufficiency and independence. Overall, economic development within the concept of tribal traditional economies has very limited potential for contributing to Indian economic well-being. ”Those that cling to ‘false hope’ that their traditional economy can be restored through aboriginal rights, treaties, or land claims are inhibiting the survival of Indians as Indians. Without cultural adaption and development to fit the new world, Indians are doomed to continue living and surviving in a culture of dependence with its associated sense of apathy and defeatism” (Bolt, 1993, 197).
The researchers behind the Harvard Project on American Indian Economic Development (HPAIED-project) partly agree with Bolt in that the governing institutions of Indians or Indigenous peoples “must be suited to the contemporary challenges tribes face and to the world in which they operate”. (Begay, Cornell and Kalt, 1998, 45). However, they disagree on the importance political sovereignty and self-governance have for social and economic development. According to them; “The improvement of socioeconomic and political conditions of Indigenous peoples is inextricable linked to issues of self-governance, management and leadership” (Begay, Cornell and Kalt, 1998, 43). Putting in place effective governing institutions is a crucial first step in any society’s effort to establish and sustain economic growth and to assert control over their own affairs. The HPAIED-researchers claim that economic development in Indigenous communities and regions is primarily a political process. Sovereignty and its effective exercise will play a determinative role in whether or not economic and social well-being is attainable and sustainable.
I my presentation I will focus on the importance local and regional self-governance has for economic development in Indigenous regions of northern Norway and Russia, based on our experiences with the R&D-project for local and regional development workshops and partnerships and the findings in studies of economic development in Indigenous communities and regions of Canada and the US, referred to above.
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