From Lingit Latseen
A recent article in The Economist highlights what happens when two social concepts, alien to one another, compete in the political realm.
WHEN one category of citizens is singled out for privileged treatment, are the rights of others infringed? Phil Eidsvik, a Canadian salmon-fisher, thinks the answer is yes. He hopes his country’s newly re-elected prime minister, Stephen Harper, recalls a pledge he made five years ago: to oppose “racially divided fisheries programmes”, in other words, giving special fishing rights to indigenous groups.
But given the storm that Mr Harper’s comment provoked—he was accused of stoking white nativism—he is likely to proceed cautiously. And legal moves are now afoot to broaden the rights of indigenous fishermen. At present Canada upholds the rights of aboriginal groups to engage in traditional, subsistence fishing; hence regulators often open a fishery to a particular indigenous group for a limited time before a commercial catch begins.
The management of Pacific Northwest, British Columbia and Alaskan Fisheries is a complex one, for obvious reasons. Wild salmon represent a resource that is not easily managed by western notions of private property rights, so they are managed as public property of states and nation states. The Economist article casts the issue of Native subsistence and fishing rights as one of affirmative action, “correcting past wrongs by allocating a disproportionate share of jobs or educational places to groups that apparently need a leg up.”
Among the world’s liberal democracies, Canada stands out for the entitlements it grants to one group of citizens and for its open acknowledgment that there are hard trade-offs between individual rights and group rights. From South Africa to India, many countries have “affirmative action” policies, with the aim of correcting past wrongs by allocating a disproportionate share of jobs or educational places to groups that apparently need a leg up. But critics of the Canadian system say it goes further; it creates two levels of citizen by excluding indigenous people from conservation rules, and by exempting tribes from the accountability rules that other groups must follow. It is one thing to offer benefits to citizens who are felt to need them, another to water down the principle of equal citizenship.
We Alaskan Natives, First Nations and American Indians should view it not as affirmative action or even an issue of subsistence versus commercial resource use. Instead it should be viewed as an issue of territorial tribe and clan sovereignty. That is, as a clash of two fundamentally different concepts of rights, our clan collectivism and clan property rights versus the western notion of nation states and public property.