US professor on how to turn around indigenous disadvantage

Reply Wed 23 Mar, 2005 08:09 pm
I was driving home last night, and this PM report caught my attention.

There was something of a discussion of the latest US school tragedy - which occurred, as you all doubtless know, in a Native American school.

There was a discussion of the situation re Native American people - and then this professor came on with ideas about how to truly assist Indigenous communities - which was an issue, I thought, highly relevant to here.

Some of what this man was saying sounded truly exciting - and I confess it actually seems as though the Howard Government might be doing some of the things suggested here.

What do you think? Are these ideas useful? As voters and citizens of Oz can we usefully act on these ideas (non-Ozzians very welcome too!!! Especially if you know something about all this - or if you just want to join in!)

Anyhoo - here is what he said:

US professor looks at how to turn around indigenous disadvantage

PM - Tuesday, 22 March , 2005 18:18:00
Reporter: Alexandra Kirk
MARK COLVIN: Professor Stephen Cornell, a director of Harvard University's Project on American Indian Economic Development, visited the Red Lake Indian Reservation in December.

He says it's a community with major problems, but there's a significant group of younger leaders determined to reshape community life.

Professor Cornell is here as a guest of Reconciliation Australia, which is working with Harvard on research into what makes indigenous communities work and how to turn around disadvantage.

Tomorrow the Professor will speak to some of the Commonwealth's most senior bureaucrats in charge of running Aboriginal affairs now that the Government's abolished ATSIC.

Alexandra Kirk asked Stephen Cornell first about today's shooting rampage in rural Minnesota.

STEPHEN CORNELL: It's a community in which there are some major continuing problems, but there is a significant group of younger leaders there right now who are determined to reshape the community life.

There is research coming out of British Columbia and out of our work in the United States that shows major progress against, in particular adolescent suicide, adolescent crime and adolescent behavioural problems, when adolescents themselves have a sense that there is a future for them.

And one of the best predictors of adolescent suicide rates in recent work with British Columbia First Nations is the degree of self-government that indigenous nations are exercising. As that rises, adolescent suicide rates drop.

ALEXANDRA KIRK: You're in Australia looking at what makes Indigenous communities work. Do you think the Federal Government has done the right thing in abolishing ATSIC?

STEPHEN CORNELL: It's clear to me that there were some significant problems in the organisation of ATSIC, perhaps primary among them that it did not, it was not really generated by Indigenous people.

I think the real question though is what comes next.

ALEXANDRA KIRK: Now the Government's setting up, or has set up, an advisory body, and then says it will deal with individual communities at a regional level. Do you think that's the be-all and end-all?

STEPHEN CORNELL: I don't think it's the be-all and end-all. I think it's a good start to be looking to local and regional communities, looking to Aboriginal communities themselves as the place where solutions are most likely to be generated.

And to the extent that the Government is willing to talk with those communities, and respect their ideas about how these problems should be addressed, and their ideas about how governance itself should be organised locally and regionally, that is really the beginning of something that has the promise of generating innovative solutions.

ALEXANDRA KIRK: But the bottom line is, isn't it, that the Government's going to be dealing with taxpayers' money, and the Government will be saying in order to improve conditions for Aboriginal people you want to get results.

STEPHEN CORNELL: Absolutely, and here's where one of the most interesting things happening in Australia's going on. The research project that Reconciliation Australia has launched in recent months is specifically designed to look at what's working in Aboriginal communities, and what can we learn from what's working that might be transferable.

My experience in Australia, the visits that I've made in the last few years, is that in fact at ground level there's a great deal of significant promise happening in Aboriginal communities. We're seeing communities taking charge of issues and problems, developing innovative organisational solutions, involving communities themselves in the dialogue about what needs to happen in the long run, and we're beginning to see some solutions emerge and this research project is trying to analyse those solutions, identify them, analyse them, figure out what can we transfer from community to community.

I think that is part of the story that taxpayers ultimately are going to need to hear.

ALEXANDRA KIRK: And what about the mistakes that are going to be made?

STEPHEN CORNELL: And if we don't tolerate mistakes, we're kidding ourselves. We're dealing with human societies. I come from the United States. We make mistakes over there all the time. It's the darnedest thing.

We're just going to have to recognise that when you give people the power to control what happens to them, and you ask them to be accountable for that, they're going to start experimenting, they're going to start innovating, they're going to make some mistakes, they're also going to come up with some brilliant solutions.

ALEXANDRA KIRK: Is mainstreaming the right way to go, in your view?

STEPHEN CORNELL: If mainstreaming means simply breaking things up among multiple departments, I think there are potentially real problems with it. There are huge coordination problems.

I think the real question is the relationship between the people who are trying to deliver services and the communities that are receiving those services and the question is whether those communities are going to be into influence the way services are delivered, and influence the priority list, and engage in a real substantive dialogue about governance.

ALEXANDRA KIRK: And what are the lessons, do you think, so far from North America in terms of what's happening here now?

STEPHEN CORNELL: We have a substantial body of robust research from North America on indigenous peoples in the United States and Canada, in which we're seeing major progress on social and economic issues, and across both countries the primary drivers of that progress are genuine self determination, that is, you've got to move control into indigenous hands in an array of issues from governmental form to resource management to house services and programs are addressed.

Indigenous communities themselves have to back up that power with capable governance, and that governance has to recognise and pay attention to indigenous conceptions of how authority should be exercised.

If you can put those three together, then you start to see interesting results.

The US Government's tried for 75 years to solve social and poverty problems in Indian country. The only policy regime that has produced sustainable results is one that puts power in indigenous hands and invests in indigenous capacity.

ALEXANDRA KIRK: In your view, is there enough power in Indigenous hands in Australia?

STEPHEN CORNELL: I don't think so myself. I haven't seen it, but I understand that this Government is beginning to take Aboriginal communities and Aboriginal agendas seriously. If that is the case, then there's hope.

ALEXANDRA KIRK: What is the biggest challenge that this Government faces? You talked about the challenges for Indigenous people, but what about the challenges for the Federal Government?

STEPHEN CORNELL: The biggest challenge is to be willing to take some risks. That's hard for governments to do. Governments want to keep control over things so they can be sure the outcomes are just right, but Aboriginal problems are not going to be solved by bureaucrats keeping tight control over what happens out there. You've got to be willing to take some risks, you've got to accept that there are going to be some mistakes, and you've got to expect some wonderful results.

MARK COLVIN: Professor Stephen Cornell of the University of Arizona, who's Director of Harvard University's Project on American Indian Economic Development, speaking to Alexandra Kirk in Canberra.

(Hey - he's speaking to bureaucrats - here's crossed fingers!)
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Reply Wed 23 Mar, 2005 08:17 pm
here are some links:

Home page of the projest

Research and publications

Sounds like our indigenous folk are WAY ahead of me!

Relevant conference papers
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Reply Wed 23 Mar, 2005 08:22 pm
The regional councils should have been kept, even if ATSIC had to go. They were the exact sort of bodies this guy is talking about there needing to be.

<just bookmarking really> :wink:
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Reply Wed 23 Mar, 2005 11:36 pm
Hmmmm - yes - hmmmmmm - I wonder if the government is attempting to stop any strength in numbers thing by talking to communities individually?

Actually - I confess I need to research just what the structure they are proposing is...

Thing is, in my limited experience, Aboriginal communities are so divided from within, let alone between each other, that I am not sure how meaningful larger groupings are...

Sigh - such ignorance!
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Reply Fri 25 Mar, 2005 06:01 am
I was reading up about the Red Lake shooting, and I sure was taken aback by those stats and facts about Indians in general ("Native American" is passe again I guess) and that community in particular ... this from MSNBC:

A bleak mountain of federal research suggests the extraordinary risks and hardships of growing up Indian, compared with growing up as a member of any other ethnic group in the United States.

The annual average violent crime rate among Indians is twice as high as that of blacks and 2 1/2 times as high as that for whites, according to a survey last year by the Justice Department.

Indian youths commit suicide at twice the rate of other young people, according to the U.S. Commission on Civil Rights. The overall death rate of Indians younger than 25 is three times that of the total population in that age group.

Compared with other groups, the commission found, Indians of all ages are 670 percent more likely to die from alcoholism, 650 percent more likely to die from tuberculosis, 318 percent more likely to die from diabetes and 204 percent more likely to suffer accidental death.

And despite considerable income gains in the past 15 years, some of it because of Indian gambling operations, Native Americans remain the poorest ethnic group in the country, with about half the average income of other Americans.

When it comes to young Indians, the statistical picture here on the Red Lake reservation, home to about 5,000 tribal members, is even bleaker than the national average. A third of teenagers on this reservation are not in school, not working and not looking for work (compared with 20 percent on all reservations), according to census figures.

A survey last year by the Minnesota departments of health and education found that young people here are far more likely to think about suicide, be depressed, worry about drugs and be violent with one another than children across the state. At St. Mary's Mission School, an elementary school student recently painted a poster for her father: "Dad, don't do cocaine any more."

Thought of suicide

The state survey of ninth-graders found that at Red Lake High, 43 percent of boys and 82 percent of girls had thoughts about suicide, with 20 percent of boys and 48 percent of girls saying that they tried it at least once. [..]

Compared with other reservations in Minnesota and across the country, Red Lake appears to have had an especially toxic history of violence, drug problems and gang activity. The curriculum now includes courses in anti-gang training, anti-bullying training, drug and alcohol abuse prevention, and instruction in fetal alcohol syndrome.
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Reply Fri 25 Mar, 2005 06:13 am
Yes - I think the problems very similar here for Indigenous people.

Some communities do better than others, of course.

Here, the money from casinos, which enriches some indigenous American folk, I gather, is not present - though some tribal groupings have an income form their ownership of various tourist sites. The people at Uluru, for instance, are supposedly very wealthy.

I do not see that it has done a lot, though. I gather the problems of violence, alcohol abuse etc are bad in that community.

I opened another thread a while back about new government ideas:


I especially liked the professor's stuff about risk and accepting that mistakes would occur.
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Reply Fri 25 Mar, 2005 11:49 am
The Red Lake thing is close to home for me. One side of my family is from Bemidji and I've spent a lot of time there. One of my best friends from H.S. is Chippewa and is working in Bemidji -- I haven't contacted her because we haven't been in touch in about 5 years and I don't really want to pull a "so you're probably involved with something newsworthy, how you doin'?", but I'm sure she's involved at some level.

She is definitely one of those young leaders.

Interesting reading, will be back.
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Reply Fri 25 Mar, 2005 06:31 pm
Sadly, there are huge problems with violence in Indigenous communities here, too.

I suspect we are very lucky we have gun laws, because most of it is drunken/petrol sniffing violence - and if they had guns in that state - oy veh!

The damage is bad enough.
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Reply Mon 6 Jun, 2005 12:35 am
It's one thing to say you are prepared to accept mistakes, it's quite another to defend the outcome of children dying from a lack of medical attention...just one example of the "mistakes" that could occur.

It's an extremely complex state of affairs and difficult moral territory with no clear ideas on any side that I can see.

I wish I had something more positive to add Sad
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Reply Mon 6 Jun, 2005 07:07 am
I think the problem we face here in Australia is that - as dlowan has rightly pointed out, there are many factions (usually based on extended family connections) within indigenous communities and that can make outside administration difficult. But that will be overcome with a bit of will.

One of the other problems is ideologies. I've been following the spat between Lowitja O'Donoghue and Noel Pearson (for people outside of Australia they are both significant people within the indigenous community in Australia). That little blue is almost a microcosm of what's going on at a wider level. They have to sort it out.

I find myself in rare agreement with the Howard Government. I'm swallowing hard here but I agree with the idea of practical reconciliation. I just wish Howard would do the right thing, offer an apology and get on with it. Until that's done not much will move forwards. I know that sounds like I'm getting ideological but I'm not. I've come to that realisation only recently.

If Howard could find it in himself to offer a symbolic apology for the bad things that have been done (not that we had germ-laden blankets but we have had some fairly savage moments) and get that out of the way we can start to work on the real issues such as infant mortality, general health and life expectancy of indigenous people (I'm not being cute, I mean aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people) and the parlous economic condition of many. At the moment though his good policy idea is doing it hard because until he gives that apology there will be resentment from the indigenous population.
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