Saturday, 12 January 2013

Brinksmanship without design

I've been obsessively looking into and seeking out insights of Edward T Hall trying to grasp some of what's been happening recently in Canada re: #idlenomore and Chief Spence's hunger strike (she's not the only one: Elder Raymond Robinson is also along side Spence in forgoing solid food in protest of the recently unilateral actions of Harper in the guise of an 'economic' omnibus bill C-45).

Yesterday I was totally rivetted by the very fluid and dynamic series of events that presaged and capped off the meetings between AFN and Prime Minister Harper. I heard Grand Chief of Manitoba, Derek Nepinak, speak of the power he and his fellow protesters felt in the ceremonies they held in the Delta Hotel. And, though it may sound rather wishy-washy to the uninitiated (including me in the 'uninitiated' column), we shouldn't underestimate nor dismiss his words lightly.

When I was actively involved in the discussions surrounding IQ in the early, heady days of newly-minted Nunavut, I used to talk about the Japanese tea ceremony and the Haida Potlatch ceremony as illustrations of an outward expression of cultural ritual that belie the deeper, implicitly-felt symbolism they represent that cannot be denied if not articulatable in rational, clinical terms. In fact, to deny them as wishy-washy - as in new age-y wishy-washy - is to deny one's own culture and psychological space that define us all as human beings.

I didn't have the language then that I've since acquired in reading the works of Hall, but I can see what I tried to articulate so clumsily was actually going in the right direction. I'm not congratulating myself, just pointing out the fact that we sometimes come up with thoughts that have been articulated rather more elegantly by other greater thinker than us.

The title of this entry is taken from a phrase by Hall in, Beyond Culture (p. 162). A "brinksmanship without design" is what happens in cross-cultural relations when either side or both fail to account for the action chains that carry unvoiced expectations or seemingly strange speech like what Grand Chief Nepinak said yesterday. In order to phrase Nepinak's words in more familiar terms: we've all been in a place of worship or concert hall at some point in our lives, and felt that power of collective effervescence that carries us away in the music that envelopes us. The power is undeniable because we come away with some form of spiritual restoration.

It also got me thinking back to what Chantal Hubert sort of skirted around when asked about the #idlenomore movement in the last At Issue panel on CBC's The National. The danger of "brinksmanship without design" is also intimately familiar to the Quebec experience in trying to deal with anglophone Canada. In the wee hours of negotiations on the repatriation of Canada's constitution, language intended to embrace Quebec in the constitution (in good faith) was sadly and terribly mishandled in what became known as the "night of the long knives."

Using Hall's language, Quebec and the aboriginal communities are relatively 'high context' cultures that celebrate and place high value on communal interlinkedness (within themselves and Canada in general), whereas anglophone culture is relatively 'low context' and places more value on contractual relations while trying to get as much out of these legal instruments with the least amount of cost to themselves. I'm not saying that English  Canadians are like that, but that the legal and judicial systems are set up thus.

The way things are playing out in the First Nations protests right now is sadly familiar; one side is looking at this in legalistic terms while the other side is protesting the injustices and lack of fairness in the relationship. This is nothing less than an example of brinksmanship without design. I hope both sides realize the roles they're all playing right now before something terrible happens.


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