Tuesday, April 13, 2010

"Your People have had two hundred years more experience than anyone else in negotiating"

I have been appointed lead negotiator for the next round of collective bargaining to renew the agreement at APTN. I am so honoured, and excited, and driven to get the best damn agreement I possibly can get for the membership. I can’t wait to start. I have been thinking about the process of negotiation and why I love it so. I think it’s because it’s psychological, and sportsmanlike, but at the end of the day, fundamentally crucial to formulating the ground rules that a living document can be based on. I love it. I’m really good at it. And I aim to get better.

At its heart, negotiating is a diplomatic art, a skill of finesse, persuasion, supple argument and brute force. It’s a metaphorical warrior skill. It’s supremely Iroquoian in nature. Perhaps this is why I adore it so.

We Iroquois have had a long history of negotiating, of reaching treaty agreements as exemplified by the Covenant Chain, one of the first treaty arrangements between us and the Dutch settlers, later extended to the British. The Two Row Wampum remains the basis of all our nation-to-nation agreements. We negotiated peace treaties with the French. We also have agreements, codified by wampum belts, between the nations of our Confederacy and other nations, like the Ojibway and the Abenaki, the Chippewa and the Susquahennock. We spend a long time in hammering out treaties and agreements with other nations through subtle, persuasive argument, backed up with war when necessary.

We drove mean, hard bargains. But where has that gotten us? An agreement is only as good as long as both parties are willing to live up to the spirit of the contract, and the British crown, and its descendent colonial power Canada reneged on their duty almost as soon as they were able to. Our rich, fertile lands were too tempting to resist for a land-greedy settler population, and the respect accorded to our people could not be sustained in the mindset of an expansionist, fledgling imperialist colony that saw its whiteness, its European sensibilities as superior.

So I reclaim my heritage as an Iroquoian diplomat. I reclaim that part of me that wants to bargain, mediate, and negotiate. My work as a labour activist lets me stretch these skills, forgotten and lying dormant in me. I think if more Iroquoian people were able to flex these abilities, Canada wouldn’t know what had happened to it. We should aim to empower more of us in this fashion. Because we are damn good at it. We just need to remember how.