More wisdom on creating resilient communities that will stand the test of time from one of my favorite thinkers, John Robb of Global Guerrillas. In Indian Country, we should be looking toward or traditional clan and tribal structures for mutual support. This is necessary for our long term survival. Our tribes have always known this. This is what has allowed us to survive famine, drought, and war. Lately I believe we’ve been losing this.
Also, investment in a “ground up” economy is preferable to a “big project” based economy. The “big project” economy is one that is designed around one or two industries or businesses that employ the majority of the community. Examples of this in Indian Country would be gaming, resource extraction (mining, timber, etc,) and large scale tourism operations. The tendency across America is for people to sit around waiting for the government or big business to “create jobs” of the “big project” variety. Detroit is a great example of the faults of this form of economic development. An economy based on hundreds of small workshops employing mechanics and engineers coalesced into a few large automakers. Though these automakers became highly efficient, they sacrificed the innovation, security and resilience that comes with a ground up economy. The car industry imploded and the city of Detroit has been waiting for someone to ship jobs back into the community for half a century now.
In Indian Country we often wait around for Tribal Governments to “create jobs.” The same goes for the rest of small town America and even in the city, where Americans expect politicians in Washington D.C. to somehow wave a magic wand and “create jobs” as if they have been holding them back from us all this time (hmmmm…. maybe they have). But what happens if the gaming industry fails? What happens when the price of commodity metals or timber drops? When tourists stop coming? Our economy is then at the mercy of events out of our control, leading to a feast or famine pattern. We are vulnerable. So instead of waiting on one big employer, we should be creating our own work though a network of self employed specialists or small workshops. Farming is the easiest example of this. But we could also think about a community with a network of self employed artisans producing Native Art; working in silver, wood, precious stones and other materials. This would be the “ground up” economy to replace the “big project” economy of a large tourist shop selling cheap trinkets produced elsewhere. And this same network of artisans can transfer these skills to other small scale manufacturing projects. Our artisans are already producing traditional regalia, moccasins, and casting metal. What else could they make for their community? Clothing, shoes, machined parts?
So which are you going to build in your Native community? This:
Or a place where artisans can sell and produce their wares like the Indian art market on Santa Fe’s plaza?
This style of open air market could evolve into permanent workshops, where artisans produce, manufacture, export and retail their products all in the same place. Here’s what it might look like in an example from Asia:
Which format do you think would attract more tourists and customers? Which would you rather have in your community? Of course, the Pueblo people give us a fine example of American Indian traditional urbanism. Here’s a picture of Taos Pueblo’s northside, where people can live, produce pottery, bake bread, preserve and prepare food, make art, and sell the products of their labor all in one place:
This is an example of a resilient, local economy. In fact, just beyond the borders of Taos Pueblo is a network of small gardens and farms. Taos Pueblo used to be the economic powerhouse of its region, and it could be again. With a little more effort, we could turn all of our communities into healthy economies of small workshops and self employed artisans, manufacturers, farmers and more. Stop waiting around for the government to ship jobs to your community. It may or may not happen, and if it does, it may not last. Instead, build a flexible, ground up economy.
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