Wednesday, February 5, 2020

The Inspiration of Inuit Consensus

In the world of intentional community, the most common form of decision-making is consensus. While it shows up in myriad flavors, almost all variations have the same root: a secular adaptation of the worship practice of the Religious Society of Friends, better known as the Quakers, who developed this in the 17th Century.

Quaker Strand
Key to what we know today as secular consensus, was the pioneering work done by the Philadelphia-based Movement for a New Society (MNS) in the '70s, under the guidance of Lawrence Scott, George and Lillian Willoughby, Bill Moyer, and George Lakey. They were dissatisfied with the response of mainstream Quakers to the Vietnam War, and formed MNS to develop the tools of nonviolent protest and organizing to effect revolutionary change—such as moving our culture from competitive to cooperative.

From that beginning, the work spread broadly among protest groups and intentional communities, which happened to be going through the Hippie-era growth surge at that time—also, in part, in response to the Vietnam War. Most of the communities that sprouted up then were a conscious rejection of mainstream politics and culture—but that didn't mean they were clear about what constituted a viable alternative. In that context, choosing to make decisions by consensus was a good fit, as it was completely different from what anyone had learned from student council days or from observing the practices of the US government (think Robert's Rules of Order, which is an adaptation of parliamentary procedure for non-legislative bodies).

Iroquois Strand
But the Quaker brand of consensus is just one version of what's out there. In addition there is the Iroquois Confederacy, or Haudenosaunee League, originally comprised of five Native American nations in the northeast: Mohawk, Oneida, Onandaga, Cayuga, and Seneca (the Tuscarora joined in 1722). The league and its practices were developed even earlier than the Quakers, somewhere in the range of the 1450-1660. 

Notably, each nation retained its identity and independence while agreeing to operate collectively as a single political entity, with a durable non-aggression pact among member tribes. This arrangement has been incredibly resilient (it continues today) and decisions are made by a brand of consensus that was uninfluenced by the Quakers.

Inuit Strand
Less well known is a third strand in the consensus braid: the practice of the Inuit, an indigenous people of the Arctic (they live in the north slope of Alaska, northern Canada, Greenland, and Denmark). While these peace-loving people have never been large in number (their population is about 150,000 today) they have endured for millennia in a harsh natural environment that few covet—which has undoubtedly contributed to their survival.

Taken all together, they refer to their culture as Inuit Qaujimajatuqangit (a Scrabble bonanza that I have no idea how to pronounce). It is abbreviated IQ and translates roughly to "that which has long been known by Inuit." Within their IQ is the belief that decisions should be for the good and betterment of society. It stems from their hearts, and a commitment to use reasoning abilities based on the truths of Inuit culture and the desire to live in harmony. 

In 1999, the Canadian government established the new province of Nunavut, encompassing various portions of the Northwest Territories, the northern third of Quebec, and chunks of Labrador. Because the population of Nunavut is over 80 percent Inuit, IQ is predominant in how the provincial government was established. Here is Nunavut's official vision:

—Decision-making through discussion and consensus. Silence is part of the communication and does not necessarily signify agreement.

—Respecting others, maintaining relationships, and caring for people.

—Fostering good spirit by being open, welcoming, and inclusive.

—Serving and providing for family and/or community.

—Respect and care for the land, animals, and the environment.

—Working together for the common cause.

—Being innovative and resourceful.

Pretty impressive. As with the Iroquois, this cultural tradition was developed independently from the others.

Reflection about the Timeline
Take a look at this selective timeline for governing systems:

• Robert's Rules of Order—first published in 1876
• Quakers—mid-17th Century
• Haudenosaunee—mid 15th to mid-17th Century
• Inuit—pre-Christian Era

I find it incredibly uplifting that there have been multiple incidents of consensus arising among groups of people over the course of history and that these experiments in self-government have been successful over the span of centuries—much longer than Robert's Rules of Order has been in the field.

It's something to think about.

2 comments:

Unknown said...

Very interesting!

I missing our discussions, Especially those about what constitutes a community.

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