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- 2005 LPF Convention Speaker
Meaghan Walker

Meaghan Walker, an International Libertarian and American Indian Activist in the US and Canada. National Post Columnist, Meaghan Walker has been credited with facilitating dramatic changes of the last Canadian government. She currently resides in Florida. She will moderate panel on Libertarianism in the culture.


N-Post Canada "End the Dependency" First Nations Woman Speaks Out    

National Post - Canada, Review Section ^ | Sat May 4th 2002 | by Elizabeth Nickson


One often has the impression that in Indian country, all of Canada's aboriginals speak with a single voice, and that voice is saying, "Gimmee more." Provincial and federal transfer payments, slated for various development programs and welfare, amount to approximately $10-billion a year, spread over a population of about one million natives.

But most natives say they never see any of that money. Whites, or non-natives, are generally displeased about this, but slightly shame-faced -- isn't it their fault in some way? They let it pass.

They let a whole lot of things pass. Corruption on reserves? Band leaders who steal money and run off to expensive resorts in the Caribbean? The catastrophic level of unemployment, grinding poverty and illness on many reserves? The problems are so complex, so thorny, that we just don't want to know. No one, it seems, is interested in confronting this mess and finding solutions to a problem that has persisted for 20 long and miserable generations.

Except someone now has: 28-year-old Meaghan Walker-Williams, a mother, adopted child and member of the Cowichan Band on Vancouver Island. Like a scant handful of native women across Canada, she said "no more," and three years ago began to systematically tackle corruption on her reserve. The Somena Governance Council, which she formed with her grandfather and uncles, has gone a long way toward erasing it.

Praiseworthy indeed. But Somena is only one of several strings in Walker-Williams's bow. Last month, at the B.C. Museum of Natural History in Victoria, this very pretty young woman, with long curling hair, dressed like any single mother with a job -- that is to say, in whatever came to hand -- sat on the terrace smoking madly while she methodically laid out for the National Post the difficulties and proposed solutions to most of the problems experienced by her tribe, the Coast Salish.

She talked about her unusual journey from high school radical to someone who is more at ease with the ideas of Adam Smith, someone who believes the First Nations can teach the rest of us a thing or two about what freedom really means.

"I came from the Left originally. I took Womyn's Studies, with a Y, at Camosun and then at North Island College. I was passionate, cared about people, beliefs, thought poverty was a terrible thing, etc. Then I met someone who said I was much too intelligent to be an egalitarian, and I said, 'What are you talking about?' We argued for six months, and he won every single argument. Logically he'd slay me, and I couldn't figure out why. I was a good debater. I'd been on the debating team at the private school I went to for years. I started reading Ayn Rand, Friedrich Hayek, David Friedman, David's father, Milton Friedman, Adam Smith, and I was literally sick to my stomach, dismayed at how wrong I'd been. I realized that all of these well-meaning plans from the Left actually result in the exact opposite of what they intended to do.

"Then I realized with much excitement, that the Coast Salish traditional economy was very much in line with what the thinkers I'd been reading were proposing."

Walker-Williams was adopted when she was seven months old by a white family, apparently against her birth mother's will. She was raised in West Vancouver and went to private school. Her adoptive parents divorced when she was a teenager. At 20, she became pregnant, and despite an excellent relationship with her adoptive father, he told her she was on her own. No more withdrawals from the Bank of Dad. Walker-Williams claims this was the making of her.

"The birth of my son really accelerated my search for my birth family. After my adoptive parent's divorce, I felt the need to connect with something that was stronger than this broken family unit. I wanted something more for my son, Josh. I had been looking since I was 16, hitchhiking from my adoptive mother's place in Port Alberni, where she had moved after the divorce, to Duncan, to look in cemeteries for the stone of my birth mother. She was Catholic, so I finally found the Catholic Indian cemetery. Not there. Eventually, I found the woman I had been fostered with until I was seven months, then a woman who had gone to school with my mom, then I found my half-brother, and my half-sister, who lives in Nanoose Bay. That was just overwhelming. Then I met the nuclear circle, which is more extended in our culture -- there were 165-people-plus in my mother's family alone. There is a Cowichan man who claims to be my father, but I just let it drop for now, because that would be another 185 people."

She paused to light another cigarette. "There was a real connection with my grandfather, a spark. With him I founded the Somena Governance [Council], which is a watchdog group or unofficial opposition for our band government. We raise awareness of our legal rights, act as facilitators, mediators, and translator of bureaucratese for our band members. We refuse government funding. Since we started, people call and write me from all over, and there's just no corruption that a band leader can do that surprises me. I used to go around topped out with rage. Now, nothing that band governments do surprise me anymore.

The Department of Indian Affairs feeds this by giving so much money, without any accountability, to a few members of the band."

But isn't that what gets non-natives so angry? The $10-billion in transfers to native peoples -- an enormous amount of money to be mismanaged?

Meaghan Walker-Williams had a ready answer. "It bothers Canadians because of tax serfdom," she said. "I know, because I've worked off reserve, and I pay these insane taxes. We work until -- what July? -- solely for the benefit of the government. Furthermore, as a taxpayer, I am appalled that there's no accountability at the Department of Indian Affairs either. No one holds the DIA accountable. The transfers should work out to $40,000 per native household. Believe me, I know lots of families on the reserve and not one of them is either receiving $40,000 or the benefit of $40,000 worth of programs."

Walker-Williams is very interested in the ideas of Hernando de Soto, an economist who believes many of the problems of the Third World could be resolved if people were allowed title to the land they've been squatting on for generations, and if they could use formal property ownership as collateral to begin to build assets, take out small loans and build businesses.

Walker-Williams thinks the first step is micro-loans to knitters, carvers and craftspeople on the Cowichan reserve. Many of the knitters for instance, cannot get their hands on $60 to buy the wool for those famous Cowichan sweaters.

"In Malahat, the reserve beside the Cowichan Band Reserve, there is a wonderful new chief and we're looking at setting up family trusts with him," she said. "We have to end the dependency. So long as we are dependent on the Canadian government and taxpayers for a dime, we're in grave danger of losing any political power to assert land claims and negotiate a treaty. How can you negotiate a treaty when the other people are paying you a salary to be there? Come on, people, read Sun Tsu! Plus, this whole idea that we're going into debt in order to negotiate our right to become tax serfs like you, to become less free, is mad!"

But it is her idea for a Coast Salish Free Trade Zone that really excites Walker-Williams. That, too, was sparked by something her grandfather said about the traditional economy of the Coast Salish people, which was that the Salish not only held private property but engaged in free trade all over the world. That idea, dressed up in modern theory, would go a long way, Walker-Williams believes, toward establishing native Canadians as fully responsible and free adults in modern society.

"The idea is that a First Nation, preferably in British Columbia, because of the lack of treaty here, would declare, in accordance with the traditional practices of a traditional economy, the right to engage in free trade all over the world," she said. "Just as we did prior to first contact, when white people began to arrive. This free-trade zone would be a haven. Not a scummy tax haven filled with criminals. It would have a streamlined bureaucracy and lower taxes than currently exist anywhere in North America. Like Hong Kong, for instance, which is a place that has brought peace, prosperity and uplift to millions, and is seen as a good place to do business.

"There are literally hundreds of possibilities. For instance, take this sucky 29% duty on softwood lumber. According to the Jay treaty, Coast Salish in Canada have a right to trade freely with their brother Coast Salish in Washington State. Therefore, we could take the lumber from Weyerhauser or Dorman, and ship it down to Washington State, sell it to our Coast Salish relatives, who could sell it on. The percentage we would take for our trouble would be a lot less than the 29% tariff. It's already legal.If we could do it, we'd be set. We wouldn't need a government handout for the rest of our existence."

What does she think of the current referendum about negotiating native rights in B.C.? Doesn't it seem to wrangle natives into the exact same position as every other race?"

"On the issue of taxation and self-government, the B.C. Liberal government is legally out of line," she said. "The other questions are nothing but badly written agitprop. For instance, nowhere in the entire history of the treaty process has private property been on the table as a question. We know what it's like to have our property taken away."

But what did she think about natives becoming like ordinary citizens, with property rights, paying taxes, and so on?

Meaghan Walker-Williams bridled. "That whole Borg experiment? 'You will be assimilated?' We've been trying that for 200 years! It hasn't worked out, whether it's the nature of the cultures being so different or a group of people living in one way of life for so long and then totally introduced to a different culture, not wanting or being able to adapt so quickly to a new way of life. The other thing is 'ordinary citizens'. First Nations people, ironically, because of the tax exemptions, are more free than any other Canadian. And you want us to jump on your bandwagon and become tax serfs too? Come on! Get out of town! You're crazy!

"My research has focused on the Salish who do have a thousands- of-years-long tradition of private property. Instead of payouts or compensation, we simply want economic freedom to make our own money. And I think that has a lot of appeal to taxpayers who are sick of having so much money taken away from them at the end of their work day, to see no benefit for it.

"We have different ways of doing things. We had a voluntary way of doing things, one that did not involve coercive measures, did not involve a centralized government."

Walker-Williams's ultimate solution is breathtaking in its simplicity: She believes First Nations should be permitted to try some of their ideas, such as the Coast Salish Free Trade Zone. If they screw up, it's their mistake. No more going back to the Bank of Dad.

"Look at what America used to represent! It used to be a beacon. Give me your poor, your weak, your huddled masses, right? What America used to represent was freedom. And unfortunately, a great deal of that has been lost because of the growing welfare state, tax serfdom. If we could recreate, based on our traditional model, this pocket of liberty or freedom, welcoming people to come to Vancouver Island.

Instead of saying we want special rights, we want rights that Canadians don't enjoy, we're saying, you can have this right too. And frankly, we're really sorry that your government won't let you do it. But if you want to come and do business with us, we'll welcome you with open arms."

TOPICS: Business/Economy; Canada; Culture/Society; Extended News; Foreign Affairs; Government; News/Current Events

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