DRG TIG Week: The role of humility in evaluation to rebalance democratic governance to-ward equity and sustainability, by Nicole Bowman, Larry Bremner & Andrealisa Belzer

Koolamalsi/Tanshi. We are Larry Bremner, Co-Founder, EvalIndigenous, Associate Editor, Roots & Relations, Canadian Journal of Program Evaluation (CJPE), and Past President, Canadian Evaluation Society (CES); Dr. Nicole Bowman, co-Chair, AEA Indigenous Peoples in Evaluation and Associate Editor, Roots & Relations, CJPE; and Andrealisa Belzer, CE, Indigenous Services Canada, and CES National Board. For several years we have been  promoting decolonized, sustainability-focused evaluation and Nation to Nation accountability between federal government and sovereign Indigenous peoples in the US and Canada.  

The term “democracy” comes from the Greek “demos” (the people) and “kratia” (power or authority).  Traditional Indigenous governance respects laws of nature and holds humans responsible for the intrinsic rights and wellbeing of non-human relatives such as flora, fauna, and earth, soil and water.  Democracy doesn’t include natural governance or humans living with responsibility toward non-human relatives. The erosion of democracy on this continent starts around the 1700s with Europeans’ selective adoption of traditional Native American governance values, which protected the freedoms of all genders, peoples, and species. Per Daniel Paul, We Were Not the Savages:

One can cite many references by Europeans praising the enlightened values of democracy and freedom enshrined in early Native American civilizations. Ironically, although appreciated by many renowned European men of that time, the values of these democratic cultures were precisely the reasons the ruling class of Europe reacted so violently in their persecution of them. Yet the Native Americans, by their example, sowed the seeds for the long-drawn-out movement towards democracy by the people of Europe, seeds the European aristocracy could not suppress through its attempted extermination of them.”

In “Rebalancing Society,” Henry Mintzberg identifies that democracy must be not only strong but in balance with economic sectors to combat social inequity and ecological degradation. In 2021, UN reaffirmed Indigenous people and governments as models by being “self-reliant and resilient communities living sustainably and in harmony with their ecosystems, even when inhabiting harsh environments.” The politics of democracy still challenge us:

“Despite the constitutional requirement of a separation of church and state, the U.S. Supreme Court used religious law to formally dispossess the Indigenous peoples of their lands and their rights as human beings. This ruling was later adopted by Canada and Australia and became the foundation for nearly all land-takings from Indigenous peoples around the world.” (Sherri Mitchell, Sacred Instructions).

Evaluation can play an important role in rebalancing democracies, if humility helps our missteps, including critical examination of democratic roots and their application to evaluation, policy, and governance activities. Critical thinking and action can address democratic backsliding. How many “effective” program evaluations have validated systems that perpetuate inequities by ignoring trade-offs, ignoring unintended consequences, or dismissing unmet needs as “out of scope?” Colonial approaches to funder-driven evaluation of Indigenous community development initiatives typically fail to address root causes such as land displacement and ecological and traditional knowledge destruction. Evaluation can decolonize change theory, so initiatives are framed not as benevolent aid, but as responsibilities in Nation to Nation relationships. We must consider how our work has enabled the exclusion of so many voices. This reflection can support reconciliation journeys and also in collective evaluation efforts for positive human, climate, and professional change.

Lessons Learned: 

Abuse of democratic political power was enabled residential schools to advance a genocidal agenda across Canada and the USA. See Nation to Nation accountability for child and family services,  investigation into the crimes of the US Indian boarding schools , and establishment of a new missing or murdered Indigenous unit to pursue justice for American Indians, Alaska Natives, and Native Hawaiians.

Rad Resources:

The American Evaluation Association is hosting Democracy, Human Rights & Governance TIG Week with our colleagues in the Democracy, Human Rights & Governance Topical Interest Group. The contributions all this week to aea365 come from our DRG TIG members. Do you have questions, concerns, kudos, or content to extend this aea365 contribution? Please add them in the comments section for this post on the aea365 webpage so that we may enrich our community of practice. Would you like to submit an aea365 Tip? Please send a note of interest to aea365@eval.org. aea365 is sponsored by the American Evaluation Association and provides a Tip-a-Day by and for evaluators. The views and opinions expressed on the AEA365 blog are solely those of the original authors and other contributors. These views and opinions do not necessarily represent those of the American Evaluation Association, and/or any/all contributors to this site.

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