Our Power is the Basis of Our Development

May 5, 2022

Our Power is the Basis of Our Development

Community development usually looks something like this: an organization plans a campaign. In partnership with consultants, they design it after identifying a need like "poverty" or "economic development." Then, they swoop into the BIPOC community with their money and start doing their work to benefit the socio-economically disabled demographic. After however long, they announce a job well done, and an issue solved. Or, even more commonly, they tell their funders there's still a dire need—leading to an ongoing program without sunset—one in which our communities are dependent on outsiders for their well-being.

Let’s just call it what it is. The traditional model of BIPOC community development comes from the white savior complex. That form of community development is led by people who think they are "helping" us or "saving" us as if we are incapable of helping or saving ourselves. They're usually outsiders without an accurate, respectful understanding of the community. That is white saviorism (for the record, these saviors aren’t always white).

We’re running out of time, and there’s no place in our communities for interests that do not center on the People and the Land. But there is a different way. As an Indigenous organization working in Indigenous communities, we can reimagine and recreate community development by focusing on our strengths and relationships with nature.

Instead of perpetually focusing on our problems, we can center on our strengths and visions. Since community members know their community the best, we can strive to design programs around what every community member and association brings to the table. People can be good at art and connected to people good at marketing that art. People can be willing and able to get groceries and facilitate that for our elders and disabled. We can connect the dots and tie the strings together. We can give everyone a part, and equal say in the future of their home as we imagine and then manifest our destiny. It's called asset-based development.

Asset-based development is more democratic and communal; it's also more effective. There is extensive literature showing that asset-based programs lead to better outcomes for communities. By focusing on strengths united toward a community-identified purpose, asset-based community development can uplift Indigenous people in Indigenous ways. We can make significant shifts in every aspect of our respective nations at the governmental, administrative, and programmatic levels, but that means we must participate in those spaces. If you're not making things better by participating, don't complain!

Oh yeah, you also need to vote in every election!