CLOSING THE GAP AND OVERCOMING INDIGENOUS DISADVANTAGE
The lifetime expectancy gap between indigenous and non-indigenous is but a symptom of a greater, multi-dimensional problem. The Bahá’í Community recognises that a great deal of work must be carried out to right wrongs, to create justice, and to educate a new generation. Instant solutions are not possible. Education, however, provides a long-term solution to indigenous disadvantage, by creating a shift in consciousness within the next generation of, both indigenous and non-indigenous.
Centrality of the Spirit
Centrality of the Spirit It is significant that when indigenous cultures approach the discussion of social problems, leaders and members of the community refer frequently to the Creator and to the human spirit. Yet the prevailing social, economic, and political practices are often driven by an excessive and socially corrosive materialism that has, in turn, driven approaches to governance and economic and social development. Failure to appreciate the implications of the gap between these two approaches to social reality explains much of the injustice experienced by indigenous. Ingenuity and free inquiry, industrial productivity and material success have made many positive contributions to human civilization. There is, however, no greater barrier to progress in achieving social justice and the well-being of indigenous than an ideology of materialism that lacks consistent and viable moral principles. Bahá’ís are convinced that to effect genuine transformations in attitudes and to devise enduring solutions, it is necessary to adopt a fundamentally different orientation and approach.
It is a foundational principle of the Bahá’í Faith that humanity is a single people, created of the same substance, and sharing the Earth as our common home. Programs designed to address indigenous injustice will not succeed unless they are forged with the positive understanding of the spiritual kinship between all human beings. Only with the mutual respect engendered by spiritual values of human nobility and compassion can relationships be healed.
Only through such values can injustice and disadvantage, prejudice and discrimination, denial and neglect be eliminated.
Justice and the Recognition of Rights
It will not be possible to close the lifetime expectancy gap and bring indigenous people into full partnership in the construction of a progressive society without the acceptance and application of the principle of justice.
“in a just society, it is unacceptable if one part of the society experiences disadvantage.” Many indigenous communities vividly illustrate the consequences of the lack of justice inherent in existing social and economic practices, and it remains the case that indigenous people, on virtually every index, are the most underprivileged group of society. Prejudice and discrimination have created a disparity in standards of living, providing some with excessive social and economic advantage while denying others the bare necessities for leading healthy and dignified lives. Despite formal equality, institutionalised inequality and prejudicial attitudes persist.
Particular attention must be paid to the individual right to gain employment. Working and making a contribution to society is fundamental to self-esteem. Social and economic resources must be redirected to ensure that no one is deprived of either employment opportunities or basic living needs. Bahá’u’lláh, the prophet founder of the Bahá’í Faith, identifies the provision of economic security as a God-given responsibility of any society: “Know ye that the poor are the trust of God in your midst…Ye will most certainly be called upon to answer for His trust.”
If any discrimination is to be tolerated, it should be a discrimination not against, but in favour of the disadvantaged minority. This is a Bahá’í principle that our community’s administrative practice strives to uphold. Without affirmative action, social change will be too slow and the privileges of the dominant majority will continue to eclipse the rights of those from minority or oppressed sectors of society. Programs of affirmative action are temporary measures to balance the ills that contemporary society and a history of injustice have produced.
Justice demands the recognition of human rights. It is an unavoidable reality of our past that indigenous people have not had the opportunity to fully enjoy their human rights.
It is essential to touch the hearts, and elevate the behaviour, of all, if human rights are to be transformed from the expression of abstract norms to the reality experienced by people in their daily lives. Successful human rights education must seek to transform individual attitudes and behavior and thereby establish a new culture of respect for human rights. Only change in the fundamental outlook of every individual, whether a government official or ordinary citizen, can bring about the universal observance of human rights principles in the daily lives of people.
Reconciliation and the Need for Healing
Continued support for the reconciliation process is vital to achieving justice and harmony between indigenous and non-indigenous. Without such healing, other developmental processes of governance, economic development, and education will not succeed. The importance of legal and political evolution to redress inadequacies and injustice of past laws is also essential.
Another important step towards overcoming indigenous disadvantage is encouraging indigenous participation in public affairs and granting indigenous communities the right to determine their own future. That all members of the community should have a say in how they are governed is a principle that today very few would deny, and the most effective level at which such widespread participation can be realized is local, not national.
The actual process of making community decisions at the local level and of organizing and developing a community is vitally important.
The consultative process guides the manner in which community-wide discussion is pursued and the way in which decision-making bodies resolve disputes and plan strategies of community development. Among the principles that guide Bahá’í consultation are the following:
The prohibition of factionalism or partisanship;
The encouragement of all to speak freely according to their own consciences;
The responsibility for all participating to exercise courtesy and moderation in the expression of their views;
The obligation to be detached from one’s own contribution so that the group or collective itself can come to own that contribution;
The primacy of the interests of the group or community over individual interests;
The requirement that, once a decision is taken, both the majority favouring it and those originally opposed respect, support and carry out the decision in unity. Such unanimous and community-wide support ensures decisions are not subverted and sabotaged. Only through such support can a decision be properly evaluated and changed if genuine deficiencies in the decision itself are detected;
The obligation of all decision-making bodies to evaluate continually their work and pursue ongoing consultation with the wider community to assess and, if necessary, revise their decisions.
Bahá’ís are convinced that governance and the administration of human affairs should be carried on through the principle of consultation in which all peoples have a say in how decisions affect them.
Education is the Solution
The Bahá’í Community believes that education must be the foundation of any policy designed to address the lifetime expectancy gap betwee indigenous and non-indigenous people.
Education is not only the shortest route out of poverty and disadvantage, but it is also the shortest route out of prejudice. Greater investment in education is needed in the schools attended by children and young people from all segments of society.
We recommend that the principle of “unity in diversity” serve as a core concept in school curricula and educational programs. It is necessary to emphasis on positive goals, such as unity and integration, inclusion, health, and development. Of fundamental importance is an integrated educational approach that seeks out relationships between people, subject areas, and different sectors of life, and that instills a value of service to the broader good of society as the point around which young people develop their identities.
A statewide program of education, emphasising the values of tolerance, appreciation for cultures other than one’s own, and respect for differences would be a most important step towards the elimination of racism and disadvantage.
Bahá’í Junior Youth Programs are now held in many localities around the world. Designed for 12 to 15 year olds, this program incorporates a literacy component as an element of a larger process of youth empowerment that addresses community service, moral education, and a vision of contributing to the advancement of society. It is intended not only for Bahá’ís but for youth in general, whose engagement with the program will enable them to contribute more effectively to the progress of their communities, their nations, and the world.
Bahá’ì Education classes are provided to children. In these classes students are encouraged to explore ways in which they can contribute to society and serve humanity. In doing so, the classes aim to contribute to the awakening and development of the spiritual nature of all children complementing the intellectual, physical and social education provided in schools.
The Bahá’í approach to education takes as its starting point the belief that every person is a spiritual being with limitless potential for noble action. In order to be made manifest, that potential must be consciously cultivated through a curriculum attuned to this fundamental human dimension. Hence Bahá’í educational programs focus on the development of moral capabilities including the ability to:
• participate effectively in non-adversarial collective decision-making;
• act with rectitude of conduct based on ethical and moral principles;
• take initiative in a creative, disciplined form;
• commit to empowering educational activities;
• create a vision of a desired future based on shared values and principles, and to inspire others to work for its fulfillment;
• understand relationships based on dominance and to contribute towards their transformation into relationships based on reciprocity and service.
In this way, the curriculum seeks to develop the individual as a whole, integrating the spiritual and the material, the theoretical and the practical, and the sense of individual progress with service to the community.
Bahá’ís of Botswana
Bahá’í communities are working together with their neighbours and friends to promote and contribute to the well-being and progress of society. In urban centres and rural villages, in homes and schools, citizens of all backgrounds, classes and ages are participating in a dynamic pattern of life, taking part in activities which are, at once, spiritual, social and educational.
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