UIATF's Phil Lane points to 'The Fourth Way'

Phil Lane has a vision. That vision is complex, expansive and founded in basic humanitarian principles, and though it contains applications in the realm of international politics, it is not meant for politicians. It is meant for the people.

Lane - CEO of United Indians of All Tribes Foundation (UIATF) headquartered in Discovery Park's Daybreak Star Cultural Center - is the brains behind "The Fourth Way," a 42-page document that lays out a plan for global peace and prosperity in the 21st century. Broadly populist in nature and ideologically grounded in aboriginal folk wisdom, the document is subtitled, "An Indigenous Contribution for Building Sustainable and Harmonious Prosperity in the Americas."

In basic outline and tenor, "The Fourth Way" is an urgent cry for unity among indigenous peoples everywhere, with the message that such a collective bonding carries social, spiritual, economic and political implications for a worldwide demographic that largely has existed on the tenuous margins of mainstream society.

"We believe the timing is right," said Lane, who today will deliver "The Fourth Way" to an international conference on endogenous development and biocultural diversity in Geneva, Switzerland.

Lane said that a confluence of recent developments - the advent of communication technologies such as e-mail, the shakeup and realignment of many nation-states, growing political activism among indigenous populations, the threat of terrorism, economic upheaval - has brought about a dynamic international arena primed for change. He added that world leaders such as Chilean president Hugo Chavez have opened the door for positive change by creating strong democratic institutions and economic empowerment in countries traditionally hobbled by poverty and political oppression.

"There's a whole new geopolitical relationship developing around the world," he said. "All of these factors together provide us with a very outstanding opportunity to do this. We have to move forward."

To advise and guide him in getting out word of "The Fourth Way," Lane has enlisted the help of Colville tribal member Mel Tonasket, a Navy veteran with a long and distinguished history of leadership in Native American affairs. Besides serving his own tribe in varying capacities over the years, Tonasket from the mid-'70s and into the '80s was president of the National Congress of American Indians. As such, he had close contacts with the federal government, including several official appearances at the White House.

Lane said he tapped Tonasket - practically pulling him out of retirement - not only for his friendship but for his sophistication and savvy in negotiating the many opportunities and crises that have confronted Native Americans in recent years.

"I was around the big stuff," Tonasket said of his myriad experiences. He said that when Lane contacted him and explained his ideas, he experienced a flash of recognition; in Tonasket's view, "The Fourth Way" is a link between past and present, and achieves a kind of continuity with the sort of projects he was engaged with in the past.

"This is opening the door," he said.

At the Geneva gathering today, Lane will have the ear of representatives from many nations, including Bolivia, Ecuador, Poland, France, Netherlands, Ghana, Tanzania and the United Kingdom. He sees speaking before such a diverse audience as just a beginning, a way to start channeling his message to indigenous populations worldwide. (One of Lane's mottos is "people to people, not nation to nation.")

At the same time Lane is delivering his paper, a press conference presenting "The Fourth Way" will take place Stateside, and key political figures - including a representative from the White House - will be handed a copy of the document. "It will all come together at one moment," Lane said, adding that such timing plays a huge part in sending the message that needed change is on its way.

"The patience [for change] is running out," Lane said. "Not only here, but around the world."

The Fourth Way

"The Fourth Way," which Lane also refers to as a "strategic security document," received its first public airing at an April 22, Earth Day gathering at Daybreak Star. According to Lane, the document was shared with a handful of "trusted relatives" (figurative, not literal) and simultaneously e-mailed to three other spiritual gatherings around North America. "All our tribes and nations talked about dialogue, about creating a future," Lane said of the genesis of the document.

That document's beginnings trace back to October 2001, when Lane started up a process of consulting with indigenous leaders and communities worldwide in a search for solutions to "ending escalating cycles of poverty and violence" that afflict marginalized populations. What he found, he said, was a desire among many to whom he talked to tap into the ancient wisdom of native cultures - not to return in nostalgia to some long-gone, halcyon past but to utilize the spiritual and cultural traditions of the ancestors in confronting the future.

"This goes way, way back," Lane said, adding that what's needed now is a workable combination of folk wisdom and hard-won diplomatic savvy. "We walk the spiritual path with practical feet," he explained.

In this sense, Tonasket noted, the history of Native Americans' political relations vis-à-vis the U.S. federal government - full of broken promises, busted treaties, forced relocation and, at times, violent repression - offers a cautionary lesson on how to proceed. Yet he said such experiences ultimately will prove useful in getting word out about "The Fourth Way" and its message of peaceful unification. "The history of what we've gone through shows us that we can do that," Tonasket said.

The term "fourth way" refers to Lane's ideas about the several ways that indigenous respond to the overwhelming influence of a dominant culture. "Many indigenous peoples have watched helplessly as their traditional means of livelihood were wiped out by unsustainable environmental practices used by large transnational fishing, timber, oil and mining corporations, by plantation-style agriculture operations and by large, government-subsidized agribusiness corporations usurping agriculture markets in their countries," he writes in "The Fourth Way."

Lane said that in his talks with indigenous leaders he identified four ways of responding to the breakdown of traditional indigenous culture: assimilation, or to give up one's traditions to blend into mainstream culture; resignation, or to give up and fall into despair; resistance, or to organize against the dominant culture with anything from nonviolent protest to armed conflict; and finally, what Lane calls empowerment and constructive development - "the fourth way."

According to Lane, such a movement would be nonviolent, broadly democratic and founded in diplomacy, with a long view to cultural and environmental sustainability. It is a response to the historic degradation of indigenous populations in North and South America - the poverty, cycles of violence and addiction, loss of land and ways of being - and so seeks to re-empower those populations by improving the fundamentals of a "healthy" life through better education, health care, economic development and participation in social and political structures. "It's time to rebuild this hemisphere," Lane said. "It's time to come home."

A crucial element of the movement, he added, is that it provides an alternative response to the threat of global terrorism. Lane said there's a striking similarity to indigenous populations in the Americas and those in the Middle East, Africa and Australia. Many terrorists, he pointed out, feel powerless in the face of Western hegemony. By allowing those in power to see through the eyes of disenfranchised populations, the fourth way brings a greater understanding of the hostility so much of the world feels toward Western powers such as the United States.

Tonasket said that Native American experiences of perfidy at the hands of the United States government - extermination, termination, relocation - along with a reinvigoration of the traditional wisdom of ancient Indian culture, provide for a unique perspective on the ways unity can be reached through peace and empowerment. "We have an experience to share," Tonasket said, "and it's not through bullets. Most of us want peace - how we go there is another matter," he added.

"There is no power in heaven and earth that's going to stop the uprising of the human spirit," Lane said.

Media and message

According to Lane, one of the greatest obstacles to the actualization of "The Fourth Way" is not political hostility, social apathy or cultural ignorance: it's the media. He said he worries that the message will get skewed, slanted or otherwise misrepresented by a modern mass media given to cynicism, sensationalism and easily digestible sound bites that reduce stories to the lowest common denominator.

It's for this reason that he brought aboard Tonasket, a man with first-hand experience of fourth-estate manipulation.

Tonasket said it was during his stint in politics during the '70s that he witnessed the way the media will lock its jaws on a single, sensationalistic aspect of a story at the expense of all else, creating the impression that this one moment represents the whole of the event in question. For instance, he said, during the American Indian Movement (AIM) occupation in 1973 of Wounded Knee on the South Dakota Pine Ridge Reservation, some of the Indian activist were armed in self-defense. Tonasket said he was alarmed when, in covering this historic moment, the media focused primarily on the armed militancy of the event, which, he added, gave the public the impression that all Native American tribes were toting guns and preparing for bloody insurgency. In fact, Tonasket was part of a contingency that met with AIM leaders and convinced them to put down their arms and to highlight instead the group's "passion for justice," as he put it.

"They throw us all in one bag," he said of media coverage of Native Americans. Compounding the problem, Tonasket added, is the fact that the U.S. government is "one of the best at manipulating media and [other countries]."

One of the ways to avoid having their message manipulated, he said, is to form powerful alliances that will give the movement recourse to a hierarchy of organizations fighting for justice; in Tonasket's view, as indigenous populations build their power through political and economic organization - including tapping into the natural resources available to them - they will have greater access to such entities as the United Nations. Hence, if the government tries any funny business, a tribe can contact a higher power that has the ability to address or at least get the word out about any wrongdoings.

To combat the threat of misrepresentation and misunderstanding, Lane and Tonasket want to spread the word among indigenous leaders that the project must provide a unified front that is peaceful, respectful and organized: in other words, don't give the press anything negative or sensationalistic to exploit. The best way to do this, he said, is to channel the anxiety and anger indigenous people feel - anger that often leads to armed conflict - into a peaceful and constructive force for change. "They've got to focus that energy, not go wildly about it," Tonasket said.

The idea, he added, is to make sure "The Fourth Way" remains the focus, and that the message remains clear enough that those in power are provided every opportunity to hear what they have to say. "We can talk to those other entities and explain that these are our other options, and hope to God that they listen," he said.

The text of "The Forth Way: An Indigenous Contribution for Building Sustainable and Harmonious Prosperity in the Americas" can be viewed on the United Indians of All Tribes Foundation Web site at www.unitedindians.com.

Writer Rick Levin edits our associate publication, the Magnolia News, and may be reached via editor@sdistrictjournal.com or by calling 461-1311.[[In-content Ad]]