Mark Dowie and the Haida Gwaii Lesson

If you know the history of corporate crime, you know the name Mark Dowie.

In 1977, Dowie wrote an article for Mother Jones magazine titled Pinto Madness, outlining the designed-in dangers of Ford Motor Company’s Pinto automobile.

Mark Dowie on Inkshares from Inkshares on Vimeo.

The article led to the criminal homicide prosecution of Ford Motor Company for the deaths of three teenaged girls who were burned to death when their Pinto was rear-ended. The company was found not guilty.

But Dowie’s name was made as an investigative journalist. He has since written seven books, more than 200 investigative reports, and won numerous journalism awards.

What’s Dowie up to now?

Writing a book titled — The Haida Gwaii Lesson.

“It’s a history of an archipelago of islands south of Alaska that has been the homeland to the same native tribe, the Haida, for somewhere between 10,000 and 13,000 years,” Dowie told Corporate Crime Reporter in an interview last week.

“Like so many other parts of the world, those islands became enveloped by an imperial power — Britain. And they then became part of the dominion of Canada. And then the extractive industries discovered the islands, which were rich in fur, fish and timber. And they decided to take what they wanted.”

“The Haida fought back. It took them 50 years, but they won tenure and sovereignty and autonomy. And I think the way they did it is a lesson for any indigenous tribe that has been enveloped by a colonial or an imperial power and that is still fighting against that power. And there are about 4,000 communities around the world that are doing that.”

“I wanted to do this as a sort of playbook that can be used by any small nation of people caught up in this huge globalization that’s been going on for the last 500 years — with colonizers going around claiming territory because they have guns.”

“I wanted to provide a step by step tactical guide that can be applied anywhere — a handbook for people fighting for autonomy.”

What does Haida Gwaii mean?

“Haida Gwaii is the name of the islands,” Dowie says.

How many islands are there?

“One hundred and thirty that have some form of human habitation on them.”

How many people live there?

“A bit fewer than 5,000,” Dowie says. “And more than half of them are Haida people.

What are the Haida known for?

“They are one of the few indigenous tribes that have a written language. It’s a very sophisticated language. They all have spoken languages. People are attempting to preserve many of the spoken languages. But the Haida have a written language and a body of literature.”

“They are also absolute master carvers,” Dowie says. “Their totems and other carvings are in every great museum of the world. Their artistry is incredible. Many native communities around the world have wonderful artistry. The Haida just outperform them all.”

“They were a pretty ferocious people. They were a warrior tribe. They defended their islands against other invasive natives, before the British discovered it.”

“They are independent. The thing I like most about them is that they don’t like anything that has ever been written about them. The books and articles that have been written about them is almost all heroic profile stuff. But the Haida are profoundly anti-narcissistic. That’s part of their culture. That’s why I’m not going to do a heroic profile of the leaders that worked on this. I’m going to do a playbook. They are all behind it. They love the idea that their experience is going to be used as a useful example to other native people in the world.”

What got you involved with the Haida?

“My previous book — Conservation Refugees:The Hundred Year Conflict Between Global Conservation and Native Peoples (MIT Press, 2009) — took me all over the world, visiting communities that had lost their homelands to global conservation.

Global conservation has been very aggressive in creating protective areas around the world, many of them on native land. They have kicked the natives out, created national parks and other ecological reserves and ecotourism resorts. Over the last 100 years, somewhere in the neighborhood of 20 million people have become what I call conservation refugees. They have lost their homelands to global conservation. Right now the planet has under conservation protection a land mass larger than Africa. That is the homeland of a lot of native people who have lost their lands, their ways of life, their claim to their nation.”

Which corporations have they historically been feuding with?

“Most recently with big timber. MacMillan Bloedel — Weyerhaeuser. All those big timber companies discovered a species of spruce and red cedar found almost nowhere else. It’s almost grain free — beautiful wood that can be used to finish the interior of expensive homes. Really good guitars are made from this spruce up there. The companies just came in and started taking what they wanted, with the permission granted from the Province of British Columbia and the Dominion of Canada. It was the Canadian Supreme Court that actually reversed this whole process after 40 years of litigation and gave the Haida what they had asked for — sovereignty.”

In what sense is it sovereignty?

“They now have their own democratically elected government. They created a national park in the southern part of the island which is managed by the Haida.”

Dowie wants to raise $30,000 before he begins writing the book.

He’s raised about half that amount via a web site called Inkshares.

People pledge different amounts of money and are promised copies of the book if Dowie reaches his goal.

How did Dowie get involved with Inkshares?

“A former editor of mine happens to be an editor at Inkshares,” Dowie says. “She came to me and said — how would you like to do a book together? I really liked her. I worked with her over the years. She is one of a handful of editors of the 50 or so I have worked with that I ever want to see again. I like her and I like the idea of this book.”

“She is working for this company — Inkshares. It’s a new start up. It’s like Kickstarter meets Random House. You submit a book to them. Like any book publisher, they say no or yes. If they like your book idea, they say — how much money do you need? And you tell them how much you need in the way of an advance and expenses. And then you design the book — you say it’s going to be 170 page book with twenty pages of illustration. I’d like it to be ten by twelve.”

“They put together a budget — which includes advance, expenses, cost of editing, design, printing and distribution. And it’s a one of a kind. There was a similar company in Britain. But they didn’t last very long because they were too snooty. They would only do very high end literary books by authors who didn’t need crowdfunding.”

“Inkshares right now is the only company of its kind. It’s less than a year old. They have 17 or 18 books in print right now and many funded and are being written. As a writer I like it because they pay 50 percent royalties on paper books and 70 percent on ebooks.”

[For complete Interview with Mark Dowie,  see 29 Corporate Crime Reporter 8(12), February 23, 2015, print edition only.]

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