By Oyinkansola Awosika
The Bahá’í Chair for World Peace hosted Dr. Sheryl Lightfoot, senior advisor to the president on indigenous affairs at First Nations House of Learning, during its global peace conference last Wednesday.
The Future of Humanity: The Challenge of Global Peace and Security Conference, a two-day series of speakers and panels held in the Colony Ballroom of Stamp Student Union, was held to “examine the key themes concerning the peace and security of the nations and peoples of the world,” according to the event program.
Lightfoot – who is also an associate professor in both First Nations and Indigenous Studies and Political Science at the University of British Columbia – spoke about the structural inequalities that affect indigenous peoples. The first argument that she made was that the U.N. Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples was a “significant global achievement because it represents an often overlooked and underappreciated transformational moment.”
The UNDRIP is a declaration adopted by the U.N. in Sept. 2007 after 20 years of negotiations with indigenous peoples from all over the world. It declares the human rights of all native people that governments around the world should uphold.
These rights include the right to their owned lands, territories, and resources, the right of self-determination, the right to customary laws, the right to determine their own path for development, the right to free, prior, and informed consent, the right to distinct cultures, and the same human rights of other peoples such as education and healthcare.
Lightfoot continued on to her second argument in which she explained the potential of UNDRIP.
“Because of the transformative nature of indigenous rights, the real potential of the U.N. declaration lies in how it is implemented,” she said.
Lightfoot explained that in order for this declaration to be effective, there are four sets of global changes that need to occur. These changes include collective rights, correction of discriminatory legal exclusions, a new guiding framework explaining the modern definition of self-determination and an indigenous practice of global politics.
“It’s really great to see how through extensive studies such as Dr. Lightfoot’s how all these things compound to the whole question of how we achieve peace and security globally,” said Nanjira Sambuli, the digital equality advocacy manager at the World Wide Web Foundation.
Sambuli, who spoke about the intersections of peace and technology during the first day of the conference, believes the discussion of structural inequality and indigenous communities is especially timely.
“For the first time, I think the world is having to contend with the fact that while we may have been able–if at all–to turn a blind eye on excluded communities, progress as we envision for the world, [such as] equality [and] justice is not going be achieved until we actually address the issues around communities, indigenous communities, other communities that have been marginalized,” she said.
Kate Seaman, assistant director of the Bahá’í Chair for World Peace, said that this discussion is especially important to the community at this university.
“I think it’s a community that is directly affected by a lot of structural inequalities in different countries across the globe today,” she said. “The issues and challenges they’re facing…people need to be more aware of them especially considering the historical injustices that they faced.”
Dr. Lightfoot believes that these efforts for equality must take place not only in national and global governments, but that students also have a role in this effort.
“When the next [big] issue comes, and it will, it’s just a matter of time, get on board and do the mobilizing, do the communicating, because it’s those [political] pressure points that force industries or governments to respond,” she said.