April 6, 2018
As members of the Laurier Indigenous Rights and Resource Governance Research Group, PhD candidate Courtney Arseneau (Community Psychology) and I have been working with a team of Indigenous and allied scholars from across Canada and Latin America throughout our graduate studies. Our research focus has been about promoting the implementation of the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples (UNDRIP), in particular, the right to free, prior, and informed consent (FPIC). We are both working on dissertations that examine how Indigenous communities are engaged in consultation and consent-seeking processes in proposed development, such as mining in northern Ontario.
As an Indigenous scholar studying community psychology, I came to the realization that global Indigenous peoples are incredibly disadvantaged compared to the structural powers in Westernized societies. In Canada, one has to reflect on the reasons why, in one of the most developed countries in the world, an entire race of people has some of the worst population health statistics. We must explore the settlement history along with the legacy of disempowering social policies and laws that were meant to disenfranchise and displace Indigenous peoples to find the answer.
At a time when advancing reconciliation and Indigenous peoples’ rights have become the moral imperative, it is critical that Indigenous voices are heard from in this regard. Even though there is a significant body of research that has examined the history of settlement, the fighting for Indigenous rights, and the implementation of those rights, the approach that we are advancing is from a place of privileging Indigenous knowledge, philosophy, and voices.
Mobilizing our findings to where it is needed and where it will be utilized is the most challenging part of this work. Indigenous communities as a natural part of their isolation in the north have less capacity and access to all relevant information regarding their rights to meaningful consultation while engaged in deliberations of development. My hope is that my research will help to fill some of these gaps so that communities and leaders will have the best opportunity to have access to FPIC.
Thomas recently moderated a panel as part of the Indigenous Peoples, Canada, and the Declaration event to be held at the Balsillie School of International Affairs Thursday April 5th.
My research is about promoting conversations about the right to FPIC within communities by organizing “kitchen table talks.” Much of the discourse around development and resource extraction involves highly technical, specialized knowledge and I hope that my work can help to promote dialogue about rights and land at the community level.
One of the most memorable moments for me so far was when our team hosted a meeting with community members and scholars from across our case sites. It was very powerful to hear about ways that communities have asserted their rights to self-determination and self-determined development across regions and across different social, cultural, political and legal contexts. It is important to learn from each other and for communities to share their experiences.
I continue to learn so much from my participation in this project. As a non-Indigenous student, I believe we all have a responsibility to learn about the rights and worldviews of Indigenous peoples and to work together in meaningful ways towards coexistence.
Arseneau presented as part of the Free, Prior and Informed Consent: Implications for Reconciliation with Indigenous Communities Today event at the Centre for Community Research Learning and Action Thursday April 5th.
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