In April this year I met with Rose-Marie Antoine, the president of the Organization of American States Inter-American Commission on Human Rights. I met with Commissioner Antoine in her role as the special rapporteur for Indigenous issues, to follow up on the situation of the Wayana People whose traditional lands are located in Central Suriname, South America. The Wayanas’ lands are contaminated with mercury from gold mining, and the fish they depend on as their chief source of protein poisons their bodies. Mercury attacks the nervous system and causes birth defects and neurological damage, particularly to babies and small children whose nervous systems are developing. Because of international and national laws based in the Doctrine of Discovery, the Wayana, like many Indigenous Peoples around the world, do not have land rights. They do not have control of mining or other economic development activities taking place on their traditional lands. I would sit with Ms. Antoine and discuss this with her, seeking the next step for the Wayana in our struggle for recognition of their rights. This meeting was a follow-up to a hearing held last year, where I represented the Wayana as petitioner in a human rights hearing before the commission.
In my role as a professor at Heritage I am on a faculty that takes pride in preparing an insightful, innovative and compassionate student body for professional and academic careers. But as a professor I am also a practitioner, both as researcher and advocate. When I come to class to meet with my student-colleagues, I bring with me stories and experiences. This is the special role professors bring to the University. We share not only information and analysis with our students, but also practice. When I began my undergraduate career in 1992, a first generation college student, I did not imagine that I would someday meet with the head of the human rights system for our hemisphere to advocate for an Indigenous community on another continent. What I now know is that we can each do this, and more. I can lift my voice with good preparation, cooperation, and effort. Because I know the situation the Wayana face, I am compelled to work for justice alongside them. In the classroom, each member of our learning community has the opportunity to imagine a just world, and begin to consider how we can embody that vision. Each of us must simply be willing to do our homework, and if necessary, get on a plane.
The day after my meeting at the human rights commission, I was back in class at Heritage, sharing with student-colleagues, and contributing to a collective vision.
Number of views (795) Comments (0)