Native studies seminar brings indigenous rights leader to U of A

(Edmonton) A one-day seminar March 21, organized by University of Alberta’s Faculty of Native Studies, brought an indigenous rights leader from South America to campus.

Brooklyn Rivera, leader of Yapti Tasba Masraka Nanih Aslatakanka (YATAMA), an indigenous group in Nicaragua, discussed successes by Nicaragua’s indigenous peoples of the Atlantic coast on land rights and self-government.

Rivera says that the struggles of the indigenous people of Nicaragua to have their government recognize their historical rights to land, natural resources and autonomy has borne some fruit, but that accomplishment brings new challenges and the U of A’s Faculty of Native Studies could help advance their successes.

“I have had the chance to analyze the work that the university is doing regarding land claims,” Rivera said. “We now need to implement our land rights and educate young people on how to protect and develop the land. We don’t have the skills and technology, so we hope to find some ways to get people from this university to come and train our young people and leaders.”

Frank Tough, associate dean (research) of the Faculty of Native Studies, says the challenge of official recognition and autonomy by government, now facing Nicaraguan indigenous groups, is common. He says the group has to develop laws and practices that will govern how they decide to use their land and that researchers with the Faculty of Native Studies could help.

“Land and governance are closely related and we have people here who work on those issues, as well as others who have done work in traditional resource management and knowledge,” Tough said.

The meeting also saw the launch of Witness to Resistance: Under Fire in Nicaragua, written by long-time U of A’s Native studies supporter Clément Chartier. The book includes journal entries, testimonies and photos detailing a trip Chartier took to Nicaragua in the 1980s.

Chartier, as president of the Métis National Council, has supported many research projects at the university. He says universities can play an important role in furthering the council’s work. Currently, the council is supporting the Métis archival project at the U of A.

“It’s a good fit when we have people from the academy working with people like myself who’s a leader working with Métis people,” said Chartier.