The time is Ripe for Canada to Support a Ban on Killer Robots

Killer Robots: they’re not just features of futuristic dystopian movies, even though I’m sure the first thing that came to mind was The Terminator!

Developments in Artificial Intelligence (AI) technology has increased exponentially in recent years, from Siri to self-driving cars to autonomous drones, able to reach remote communities. So much of this technology has been marketed as improving lives and creating opportunities for all.

However, many experts within the AI community have long argued about the dangers of limitless development and use of this technology; particularly when it comes to fully autonomous weapons, aka Killer Robots. It’s not about defunding or vilifying the AI sector, but rather about ensuring that such technology will never be used as a weapon – i.e. autonomous devises programmed to kill and destroy.

These experts have joined scientists, human rights, and disarmament advocates from around the world in a campaign calling on governments to commit to a total ban on the development and use of fully autonomous weapons (The Campaign to Ban Killer Robots).

stop killer robots event (2)

Last week (Aug 27-31, 2018), civil society and state actors participated in a gathering at the UN in Geneva to discuss the urgent need for a ban on autonomous weapons. Activists are calling for a global ban by 2019.

Considering this, where does Canada fit – what are Canada’s global responsibilities in the movement to ban Killer Robots?

  1. Canada’s claims as a global human rights leader demands it.

“We’re Canada and we’re here to help,” exclaimed Prime Minister Trudeau in his first speech at the United Nations in 2016. In this and other grand proclamations since, the Trudeau government established itself – in words, anyway – as a global leader in protecting universal human rights.

The evidence for significant human rights concerns – from international humanitarian law to the lack of trustworthiness and ingrained bias within the technology itself – is clear and speaks for itself.

Yet, where is Canadian global leadership against the development and use of killer robots? Since 2013 26 countries have signed onto the campaign, but no action from the Canadian government thus far.

Canada has yet to clarify its own policy on the development and use of autonomous weapons. From the 2017 Canadian Defence Policy – Strong, Secure, Engaged – in 113 pages, there is only one mention of autonomous weapons: “The Canadian Armed Forces is committed to maintaining appropriate human involvement in the use of military capabilities that can exert lethal force,” (pg 73). However, appropriate human involvement is never defined.

  1. Canada has clearly named AI as an economic priority/opportunity

In the 2017 Federal Budget, the Canadian government designated $125 million for investment in Canadian-based AI companies. The government sees an opportunity for Canada to become a leading innovator in AI technology.

Again, this is not to say that Canada should not invest in such industries. But with such emphasis put on innovation in AI as a priority, it is critical that the Canadian government equally emphasize the importance of global leadership in preventing the development of autonomous weapons.

If Canada could be a leader in the movement to ban land mines in the 1990s – even though Canada did not have nor use land mines – it is even more critical that Canada, a leader in AI technology,  use such influence to also call to ban the use of AI technology to development and use of autonomous weapons.

  1. The voices of the public and the tech community

Finally, some of the loudest voices in Canada calling for the government to support a ban on killer robots are those in the field itself, including AI researchers and developers.

In November 2017, five leaders in the AI field in Canada addressed several of these concerns in an open letter to Prime Minister Trudeau. Over 650 academics, practitioners, and developers then signed on. The Prime Minister has yet to respond.

“AI has tremendous potential to be a force for good in society,“ said Donna Precup, Canada Research Chair in Machine Learning, McGill University, in 2017. “As part of the AI research community, I think it is our moral obligation to ensure it continues to develop in this direction and prevent it from being mis-appropriated for harm.”

Polls in Canada and around the world show significant distrust of AI in general and even more definitive disapproval for their use in weapons. Canadians, and others around the world, are distressed at possible impacts on civilians and indiscriminate killings completely outside of any human control.

What are we waiting for?

stop killer robotsAs of now, fully autonomous weapons – Killer Robots – have not yet been fully developed or used in combat.

But as Paul Hannon, Director of Mines Action Canada argues, now is the time for Canada to come on board and ban such weapons pre-emptively, before they even see the light of day: “We know the revolution is coming and we know we can stop it, peacefully, without death or injury.”

Help to send the message: Take action in Canada and spread the word on the Global Campaign

By Rebekah Sears, Policy Analyst for MCC Ottawa Office.

Spirited Reflection: From reconciliation to reckoning

This week’s Ottawa Notebook features a reflection originally published by KAIROS: Canadian Ecumenical Justice Initiatives on August 1, 2018 and has been re-posted with permission.

Reconciliation-to-Reckoning-300x225August 9th is the International Day of the World’s Indigenous Peoples, the day set aside by the United Nations to promote the protection of Indigenous rights and to mark the day, thirty-six years ago, that a working group focused on Indigenous peoples was set up within the world body’s human rights commission. On this day, what do Canadians have to reflect upon?

We are at the start of an era of reconciliation, a public acknowledgement and reckoning with the wrongs and harms of this country’s settler colonial past. While some may see this as a hopeful time of positive change and possibility leading to transcendence, most Indigenous people are frustrated with the limited vision of change that reconciliation has revealed itself to be. Many of us sense danger and see a colonial pushback against all of the gains towards the recognition of our rights and respect for our humanity we fought so hard to achieve in the past few decades.

What is reconciliation if it clings to the essence and profits of Canada’s colonial past? Canada is still denying us the ability to do the things we need to do to survive as cultures and as nations. It seems that in Canadians’ vision of a reconciled future, we will never see our stolen lands returned to us so that our future generations will be able to carry on the spirituality and culture that define us as the original people. Survival is our goal, both as people and as peoples. Will we be able to pass on our world view to our children in our own languages? Reconciliation, with its goal of healing the relationship between individual colonizers and individual colonized people, accepts the political and economic status quo when it comes to our collective rights and doesn’t concern itself with any essential aspect of Indigenous governance or nationhood.

The failure of reconciliation is the result of its foundation on a half-truth. It is conceived of as an effort to address the effects of colonialism on citizens of aboriginal heritage, as historic and having to do with political and economic and spatial displacement of and suppression of Indigenous people – individuals who suffered. This framing of the problem has fatally hindered reconciliation’s capacity to serve the achievement of justice. The true history of Canada involves settler colonialism, to be sure, but at its core, Canadian history is the sustained and conscious effort, from the beginning of this country continuing to today, to undermine and destroy the foundations of Indigenous peoples’ survival.

For justice to be achieved, there needs to be an intellectual and political shift away from reconciliation toward a perspective based on the full and true facts of this country’s relationship with Indigenous peoples. Canadians need to acknowledge not only settler colonialism but the efforts past and present to eradicate the collective existence of Indigenous nations. The U.N. defined genocide in a 1948 convention, and it clearly applies to Canada’s laws and policies toward Indigenous peoples. The conversation about our past as original and newcomer peoples must be expanded to include this truth. We need to break the hold that reconciliation has on our minds and start the process of reckoning with the full scope of the crimes of this country.

People in power have come to accept reconciliation because they understand that nothing that comes out of it threatens the reality of their control over the resources and future of this country. But, if we can begin to build a framework for achieving justice that not only confronts the individualized harms of settler colonialism but also gets to the dark heart of the problem, the nearly complete genocide of our nations, it would challenge the complacency that has set into Canadian political culture because of the comfortable fiction that reconciliation is a morally valid end goal.


Taiaiake Alfred is a Kahnáwa:ke Mohawk writer and a professor of Indigenous Governance at the University of Victoria. He has worked to advance Indigenous nationhood in Canada and internationally since 1987. Taiaiake also made a special presentation on Reconciliation and fundamental change to the KAIROS Steering Committee in 2017.  His writing and speaking are available here: www.taiaiake.net

Seventy years after Hiroshima, it’s high time to ban the bomb

As August 6 will be the 73rd anniversary of the atomic bombing of Hiroshima, we are republishing an article by Cesar Jaramillo, Executive Director of Project Ploughshares, which was originally published in The Ploughshares Monitor Volume 36 Issue 3 Autumn 2015

On the morning of Thursday, August 6, I was among tens of thousands of people gathered at Hiroshima Peace Memorial Park to commemorate the 70th anniversary of the atomic bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki.

Setting the stage

Despite the multitude, which included officials from more than 100 countries, there was a brief moment of complete silence at precisely 8:15 a.m.—the exact time when the bomb euphemistically called “Little Boy” was dropped on Hiroshima.

Schoolchildren then solemnly rang a bell in the middle of the park. Next came speeches from, among others, the Mayor of Hiroshima, Kazumi Matsui, and the Prime Minister of Japan, Shinzo Abe.

Some Hibakusha (bomb survivors)—most now over 80 years old—were also in attendance. And a peculiar combination of sorrow and hope filled the air.

Hiroshima 70th anniversary

Hiroshima Peace Memorial Park on 70th anniversary  (photo credit: EPA/KIMIMASA MAYAMA)

Sorrow because we stood there to remember that dreadful month of August when death, destruction, and incalculable human suffering befell the men, women, and children of Hiroshima and Nagasaki.

Up to a quarter-million people died—many instantly, others in the weeks and months that followed. Farmers and teachers, singers and poets, old and young. The commemoration offered a grim reminder that humankind had devised the means to destroy itself—efficiently.

But it was also a day of hope. The push for nuclear abolition is growing steadily in intensity, sophistication, effectiveness, and numbers of supporters. People in and out of government are working tirelessly to make sure that humanity never again witnesses such a tragedy.

What the international community must do

There must be a global legal ban on nuclear weapons, with specific provisions for the elimination of existing arsenals and a timeline for verified implementation.

Regrettably, more than 45 years after the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty came into force, more than a quarter-century after the end of the Cold War, and seven decades after the devastation of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, some states still consider serious work toward nuclear abolition premature.

More than 15,000 nuclear warheads remain in existence, many of which are tens of times more powerful than the ones that devastated Hiroshima and Nagasaki. Nearly 2,000 are on high-alert status, ready to be launched within minutes, thereby exacerbating the risk of their deliberate or accidental use. This situation must change.

The lopsided logic by which the very nations that rely on nuclear weapons deem themselves fit to chastise others on the risks of proliferation is built on an extremely weak and inherently unjust foundation. This includes not only states that actually possess nuclear weapons, but also those that perpetuate nuclear deterrence as a legitimate part of their collective security arrangements—such as members of NATO, itself a nuclear weapons alliance. These states must be challenged.

While every other category of weapons of mass destruction has been specifically prohibited under international law, nuclear weapons—the most destructive of them all—remarkably still have not. A process to establish a legal ban on nuclear weapons would therefore constitute a welcome step forward on the urgent path to nuclear abolition. It would be rooted in the widespread rejection of their continued existence and a full recognition of the catastrophic humanitarian consequences of their use.

Canada in the minority

The global nuclear disarmament regime is in a state of disrepair. The seminal 2015 Review Conference of the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty did not produce a consensus outcome document; the final draft was openly blocked by the United States, the United Kingdom, and—ostensibly at the behest of Israel, a non-party to the treaty—Canada.

In this struggle, Canada stands not with the growing number of nations, organizations, and individuals that believe that a comprehensive process for complete nuclear disarmament is long overdue, but with the few that question the merits, feasibility, and timeliness of a global ban on nuclear weapons. Canada has recently adopted minority positions at some of the most important multilateral governance forums that tackle nuclear disarmament.

During the 2014 UN General Assembly First Committee on Disarmament and International Security, 155 nations endorsed a joint statement focused on the humanitarian impact of nuclear weapons that said that these weapons should not be used “under any circumstances.” Canada did not.

During this year’s NPT Review Conference, 159 nations endorsed a similarly worded statement. Again, not Canada.

The Cataclysm of Damocles

Let us consider the words spoken by Gabriel Garcia Marquez in a 1986 speech entitled “The Cataclysm of Damocles”:

Since the appearance of visible life on Earth, 380 million years had to elapse in order for a butterfly to learn how to fly, 180 million years to create a rose with no other commitment than to be beautiful, and four geological eras in order for us human beings to be able to sing better than birds, and to be able to die from love. It is not honorable for the human talent, in the golden age of science, to have conceived the way for such an ancient and colossal process to return to the nothingness from which it came through the simple act of pushing a button.

nuclear abolition symbolDemands for nuclear abolition are mounting. Calls come from a growing number of scientists, legal scholars, mayors and parliamentarians, active and retired diplomats, statesmen and regular citizens—from both nuclear and non-nuclear weapon states. The message is clear: the threat posed by nuclear weapons is real; their use is unacceptable; and their complete elimination is not negotiable.

The cost of inaction could be another Hiroshima. Or worse.

Bill C-262 and living into a new covenant

By Diane Meredith,  Co-Coordinator of MCC Canada’s Indigenous Neighbours Program.

It’s Wednesday night in early May at St. James Cathedral in downtown Toronto.  I sit with reams of people in a nearby park, seeking solace from the busy streets and basking in the long-awaited warmth of spring. This day has been long in coming as ice storms are barely behind us. A talk on the Anishinaabek understanding of the sacredness of protecting the waters is about to begin inside the cathedral. I pull myself away and dash inside, surprised to find myself seated among a crowd of some 60 or so of us on this path of “reconciliation.”

Nancy Rowe, Giidaakunadaad, a traditional knowledge keeper and Anishinaabekwe (Anishinaabe woman) of the Credit River, begins to share her wisdom about the traditional territory around Lake Ontario/Niigaani-gichigami. Before she begins, Rev. Evan Smith of Toronto Urban Native Ministries (TUNM), extends her hand and offers her a red pouch of tobacco, as is the tradition when greeting an elder or someone offering wisdom. Nancy reaches out and accepts the pouch of tobacco—and a covenant is sealed.

I can’t begin to capture the fullness of Nancy Rowe’s teachings rooted in decades of oral history spoken by elders across Turtle Island. But when she shares this knowledge, I feel a loosening of the grip of a deep skepticism on my heart about the “reconciliation road” the churches profess to travel with Indigenous Peoples.

tobaccoHer explanation of this seemingly simple custom of offering tobacco breaks open a window into a winding long road of the history of the Anishinaabek worldview, including creation stories, forms of spirituality, and governance. Even in its enormity, we begin to grasp that her story is but a glimpse into an expansive worldview so many of us know nothing about. It is however apparent that the meaning of this act—of extending one’s hand to another to offer sacred tobacco—is “covenant.” It is a commitment made between the partners to honour ways of governance and the protocols of living in right relations between and within nations.

The act of sharing tobacco to seal a covenant, often through pipe ceremonies or through the exchange of pouches of tobacco, is a long held ancient Indigenous tradition. It was an act that was extended by Indigenous peoples to the settlers in their first meetings. It seems as if these agreements were made with sincerity. Yet tragically history tells us they were as readily broken with a ferocious greed that explains where we are today.

When this tobacco (in Ojibway called “Semah,” one of the four sacred medicines) is extended and accepted, a spiritual covenant rooted in reciprocity (mutually agreeing to give up something to create something else) is activated, says Nancy. “I am here,” she says, “away from my grandchildren, because I believe this teaching with you is also very important…We are the only ones…humans, who don’t follow the original instructions from Creator as to why we are here… Everything in creation before us agreed to help us being here to fill our purpose… But are you willing to give back? Is there reciprocity?” she challenges.

Bill C262 posterOn May 29th MP Romeo Saganash’s Private Member’s Bill C-262 will be read for the third time in the House of Commons.  Soon after, it will be voted on. The Liberal Government states it will support the bill. This bill calls for the full implementation of the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples (UNDRIP). This declaration was drafted by Indigenous Peoples worldwide over a 30-year span.  Consisting of 46 articles, covering all aspects of life, UNDRIP is a universal international human rights instrument that outlines the minimum standards governments should provide to uphold the rights of Indigenous peoples. Bill C-262 will ensure that the Government of Canada, in consultation and cooperation with Indigenous Peoples in Canada, takes all measures necessary to ensure that the laws of Canada are consistent with the rights as outlined in the UNDRIP.

Tabled in 2015, the Truth and Reconciliation 94 Calls to Action called on the Government of Canada, civil society, and the churches to implement UNDRIP in at least twelve of its articles. In 2017 Anabaptist Leaders in response to the TRC Call to Action #48 said: “In our ongoing efforts to seek right relations with our Indigenous neighbours, MCC also commits itself to using the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples as a guide for right relations and reconciliation. We affirm the principles of self-determination, equality and respect embedded in this Declaration…”

Nancy Rowe’s teachings remind us of the sanctity of covenants based on reciprocity, and the importance of respecting the spirit that dwells within and between these agreements. The treaties, she explains, were a simple example of ancient systems of Indigenous governance and natural laws that were shared with newcomers. “What are you doing to support Indigenous-led healing initiatives of Creation and our society? Everything is about reciprocity and relationship. The enemy of life is greed,” says Nancy.

Like the warmth of summer after long winter storms, justice for Indigenous Peoples is too long in coming. As Ovide Mercredi, Cree leader and former National Chief of the Assembly of First Nations, has stated, “The days of the status quo or business, as usual, will not lead to reconciliation.”[1]

Indigenous hands are being extended once again to settlers – here and now. The passing of Bill C-262 into law will ensure the rights of Indigenous People are respected. Bill C-262 is an opportunity to live into a new covenant that will break the inertia and the broken promises of the past. When enacted into law, it will become a dwelling place for the spirit of right relations to thrive between the Creator, God’s creation, and one another.

Rebekah and Jane Sears during march

TRC event in Ottawa 2015 MCC photo by Alison Ralph.

With the passing of Bill C-262 many changes will come; and society, government and church will most surely have to accommodate them. The road to reconciliation demands such change. But I am fully confident that, in this act of reciprocity, all partners in this covenant relationship will benefit for generations to come.

 

 

[1] Kathleen Martens, APTN News “Ovide Mercredi report rips Ontario Law Society on handling of Keshen file,” March 24, 2018.

 

The power of apology

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau recently announced that his government would make a formal apology for Canada’s failure in 1939 to provide asylum to the 907 Jews who were fleeing Nazi Germany on board the MS St. Louis; 254 of those Jews later died in the Holocaust.

ms st. louis

Refugees aboard the St. Louis as they arrive in Belgium, 1939 COURTESY AMERICAN JEWISH JOINT DISTRIBUTION COMMITTEE

When the formal apology is issued later this year, it will be the 5th one Trudeau has made to a group of people since his government was elected in 2015.  The other collective apologies include:

  • May 18, 2016 to descendants of passengers of the Komagata Maru, a Japanese vessel carrying 376 Sikh, Muslim, and Hindu passengers who were denied entry into Canada in 1914;
  • November 24, 2017 to former residential school students in Newfoundland and Labrador (they were not included in the 2007 Indian Residential Schools Settlement Agreement);
  • November 28, 2017 to LGBTQ Canadians, especially civil servants, and members of the military and security services, for “state-sponsored, systematic oppression and rejection.”
  • March 26, 2018 to current leaders of the Tsilhqot’in nation for the 1864 hanging of five Tsilhqot’in chiefs who were acting to defend their land.

According to Trudeau, he has made these apologies to ensure that the mistakes of the past are not repeated and to provide the possibility of healing for survivors, descendants and their communities.

Not surprisingly, Trudeau’s apologies have evoked much debate. Among the many questions and challenges posed are:  How can one generation apologize for the mistakes and failures made by a previous generation? Do these apologies (and the compensation associated with them) open the floodgate of demands for more apologies? Does too much apologizing cheapen the apology?  Aren’t apologies simply “shallow, empty, meaningless” acts?

It is important to grapple with these challenges and to avoid the pitfalls of bad apologies. At the same time, it is important to acknowledge the power of apology.  If offered with integrity and sincerity — and based on profound listening, solid research, careful wording, and a commitment to make amends for the harmful behavior — an apology can be an important turning point in a longer journey of healing, forgiveness and reconciliation.

For people of Christian faith, apologies should be a no-brainer. After all, at the centre of Christian faith is a commitment to the One who calls us to repentance and new life; who forgives our sin and urges us to forgive the sins of others.  An apology can be a vital symbol of acknowledgement, confession and repentance. It can contribute to forgiveness and even reconciliation.

Churches and church institutions should always be ready to offer apologies for acts of moral failure, even if those actions happened many years ago. Yet as Jeremy Bergen points out in his book, Ecclesial Repentance, in 2000 years of church history, it is only in the last century—in particular, the past 25 years—that churches have issued apologies for their own actions.

Indeed, churches still often resist acknowledging and making apologies for past failures. Just recently, the Pope declined to issue an apology for the Catholic Church’s involvement in Indian residential schools here in Canada. His refusal prompted the House of Commons to ask him to reconsider. And as the Hon. Hunter Tootoo, MP for Nunavut, stated during debate: “An apology is not only the right thing to do but is the Christian thing to do.”

Mennonite Central Committee Canada –  the relief, development and peace agency of Mennonite and Brethren in Christ churches – has offered three formal apologies in its 55-year history.

500_anniversary_columbus

The first, in 1984, was offered to Japanese-Canadians for the ways in which Mennonites in British Columbia had benefited from the confiscation of land belonging to Japanese-Canadian citizens interned during the Second World War. The second was offered to Indigenous people in 1992, on the 500th anniversary of Christopher Columbus’ arrival in the Americas. It acknowledged that Mennonites had denied the full humanity of Indigenous people, remained silent about the cruel treatment inflicted on them, and sanctioned the conquest of their land.

The third apology dates from 2014, when MCC Canada, together with several Mennonite and Brethren in Christ denominational leaders, offered an expression of regret at the Truth and Reconciliation Commission event in Edmonton. The leaders uttered remorse for the participation of their communities in attitudes and acts of assimilation, paternalism and racism.

With the first two apologies, MCC established a special scholarship fund, and an education and social enterprise fund, respectively, to demonstrate its commitment to help make things right.  With the third apology, the signatories simply emphasized a pledge to deepen relationships and to work for reconciliation.

Time and history will bear witness as to whether MCC’s apologies were authentic, meaningful and contributed to healing and reconciliation, or whether they were just empty words. They will do the same for the Prime Minister’s apologies. Perhaps a regular reminder of these apologies is a way of ensuring they do not simply disappear into the “dustbin of history.”

Ultimately, there is power in apology. Those who say “we are sorry” with heartfelt sincerity and appropriate actions validate those who have suffered deeply. They contribute to renewed relationships and to healing, peace and reconciliation. They demonstrate, not weakness, but strength.

May there be more such apologies.

By Esther Epp-Tiessen, Public Engagement Coordinator for MCC’s Ottawa Office.

Our voices, our rights

By Miriam Sainnawap, Co-Coordinator of MCC Canada’s Indigenous Neighbours Program. She is Oji-Cree from Kingfisher Lake First Nation, Ontario.

Every spring, I travel to New York to attend the United Nations Permanent Forum on Indigenous Issues (UNPFII). I join hundreds of other Indigenous people from around the world as we gather to raise our voices about our collective rights as Indigenous peoples.

UNPFII is an advisory body to the United Nations Economic and Social Council, with a mandate to address Indigenous issues, particularly economic and social development, culture, the environment, education, health and human rights. This year’s 17th session theme focused on “Indigenous peoples’ collective rights to land, territories and resources.”

UNPFII #2

Miriam (2nd from left) with friends at UNPFII: Matt Leblanc (Mi’kmaq-Acadian), Erica Littlewolf (Northern Cheyenne) and Sam Leigh (Anishinabe).

As a young indigenous woman observing at the UNPFII, I am only beginning to recognize the long and ongoing struggle for respect for Indigenous rights at the UN.  The UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples (UNDRIP), passed in 2007, has been instrumental of bringing Indigenous solidarity worldwide and has demonstrated a significant shift in thinking with respect to the international recognition of Indigenous peoples, rights and claims.

But the UNDRIP remains a  non-binding document,  and governments are not legally obligated to ensure the protection of Indigenous rights.

Canada is one example of a country dragging its feet on respecting Indigenous rights. Canada’s colonial history of policies and laws, in its relationship with Indigenous peoples, has been repeatedly criticized both nationally and internationally. The UN Human Rights Council regularly calls on Canada to stop violating Indigenous rights. But there remains within Canada a significant tension about what it means to honour Indigenous rights.

At one level, there is  concern about the compatibility of certain elements of UNDRIP and how they challenge Canada’s constitution.

At another level, there is simply an underlying and unspoken racism in Canadian society. Indigenous rights are seen to pose a threat to the status quo and to threaten people who benefit from the status quo. What is good for Indigenous peoples is understood to be bad for non-Indigenous people. Indigenous peoples are therefore seen as undeserving. We need to get past seeing my rights as a threat.

It is an important call for all Canadians to urge the government to uphold their obligation to the UN Declaration and influence it to respect Indigenous rights.

UNPFII #1

UNPFII in session.

The remaining challenge of Indigenous peoples is achieving political participation and inclusion within the UN structures. Indigenous peoples have been able to participate in different political arenas today, especially through the UNPFII, but the question remains: what it is we want to achieve and how can we have broader influence.

Hearing from various leaders, I was struck by the theme of how  all Indigenous peoples identify our relationship to the land and water. Around the world, water is threatened by mineral, oil and gas exploitation. How do we protect and ensure the well-being of safe drinking water. Without access to our lands and water, how can we conduct ceremonies to heal ourselves, our families, and our communities?

We all need to recognize our collective responsibility to protect the earth and remind others to help restore the balance and harmony of all humanity and its creation. The earth does not exist to serve us, but it sustains and gives meaning to life, and it supports the continuity and vitality of securing our livelihoods and our future generations. We need to care for it.

The UN Declaration is a tool to help address the ongoing refusal to respect  rights that matter to us. It is a mechanism through which we can be  recognized as human beings with rights.

UNPFII #3And the UNPFII is a place where Indigenous people can support one another and hold space for our relatives in the ongoing struggles for recognition of our rights.

As I left New York, after the conclusion of the UNPFII, I was grateful:

For the incredible strength in our people;

For the support extended to all the people present and for holding space for our relatives;

For the rights which matter to us, recognizing our inherent responsibility to promote peace and justice for mother earth;

For the strength that comes from the land and wisdom of our ancestors;

For our ability to laugh at ourselves and others and how that draws us closer together;

For UNPFII as a space to network and exchange ideas to support and stand in solidarity.

I’m reminded we are still here.