Since 2011, ISHR has been enriched by the presence of Indigenous Human Rights Advocates. Seven advocates have joined the Human Rights Advocates program from 2011 to 2016.
This has been possible thanks to ISHR’s collaboration with Indigenous and other organizations that are committed, as our Institute is, to continue strengthening capacities in the human rights field . Athili Saapriina (Naga, India) was the first to attend the Human Rights Advocates Program (HRAP) in 2011 following a partnership between our Institute and Tribal Link Foundation.
Six Indigenous women human rights advocates have attended from 2014 to 2016 thanks to the close collaboration between our Institute and the International Indigenous Women’s Forum (FIMI). FIMI has established the Indigenous Women’s Global Leadership School (IWGLS) and the Institute’s Indigenous Peoples’ Rights Program provides one of the modules of this annual program by hosting some 25 Indigenous women leaders from around the world for a three-day seminar in the Spring. Each year, two attendees of IWGLS continue their education with ISHR's Human Rights Advocates Program.
ISHR shares with FIMI, Tribal Link Foundation, and others the conviction that capacity building, political participation, a world free of violence and the promotion of leadership at local, national and international levels, are essential components in poverty reduction as well as the achievement of Indigenous Peoples’ rights.
I am a Wannyi/Kalkadoon Indigenous woman from Australia. I am involved in human rights because as an Indigenous woman, I have witnessed the struggles that Indigenous peoples are experiencing in the world. There are over 370 million Indigenous peoples in the world, yet we are amongst the poorest people and we are the invisible people.
I have always worked with Indigenous peoples, in schools and in welfare organizations. I am now an academic and legal officer and have worked in the legal arena for more than 15 years. I started as the Indigenous Community Liaison Officer with Legal Aid Queensland working with Indigenous women and children who were victims of crime. I also conducted legal information workshops and assisted in cases of racial discrimination and family law. It was during this time that I went to University to get my law degree and to educate Indigenous peoples on their rights, so that they can learn how to challenge laws and policies affecting their communities. I also believe that it is important to translate the language of law so that Indigenous peoples can understand it for their benefit.
In advocating for Indigenous women, it is important that they are always included in consultation and negotiations. When women are included, it is then a collective voice from a community group. Indigenous women also need respect for their views and opinions—for Indigenous women and children have the right to live in a safe environment and be free from any forms of violence.
One of the biggest issues that Indigenous peoples face is forced assimilation in regards to their land. Indigenous peoples are being forced off their lands by mining companies, land acquisitions by governments, internal county conflicts, and climate change to name a few. Indigenous peoples need their land because this is how their values and identities are embedded—for the land is their heritage.
Indigenous peoples are struggling to live in a world that is suppressing our culture. We will continue to lose our language, land, culture, and identity because this suppression promotes one way of living in the world. Society cannot have one way of living; we need many different languages, cultures, and identities.
If we do not receive support because no one is hearing our voices, as discrimination and the doors of opportunity continue to close, Where will we be in the future? We will be one world, one language—and the traditional knowledge of how to maintain the earth will be lost. Cultural identity is of profound importance for the diversity of the world and to maintain the earth. Indigenous peoples will not just be the invisible people—we will become a memory. This is why I am a human rights advocate.
I learned in my childhood that rights are never given. As the second of four children, I learned about survival of the fittest. I have applied this lesson to all aspects of my life.
I experienced discrimination in the family, at the community level, in religious institutions, and at the work place because of my gender, ethnicity, and class. Instead of accepting discrimination, I have always found alternatives.
From the time I became aware of these discriminatory ideologies and attitudes, I started raising my voice strategically. The first step was to seek a strong network with other women who have had similar experiences or concerns. By taking a preventive approach through various activities such as awareness raising, capacity building, and skills development, I have started to address the issues of gender-based violence faced by the Adivasi (Indigenous) women, focusing more on the strategic needs of Adivasi women to strengthen them from within. It’s with passion that I seek to empower Adivasi women because the outcome also gives me a sense of empowerment.
When I first got information about HRAP, I thought this was exactly what I needed. For me, joining HRAP was like turning the impossible into a reality because each part of the program has had a deep impact. The best element of HRAP is that it connects us with other advocates and gives opportunities to impart the knowledge and experience of diverse human rights advocacy efforts. When I return home, I’ll pass on the knowledge and information both practically and theoretically.
I did not start out working in human rights. All through my schooling, I was thinking I would go into the banking sector or other corporate sector, and never did it cross my mind that I’d end up working in a civil society organization. I was still in college when I came across an organization that was coming to the community to do trainings, and I was motivated to join them as I believed in their mission. I became attached to the work, specifically the work on climate change, because I could see food security issues in the community. I saw a mine company arrive, extract and leave--with no benefit to the community whatsoever. We wanted to stop the mining and to have a participatory approach with the community to discuss how it would impact them. I also saw these communities stressed by lack of water access as an impact of climate change, having to walk long distances for little water.
I was drawn to HRAP because it pulls in a lot of people from different backgrounds. I really wanted to draw on the experiences from others in the field to build up my work. I especially wanted to be able to bring human rights arguments into the discussions with developers about how they are planning their projects because in our work with the indigenous movement, this has created a lot of challenges.
I’ve really enjoyed the workshops offered by HRAP, especially the fundraising workshops and the one on stress management. These workshops helped me to see things in a different way and to see that things don’t have to be complicated. It’s been an amazing experience taking classes at Columbia University—it’s made me stretch my limits and my understanding. I really enjoyed my class on Environment Conflict Resolution—it helped me to understand the aspect of conflict in relation to natural resources, climate change and how you can use that to add to your case with policymakers. Within the international process, I think my understanding of the human rights and development nexus will enable me to better engage with the international advocacy. Before HRAP, I was doing some work on documenting elders, climate change and traditional knowledge, and how communities were adapting. I didn’t know that was considered oral history until I participated in the oral history workshops through HRAP. I realized I’m already doing that! I think HRAP has made me realize how much more I could do to make my work better, and I think I have the knowledge and confidence now to really continue with the work when I return home.
When I get back to Kenya, my organization will host sessions where I’ll be transmitting what I learned from the workshops and from the advocacy trainings on media, and I’ll also be incorporating what I learned here into my work with the local indigenous women’s leadership school.
Coming from an indigenous society and growing up in my grandparents’ and parents’ homes, equality was always an issue. I grew up with my grandmother who is white Danish, and my grandfather, a Greenlander. I would sit in the kitchen and they would talk about equality. My parents were part of the first anti-colonialism movement for more cultural rights and language rights in Greenland. I grew up in a home where I did not see that there were any differences between whites, Greenlanders, or anyone.
When I became older and went to the public school, I learned that there was a big difference between those who knew the colonial language and the colonial ways of learning and thus has the chance of becoming something in the country, and those who couldn’t, who would have no future. During high school, I experienced very strong stratification between the Greenlandic and Danish people. In order to become successful, I really had to be like the white people, the Danish people. I tried everything to be like the white people, learning the language and culture, and even earning a degree in a foreign country, but it was always another identity than my own. So when I finished my education and came home, and my father told me, “Now you have your white man’s European degree, now you have to learn to be human again, if you want to work for your people.”
I came to a point in my life where I learned that I had to decolonize myself and find my identity. As part of that process, the passion for my people’s rights grew more and more, especially in relation to the educational system. We have people working with indigenous peoples’ rights in Greenland. However, the right and access to education is something that’s not really being worked on. I began to give different workshops and speeches in communities around the coast, mostly to people who have gone through cultural assimilation. Eight years ago, I was hired to be part of educational reform, training teachers in a process of school reform that is more culturally appropriate. Eventually, I got the chance to get into indigenous women’s rights work, and I was nominated to be part of the Global Leadership School of FIMI.
Hearing about the Human Rights Advocates Program was like a dream come true for me. My favorite part of the program was the combination between theory and practice. The three-minute presentations about our work [given during group meetings attended by all 10 participants] were hard for me as I’m used to putting everything in a much larger context. These are the things we need to learn here, and it’s something I would have never gotten anywhere else. After HRAP, I will go home with much more courage. I now have the academic background and practical skills so I feel very confident that I will this in my work going forward in Greenland.
Aehshatou is the Advocacy Officer for Lelewal Foundation and the Women’s Coordinator and Women’s Wing President for Mbororo Social and Cultural Development Association (MBOSCUDA), both indigenous peoples’ organizations working to improve the quality of life for indigenous peoples of Cameroon. Her areas of expertise are women’s and girls’ rights, environmental issues (especially climate change adaptation and mitigation strategies related to REDD+), the economic empowerment of women, and girl child education. She participated in the FIMI Global Leadership School of Indigenous Women and attended the United Nations Permanent Forum in 2014. She earned a bachelor’s degree in law at the University of Yaounde.
Athili Anthony Sapriina is a member of the Naga, who live in the far northeast of India and in Myanmar’s northwestern division. In India, where he resides, Athili says he is easily recognized as Naga and is thereby racially abused. “India looks at us [the Naga] not as Indian, but as Chinese,” he explains, and he has struggled with his identity himself. “My relatives wanted me to join the civil service, but I felt there was no future with India,” he says. The home of the Naga people in northeast India has been the scene of a long internal struggle between India and the Naga, who have been seeking independence since the flight of the British from India after World War II. “India’s economic growth is attacking our existence,” Athili says. “While the guns have fallen silent [for now], rivers are being dammed and forests destroyed in the name of security.” Athili has also been acting to combat a psychological war against the Naga people. “Media is used to stifle the Naga movement,” he explains. Working as a journalist since 2003, he has also witnessed the influx of non-Naga elements in Naga youth networks on Facebook, intended to confuse the youth about their identity. “I want to expose this,” he announces, “but to do so is to risk my life.” Emboldened by the struggle of the Naga and discrimination he has faced, Athili has become an advocate for the rights of indigenous peoples. He has been serving with the NGO Naga Peoples Movement for Human Rights since 1995, seeking to defend the rights of the Naga to live as a free people. Adhering to the UN Declaration on Rights of the Indigenous Peoples, which grants the right of self-determination “is one of the surest ways to peace,” he affirms. “This is what I want for the Naga.”
Chhing is a founding member and Program Manager of Just Nepal Foundation, an organization that promotes education, social justice, and human rights by working within the rural mountain communities of Nepal. Chhing has been working to empower women and extremely marginalized groups in Nepal for the past 30 years. She is one of the founding members, chair, and current advisor of Mountain Spirit, another indigenous people’s organization. She has been active in relief efforts after the earthquake in Nepal. Chhing earned a bachelor’s degree in Economics, Culture and Literature from Padma Kanya University in 1988, a Post Graduate Diploma in Rural Extension & Women from University of Reading in 1991, and a master’s degree in Rural Development in 2016.