In the second session on “Promoting Ecosystem Protection and Human Rights” during World Water Week, the focus was on Indigenous Peoples (read about our first session on focusing on Women and Children by clicking here). The second session was also well attended, and a different mix of people. Like the first session on Women and Children, this session was co-hosted with OHCHR and IDB, as well as UNDP-SIWI Water Governance Facility, Cap-Net UNDP and ILO. We had three indigenous people sharing their experiences, one from Guatemala and two from Canada.
Autumn Peltier was the first speaker, a young girl who is outspoken on the importance of sacred water and conserving the environment. She lives in Canada, and has been advocating for water for the past two years, giving it a voice, as she puts it.
Andrew Robinson was our second speaker from Canada, a chief administrative officer from the Nisga’a village of Lagalts’ap, who explained how they are developing their village’s laws under a modern treaty to assist traditional knowledge. Andrew has been an advocate for Indigenous Peoples along the northwest coast of British Columbia in mental health, education, and economic development.
Elodia Castillo Vásquez came to speak from Guatemala. She is a Mayan Ch’orti tribe woman leader who is fighting for their indigenous rights and had some moving stories to share. Her engagement in the struggle for the rights of her people started at a very early age, a struggle she did not quit even after having lost her sister, Mariana Vásquez. Elodia has been actively involved with the association COMUNDICH delivering training programs to young indigenous people on various topics, among which the challenges of youth inclusion, participation, ethnic identity and the rights to land and territory. She presently holds the position of President and Legal Representative of COMUNDICH, where she devotes herself to the reconstruction of the social, political, cultural and territorial fabric of her people. On 7 December 2017, she was awarded with the Alice Zachmann Award for Human Rights Defenders, conferred by the Human Rights Commission for Guatemala in the United States.
To complement their challenges, WaterLex presented on an ILO project that has been working in Nicaragua to empower indigenous men and women to learn trades for construction. All three indigenous speakers gave a powerful and moving speech about their different situations, which were in quite different settings, but had similarities in terms of realising their rights, and the strong connection with the land and the environment.