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Presenting American Indigenous Peacemaking at a Human Rights Conference

Jul 24 2018
Carson Smith being recognized for her participation in the a human rights forum in Geneva.

Carson Smith, right, being recognized for her participation in the a human rights forum in Geneva.  

By Carson Smith
Political Science and Native American Studies; Class of 2019

Out West Student Blog

Student Blog

Those surrounding me at the Caux Forum on Just Governance for Human Security had travelled from across the globe to arrive in Switzerland. While some participants were university students, most were professionals, including government officials, researchers, artists, and more, all of whom advocated for human rights in some capacity. As we ascended into the Alps, I was struck by the serenity of the mountains enclosing Lake Geneva below. From the beginning of my trip, the peaceful and meditative qualities of nature surrounding us stood as a sharp contrast to the human rights violations that each participant in the conference had dedicated their life to resolving. However, as we sat a world above the conflicts that often consume our time and energy, this separation from our everyday lives allowed us to take time out to heal, rest, and connect.

Mid-week, I presented on the role of Peacemaking, an indigenous form of conflict resolution often utilized in tribal courts, in the context of the United Nations’ Sustainable Development Goals.

All of the people I met that week were seeking to make change through some aspect of the Sustainable Development Goals, proposed by the United Nations as the steps necessary for global human security. These seventeen goals range from “affordable and clean energy” to “peace, justice, and strong institutions” and “gender equality,” and every aspect of the conference focused on at least one of these seventeen themes.

Mid-week, I presented on the role of Peacemaking, an indigenous form of conflict resolution often utilized in tribal courts, in the context of these Sustainable Development Goals. I had originally planned for my presentation to highlight the goal of “peace, justice, and strong institutions” as perfectly aligned with indigenous calls for self-determination. However, throughout the Q & A section, the questions directed at me quickly turned from the ideals of peacemaking to the real-life tensions between the federal and state governments in the United States and tribal governments. From the lack of comprehensive legislation to protect indigenous women to the physical, cultural, and environmental abuses surrounding the creation of the Dakota Access Pipeline (DAPL), many of those around me were unaware of these transgressions by the United States. By the end of my presentation, I had provided a brief overview of the modern-day impacts of American colonialism. While the discussion had taken a different turn than I anticipated, it only emphasized the need for self-determination, the Sustainable Development Goals and mechanisms like Peacemaking in order to stifle these abuses against indigenous populations.

Those of us working in human rights are often so engaged by our own projects that we can easily be separated from others in our field. The Caux Forum designed a space for reflection, relationship-building and understanding. I shared much of my work, and those I met quickly reciprocated. Illuminating caste discrimination in the Indian subcontinent and describing the abuses by diamond mining companies in Zimbabwe, my peers constantly unpacked their own lives. Spaces like Caux are necessary for those in human rights to collaborate and learn from each other while simultaneously being provided with safe and calm spaces to reflect upon the realities of their own work. I am so thankful for my time there and all of those who shared their worlds with me.


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