International Day of the World's Indigenous Peoples - How our graduate student, Marie-Dominik Langlois, are contributing to complex societal issues

Posted on Monday, July 24, 2017

Marie Dominik et Clementa

Talk to me about your journey

While I was completing my bachelor, I participated in an internship in a Zapotec indigenous rural community whose territory was coveted for large scale development projects that allegedly forcibly displaced the villages in the region. My role was to give workshops on the rights of indigenous peoples to these communities so that they could defend their territory in the face of these projects.

After graduating, I worked at the Comité pour les droits humains en Amérique latine (CDHAL) in Montreal. I was particularly addressing the issue of the exploitation of natural resources (and especially mining and hydroelectric resources), which unfortunately affects Aboriginal peoples and arouses resistance. Much more than a job, for me, it has always been a question of support in solidarity with their struggles for the dignity of peoples and a commitment that is an integral part of my life.

Subsequently, I worked for the Canadian Business Accountability Network to get Bill C-300 passed by Parliament to ensure that Canadian mining companies operating abroad meet a minimum Human rights and international standards. The bill was narrowly defeated in the vote in 2010.

After several years in the international solidarity field, I decided to return to the academic world. I worked for the Groupe de recherche sur les espaces publics et les innovations politiques (GREPIP)  and the Réseau québécois en études féministes (RéQEF).

What motivated or inspired you to continue your research?

In March 2013, the Guatemalan media announced the kidnapping of Xinka Parliament leaders, followed by the death of one of them after returning from a popular consultation on mining in a nearby community. A few weeks later, after an explosive encounter between residents and employees of a Canadian mining company in April, the State of Guatemala decreed a state of siege in four municipalities in the south-east of the country, including Xinka communities.

For several people in Guatemala and abroad, me first, it was through these events that they became aware of the existence of the mysterious Xinka people. Later, wishing to know more about this community, I carried out a search on the Internet, the results of which - few in number and poor in information. In short, it seemed to be a people who (re) affirmed their indigenous identity by defending their rights and whose organizations were engaged in the defense of the territory by their opposition to mining. Yet, although these elements contributed to form an image of the Xinkas, the whole thing remained largely nebulous. It is this vague and contradictory aspect that motivated me to undertake my master’s research on the subject, possibly with the aim of pursuing doctoral studies on the subject and in co-construction with Xinkas organizations.

Why is your research important in today's society?

For more than 500 years, indigenous peoples have been dispossessed and kept in precarious conditions by colonial states. Being very aware that the mining presence is [too] often synonymous with environmental destruction, dispossession, violence, conflicts and community divisions, I wanted - by choosing my angle of research - to highlight the creative aspect that this conflictuality can create. I am therefore interested in the efforts made by organizations and communities in the (re) definition of their identity, their emergence as new political actors and in the development of legal norms relating to indigenous peoples in Guatemala.

What will you like to see or accomplish in the future on this subject?

I would like to be able to contribute to the visibility and recognition of the xinka people so that they are considered as equal and non-discriminated and that their culture and existence are valued within Guatemalan society and outside the country.

More broadly, I hope that indigenous communities - both in Latin America and here in Canada and around the world - will stop being marginalized and living in dignified conditions. In my view, it is necessary for them to be masters of their development and for indigenous peoples to enjoy their right to self-determination.

The fact that the Canadian government supports and promotes Canadian mining investment abroad and refuses to subject them to human rights standards, as well as to recognize right of indigenous peoples to free, prior and informed consent, makes  me redouble my efforts in my actions of solidarity with the people who defend their rights. For me, this is a moral duty and it is in support of this principle that my research finds its place.

In this sense, my research - and more generally my personal approach - is definitely part of decolonization and social justice.

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