AKWESASNE – For a decade, the Saint Regis Mohawk Tribe has had the pleasure of hosting international students enrolled each year in Columbia University’s Indigenous Peoples Rights and Policy Program. This year’s annual visit took place on Tuesday, Kenténha/October 11, 2022 and provided an opportunity for tribal leaders and staff to share their knowledge of issues associated with living and working in an Indigenous border community.
“We’re pleased to welcome and share our experiences through the decade-long relationship that was formed with Columbia University’s Indigenous Peoples Rights and Policy Program. Each year, it provides an opportunity to discuss areas of commonality and our community’s uniqueness with Indigenous doctoral and post-doctoral students from around world, which includes sharing a first-hand perspective on border-related matters,” stated the Tribal Council.
The program is offered through Columbia University’s Institute for the Study of Human Rights and the Center for the Study of Ethnicity and Race. It is instructed by Elsa Stamatopoulou, who joined Columbia in 2011 following a 22-year career at the United Nations. She served as the first Chief of the Secretariat of the United Nations Permanent Forum on Indigenous Issues and earned numerous distinctions for her dedication to human rights and Indigenous issues.
This year’s visit by the Indigenous Peoples Rights and Policy Program included 26 students from 12 international countries. Students hailed from Australia, Brazil, Guatemala, Rwanda, Ecuador, Bangladesh, Argentina, Nepal, and other countries; as well as from several Indigenous communities located in Canada and the United States.
The October 11th visit was held virtually and began with an introduction to members of the Tribal Council; which included Tribal Chief Ron LaFrance, Sub-Chief Benjamin Herne, and Sub-Chief Derrick King. They were joined by Chief of Staff Jori Rourke and Communications Director Brendan White, who helped facilitate the Program’s meetings for the day.
Chief LaFrance spoke about his participation in the Program’s first visit to Akwesasne in 2013 and answered questions posed by students on a number of community-related topics; such as language revitalization efforts, Indian residential schools, environmental contamination, traditional medicines, preventive services, global pandemic, and governmental priorities.
Their introduction was followed by the viewing of a cultural awareness video shared by Chief of Police Matthew Rourke, which was produced by Akwesasne TV with the guidance of Tribal Historic Preservation Office Director Darren Bonaparte. The video was developed to provide law enforcement and border agencies with an overview of the culture, history, and contemporary issues impacting the Akwesasne community.
Chief Judge Carrie Garrow followed with background on the development of a tribal court system in Akwesasne, as well as recent initiatives. Judge Garrow shared the success of the Tribe’s Healing to Wellness Court, which is a judicially supervised program that incorporates cultural traditions in helping rehabilitate individuals from drug addictions. She also shared efforts to make a Family Court operational under the Tribe’s jurisdiction.
In appreciation of continued contributions provided during their visits, Stamatopoulou shared, “This would not be possible without the inspiring insights you offered to the group through the visit of the Saint Regis Mohawk Tribe. The people, 26 from 12 counties, many from Indigenous nations, could not stop talking about it and were so very grateful… We hope to be able to continue this program for years to come, as this is the only global program that exists in this field for professionals and researchers.”
The Indigenous Peoples Rights and Policy Program has provided the ability of Akwesasne residents to apply for enrollment in the two-week course at no cost. For more information and for their application deadline to participate in their 2023 Program, please visit their website at https://www.humanrightscolumbia.org/indigenous.