By Peigi Wilson
On a volunteer mission to El Cerro and El Zaino, Wayuu Territory, La Guajira, Colombia, I was struck by the similarities between the Wayuu and the Indigenous peoples of Canada. This includes how Indigenous communities and municipalities interact. I believe the future for closer Indigenous – municipal relations lies in implementing the United Nations Declaration the Rights of Indigenous Peoples, in collaboration with Indigenous communities.
I am a citizen of the Métis Nation of Ontario, a lawyer, manager, and policy analyst working for the past 20 years to promote the rights of Indigenous peoples. I was on a mission for FCM CISAL in November 2018 to share my recent experience as Manager for the FCM First Nation-Municipal Community Infrastructure Partnership Project promoting stronger relationships between Indigenous peoples and municipalities.
In sharing stories, I learned that the Wayuu and Indigenous peoples in Canada have much in common. It appears the Wayuu have experienced a similar loss of land, culture, and well-being as a result of their political and territorial disenfranchisement as have Indigenous peoples in Canada. The Wayuu, like First Nations, Métis, and Inuit in Canada, experience food and water insecurity, inadequate housing, premature death, and lack of economic opportunities. It seems the results of colonialism look much the same wherever it is applied.
On the more positive side, I also sensed strong similarities between Wayuu culture and many Indigenous cultures in Canada that allowed me to feel quite at home. This included a holistic worldview, a deep connection to their land, and a strong commitment to community and relationships. The Wayuu, like Indigenous people in Canada, are working hard to reclaim their language, traditional customs, and access to local foods, and build a better economic future.
The mayors of the municipalities I met in Colombia all expressed a deep commitment to working with the local Indigenous reserves. One mayor even returned home early from a family obligation in order to be at the meeting. Elected officials and staff from municipalities in Canada I have met have often demonstrated equal commitment to respecting the rights of Indigenous peoples.
Colombia was an early adopter of the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples. Canada has endorsed the Declaration and the Senate has passed 2nd reading of Bill C-262, An Act to ensure that the laws of Canada are in harmony with the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples.
Canadian municipalities have been challenged by the Truth and Reconciliation Call to Action #43 to adopt and implement the Declaration in collaboration with Indigenous peoples.
It is my hope that if I have a chance to return to Wayuu territory I can bring stories of greater municipal-Indigenous collaboration and be likewise inspired by theirs.
All my relations.