Prof. Sheryl Lightfoot speaks on “Indigenous Disruptions” as Weber lecturer


Courtesy of the Department of Political Science

University of British Columbia Prof. Sheryl Lightfoot spoke about “Indigenous Disruptions” in her talk Thursday as this year’s Fall 2021 Admiral Alban ‘Stormy’ Weber Lecturer.

Avani Kalra, Reporter

In 2010, the Iroquois Nationals field lacrosse team was ranked fourth in the world. The team was set to travel to the World Lacrosse Championship in Britain, but it was stopped in its tracks when it reached New York City.

The United Kingdom refused to issue visas based on the team’s tribal passports. The U.S. and Canada offered the team emergency documentation, but the group could not travel until its tribal passports were recognized. In the end, it forfeited the competition. 

Prof. Sheryl Lightfoot spoke about the Iroquois’ refusal to identify with an American or Canadian identity in her talk Thursday as this year’s Fall 2021 Admiral Alban “Stormy” Weber Lecturer. Her lecture centered on the conversation between Indigenous political theory and international relations theory. 

Lightfoot is an associate professor of First Nations and Indigenous Studies and Political Science, Canada research chair in Global Indigenous Rights and Politics and a senior advisor to the president on Indigenous Affairs at the University of British Columbia in Vancouver, Canada. She is Anishinaabe, a citizen of the Lake Superior Band of Ojibwe and a representative to the United Nations Expert Mechanism on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples.

Lightfoot spoke about how Indigenous people typically interact with international policy. She focused on the interaction between Indigenous communities and international relations, a theme she first considered in her 2016 book “Global Indigenous Politics: A Subtle Revolution.” 

“Indigenous peoples are typically presumed to be matters of exclusively domestic concern,” she said. “My overall argument is that Indigenous people’s self determination practices can help us inform a process that brings key elements of diversity, agency and universality into a major bigger conception of the international sphere.”

Lightfoot began her talk by referencing her role in leading UBC’s Indigenous strategic framework, which works to implement the UN Declaration of the Rights of Indigenous People on campus ––  something she described as a challenge. She said this type of work has never been attempted at the university level.

Lightfoot’s talk covered three major cases: Indigenous people issuing and travelling on their own passports, conducting diplomatic missions outside of the state and negotiating entering into treaties with other Indigenous peoples with states as interested parties. These cases illustrate the ways Indigenous people interact in the world as their own nations, while international policy treats their rights as a domestic issue, Lightfoot said.

“I was the first scholar to do a brave thing,” she said. “I began to tease out some of these questions, silences and absences.” 

Lightfoot said looking through this “double lens” of indigeneity and international relations reveals the link between decolonization, liberalism, diplomacy and Western sovereignty. 

One of her work’s goals is to restructure global politics to include the Indigenous perspective. 

“International Indigenous practice can create a disruption to the usual international order that we all take for granted,” Lightfoot said. “But it demonstrates how that order is capable of making adjustments. International borders are not as static as we all think.”

Stephen Rafael Montiero, a business administrator in the political science department and organizer for Lightfoot’s talk, said Lightfoot’s work on college campuses sets her apart from other Indigenous scholars.

“(She is) an institution builder who ensures the meaningful inclusion of Indigenous voices on academic campuses,” he said. 

Pamala Silas, associate director of Community Outreach and Engagement at the University’s Center for Native American and Indigenous Research, said although she wishes there was more Native American scholarship at NU, she was grateful for the opportunity to bring in talent like Lightfoot.

Silas, who is Menominee and Oneida, said she appreciates Lightfoot challenging the status quo with her research on Indigenous communities.

“I say it’s a good day to be Indigenous,” Silas said. “The issues she’s focused on really are human problems. If there’s space we can open up for Indigenous people to present solutions to human problems, then it’s a good day to be Indigenous.” 


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