UBC professor Sheryl Lightfoot is also the Canada Research Chair of Global Indigenous Rights and Politics. (UBC)

UBC professor Sheryl Lightfoot is also the Canada Research Chair of Global Indigenous Rights and Politics. (UBC)

Indigenous UBC professor appointed to prestigious United Nations position

Sheryl Lightfoot named North American member of UN’s Expert Mechanism on Rights of Indigenous Peoples

By Sam Laskaris, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, Windspeaker.com

Sheryl Lightfoot has been named the North American member on the United Nations Expert Mechanism on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples. The announcement was made this morning, March 24, in Geneva, Switzerland. Lightfoot, 53, is the first Indigenous woman from Canada to be appointed to the UN’s prestigious position.

The UN Expert Mechanism consists of just seven people in the world. Members provide the UN’s Human Rights Council with their expertise and advise on the rights of Indigenous peoples as set out in the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples.

Lightfoot will join representatives from the UN’s six other regions on the Expert Mechanism. Those individuals represent Africa, Asia, the Arctic, Europe, South American and the Pacific.

“I think it’s significant,” Lightfoot said, adding she is the first academic from Canada to hold the title.

Lightfoot is an associate professor at the University of British Columbia in First Nations and Indigenous Studies and the Department of Political Science.

In 2018 she was also chosen to serve a five-year term as the senior advisor to the university’s president on Indigenous Affairs.

Lightfoot is pleased that she will be able to bring her academic perspective to the UN’s Expert Mechanism.

“It does concentrate on understanding and translating high-level documents into policy and practice,” she said. “It’s a good fit.”

Lightfoot said she had been approached last fall to see if she would be interested in the position.

“My name had been put forward and I had agreed to let it stand,” she said.

Lightfoot believes there were as many as 10 nominees for the North American position. In January she found out she was one of four people shortlisted for the role.

After discovering she would indeed be offered the position, Lightfoot had to double check with her university to ensure she would be able to fulfill her duties.

“It is a voluntary role and they say it’s 25-30 per cent of one’s time every year,” Lightfoot said. “UBC has said I will get some release time.”

Lightfoot will be expected to attend an annual meeting in Geneva. She’s also expected to attend several other meetings that are typically staged throughout the year in various other countries, though it remains to be seen whether meetings will be held virtually in 2021 because of the pandemic.

Lightfoot, who is Anishinaabe, was born in Minnesota and is from the Lake Superior Band of Ojibwe. She is a member of the Keweenaw Bay Indian Community in northern Michigan.

Lightfoot, however, has been living in Vancouver since 2009. After years of being a permanent resident, she became a Canadian citizen last year and now has dual citizenship.

Lightfoot has been appointed for a three-year term to the UN’s Expert Mechanism. Her term is renewable once.

Just two others have held the position before.

Lightfoot is replacing Kristen Carpenter, whose four-year term on the Expert Mechanism has now expired.

Carpenter is a law professor at the University of Colorado.

Lightfoot said she has been in touch with Carpenter and that she has offered to assist her with the transition to her new role.

Chief Wilton Littlechild, who is from Maskwacis in Alberta, is the only other North American rep that has served on the UN’s Expert Mechanism, which was established in 2007.

Littlechild served two terms before Carpenter took on the role.

As for Lightfoot, her initial responsibilities will be contacting various Indigenous leaders not only in Canada but the United States as well to determine that their priorities are in sync.

One of Lightfoot’s pressing concerns is the revitalization and preservation of Indigenous languages.

“What the pandemic has illustrated is keeping our languages alive is a top priority item,” she said.

Lightfoot said many Elders and language speakers were lost during the pandemic.

“That has pushed some of our languages to an even more dangerous brink,” she said.

United Nations

Get local stories you won't find anywhere else right to your inbox.
Sign up here

Just Posted

Image: Rendering of proposed Beaver Siding Train Station/Museum courtesy the RDKB
Virtual town hall coming up for Beaver Valley

Visit the RDKB homepage for details and a link to join the Zoom conversation

Image: Fraser Institute
Prime Ministers and government spending: 2021 Edition

“There are two primary measures to gauge the size of government.”

Image: Arrow Lakes Historical Society
Historic Kootenay hot springs

The hot springs is running with reduced operations to meet government COVID-19 protocols

The 1100-block of Pine Avenue in downtown Trail is closed to traffic this week as crews from Seko Construction install water and sewer service connections for the new gas station slated to open this summer. Photo: Sheri Regnier
Traffic change in downtown Trail this week

The 1100-block of Pine Avenue is closed to vehicles

A syringe is loaded with COVID-19 vaccine at a vaccination clinic run by Vancouver Coastal Health, in Richmond, B.C., Saturday, April 10, 2021. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jonathan Hayward
Interior Health announces 89 cases of COVID-19 in the region

Currently, there are 900 active cases in the region

St. Joseph School Grade 2 student Zoey Kenny watches as Christopher Yates shows her how to string a new drum using hide from his own cows. Photo: Tyler Harper
VIDEO: With good intentions, Nelson school builds Métis drum

The St. Joseph School project is directed by parent Christopher Yates

Dr. Bonnie Henry gives her daily media briefing regarding Covid-19 for the province of British Columbia in Victoria, B.C, Monday, December 7, 2020. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jonathan Hayward
B.C. urges people to stay in their neighbourhoods, discourages out-of-household meet-ups

Dr. Bonnie Henry says there should be no travel, even to the next city over

Dr. E. Kwok administers a COVID-19 vaccine to a recipient at a vaccination clinic run by Vancouver Coastal Health, in Richmond, B.C., Saturday, April 10, 2021. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jonathan Hayward
Most Canadians plan to get COVID-19 vaccine, but safety fears drive hesitancy: poll

This comes as confidence in governments is plummeting in provinces being hit hardest by the pandemic

Marathon of Hope runner Terry Fox is shown in a 1981. (THE CANADIAN PRESS/CP)
Terry Fox’s legacy of resilience resonates during COVID-19 crisis, says brother

Fred Fox said his brother’s legacy of resilience has taken on renewed resonance as COVID-19 rages on

A youth was arrested following a car crash on Wallace Street on Saturday, April 10. (Karl Yu/News Bulletin)
Onlookers laugh and jeer as B.C. teen beaten, then forced to strip and walk home

Police arrest older teen, call video shared on social media ‘disturbing’

A lady wears a sticker given out after receiving a COVID-19 vaccine at a clinic in Richmond, B.C., Saturday, April 10, 2021. THE CANADIAN PRESS
B.C.’s COVID-19 case count slows after last week’s peak

3,219 new cases since Friday, 18 additional deaths

North Cowichan councillor Tek Manhas did not violate the municipality’s code of conduct by posting a sexist meme on Facebook, council concludes. (File photo)
B.C. municipality to take no action against councillor who posted sexist meme

Tek Manhas’s meme doesn’t violate North Cowichan council’s code of conduct, municipality concludes

—Image: contributed
Indoor wine tastings still allowed in B.C., not considered a ‘social gathering’

“Tasting is really just part of the retail experience. The analogy I use is you wouldn’t buy a pair of pants without trying them on.”

A sign on a shop window indicates the store is closed in Ottawa, Monday March 23, 2020. The Canadian Federation of Independent Business is raising its estimate for the number of businesses that are considering the possibility of closing permanently. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Adrian Wyld
Small business struggling amid COVID-19 pandemic looks for aid in Liberals’ budget

President Dan Kelly said it is crucial to maintain programs to help businesses to the other side of the pandemic

Most Read