The Oak Institute for Human Rights has named Indigenous rights activists Michelle Cook and Ana Lucía Ixchíu Hernández as its Oak Human Rights Fellows for the fall semester.
During their time on the Colby campus, they will work to raise awareness about Indigenous rights and discuss ways that colonialism and modern borders have violated human rights of Indigenous people, and threatened their cultural survival, said Valérie Dionne, director of the Oak Institute and associate professor of French. The fellows joined the Colby community in August and will share their knowledge and experience with students, faculty, staff, and the greater community throughout the semester.
Cook is a member of the (Dineh) Navajo Nation and was born of the Honághááhnii (One Who Walks Around You) clan. In June she earned her S.J.D. from the University of Arizona, where she wrote her dissertation about the intersections of Indigenous rights, divestment, and gender in the United States. She is founder of the Divest Invest Protect and the Indigenous Women’s Divestment Delegations, a human rights campaign pressuring banks, insurance, and credit rating agencies to divest from harmful extraction companies and invest in the cultural survival and self-determination of Indigenous people.
A journalist, artist, and activist, Ixchíu is an Indigenous K’iche woman from Totonicapán, Guatemala. She dedicated her life to activism after witnessing human rights violations committed against Guatemalans who demonstrated against privatized electricity, controlled by a foreign transnational corporation. She became a journalist to expose such violations and to report stories from the perspective of the Indigenous people most impacted by human rights violations.
Established in 1997 with a grant from the Oak Foundation, the Oak Institute for Human Rights typically brings one fellow to campus to engage with the community around a theme. This year Oak is hosting two fellows because each brings a unique perspective, and together they will share a range of domestic and international experiences, Dionne said. Both will spend the semester discussing their work and sharing their perspectives on the human rights abuses that Indigenous communities have endured for centuries.
During their semester in residence at Colby, fellows often teach, conduct research, and educate the community on global human rights issues. In addition, the Oak Institute brings lecturers, speakers, and other activists to campus to add additional perspectives around the theme.
“We hope that the Indigenous pedagogies Cook and Ixchíu share this fall will challenge our Western and Eurocentric paradigms of learning, communicating, storytelling, and overall living,” Dionne said.
Part of the goal of the fellowship is to give recipients a chance to rest and reflect, she said.
“The Oak Institute provides these activists a moment of respite, so they can reflect on their work. They are here to rest,” she said. “In that way, Colby is giving them something in return that will help them in the future be even better activists. It’s not so much a place and time for research, but to reflect on the work they are doing and how they can do even better work in the future.”
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