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

Photo collage of loved ones lost to substance use and overdose. (Photo courtesy Moms Stop The Harm)
B.C. overdose deaths still rising five years after public health emergency declared

Moms Stop the Harm calls on B.C. to provide safe supply in response to deadly illicit drug use

Restaurant patrons enjoy the weather on a patio in Vancouver, B.C., Monday, April 5, 2021. The province has suspended indoor dining at restaurants and pubs until at least April 19 in B.C. due to a spike in COVID-19 numbers. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jonathan Hayward
B.C. sets new COVID-19 daily record with 1,293 cases Thursday

New order allows workplace closures when infections found

The new 3,500 hectare conservancy in Tahltan territory is located next to Mount Edziza Provincial Park. (BC Parks Photo)
New conservancy protects sacred Tahltan land near Mount Edziza Provincial Park

Project is a collaboration between Skeena Resources, conservation groups and the TCG

Mabel Todd, 83, of the Nak’azdli First Nation, leads a group of family members and advocates of missing and murdered Indigenous women and girls as they walk along the so-called Highway of Tears in Moricetown, B.C. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Darryl Dyck
Province, feds fund full cell service along ‘Highway of Tears’ following years of advocacy

A ‘critical milestone in helping prevent future tragedies’ after at least 10 Indigenous women murdered, missing along the route

Erin O’Toole, Conservative Party of Canada leader, answered questions during a Terrace District Chamber of Commerce event on April 6, 2021. (Screenshot/Terrace District Chamber of Commerce Facebook)
Erin O’Toole discusses Terrace issues during virtual event

Federal Conservative leader answered questions during a Terrace & District Chamber of Commerce event

Restaurant patrons enjoy the weather on a patio in Vancouver, B.C., Monday, April 5, 2021. The province has restricted indoor dining at all restaurants in B.C. due to a spike in COVID-19 numbers. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jonathan Hayward
B.C.’s COVID-19 indoor dining, drinking ban extending into May

Restaurant association says patio rules to be clarified

Titanic was the largest and most luxurious ship in the world. Photo provided and colourized by Jiri Ferdinand.
QUIZ: How much do you know about the world’s most famous shipwreck?

Titanic sank 109 years ago today, after hitting an iceberg

B.C. Premier John Horgan speaks at the B.C. legislature. (B.C. government)
Tougher COVID-19 restrictions in B.C., including travel, still ‘on the table’: Horgan

John Horgan says travel restrictions will be discussed Wednesday by the provincial cabinet

Protesters occupied a road leading to Fairy Creek Watershed near Port Renfrew. (Submitted photo)
B.C. First Nation says logging activist interference not welcome at Fairy Creek

Vancouver Island’s Pacheedaht concerned about increasing polarization over forestry activities

Flow Academy is not accepting membership applications from anybody who has received a dose of the vaccine, according to a password-protected membership application form. (Submitted image)
B.C. martial arts gym refusing patrons who have been vaccinated, wear masks

Interior Health has already issued a ticket to Flow Academy for non-compliance with public health orders

Guinevere, lovingly referred to by Jackee Sullivan and her family as Gwenny, is in need of a gynecological surgery. The family is raising money to help offset the cost of the procedure. (Jackee Sullivan/Special to Langley Advance Times)
Langley lizard’s owners raise funds for gynecological surgery

The young reptile is scheduled for operation on Tuesday

Join Black Press Media and Do Some Good
Join Black Press Media and Do Some Good

Pay it Forward program supports local businesses in their community giving

Facebook screenshot of the sea lion on Holberg Road. (Greg Clarke Facebook video)
VIDEO: Sea lion randomly spotted on remote B.C. logging road

Greg Clarke was driving home on the Holberg Road April 12, when he saw a large sea lion.

Defence counsel for the accused entered two not guilty pleas by phone to Grand Forks Provincial Court Tuesday, Jan. 12. File photo
B.C. seafood company owner fined $25K for eating receipt, obstructing DFO inspection

Richmond company Tenshi Seafood is facing $75,000 in fines as decided March 4 by a provincial court judge

Most Read