Oak Institute for Human Rights
The Oak Institute for Human Rights, established in 1997, annually brings a prominent human rights activist to campus. While in residence, the Oak Fellow gets a chance to reflect, recuperate, and educate the Colby community about their work.
The 2022 Oak Human Rights Fellows are Michelle Cook and Ana Lucía Ixchíu Hernández. Both will join the Colby community for the fall 2022 semester to raise awareness on issues of Indigenous rights and share the ways colonialism and the formation of modern nation-state borders have created mass human rights violations for Indigenous peoples and made cultural survival increasingly difficult. Both activists will spend the semester reflecting on their work and sharing their perspectives on the human rights abuses that Indigenous communities have endured for centuries.
Michelle Cook is an enrolled member of the Navajo Nation and was born of the Honághááhnii (One Who Walks Around You) clan. In June 2022 she earned the title of Doctor of Juridical Science (S.J.D.) from the University of Arizona with a dissertation on intersections of Indigenous rights, divestment, and gender in the United States. She is also the founder of Divest Invest Protect and the Indigenous Women’s Divestment Delegations (IWDD.) IWDD is an intersectional, Indigenous-led international 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 the world’s Indigenous peoples. By educating banks, companies, and businesses on how their investments impact the human rights of Indigenous women, IWDD centers Indigenous women as critical actors in shaping global economic justice.
Recently, she and her team made “The Beads that Bound Manhattan and the UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples Wampum Belt” to address continued attempts to disestablish Native reservations and erase the political and historical existence of the Mashpee Wampanoag. Per Cook, “The UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples (‘UN Declaration’) wampum belt is a means of teaching Indigenous human rights using and centering Indigenous peoples’ technology and pedagogical legal practices with wampum as both the medium and the message of accountability, healing, and change. The wampum belt is part of an ongoing attempt to redefine both the collective past and future of the United States of America and its relationship with Indigenous peoples and Nations, shedding light on the hidden history of wampum, how the U.S. engages with Indigenous people.” This work demands relationships built on reciprocity, self-determination, and human rights, which weaves seamlessly into the mission and practices of Oak.
Lucía Ixchíu is an Indigenous K’iche woman from Totonicapán, Guatemala. She is a journalist, artist, and activist with a focus on the rights of Indigenous peoples. She was called to action after witnessing the army of Guatemala, the country where Ixchíu was born, massacre her people for demonstrating against the rise in privatized electricity, controlled by a foreign transnational corporation. The racist media coverage of what happened made her realize that it was time for her people to tell their own story. For this reason, Ixchíu decided to become a journalist to “denounce, write, and theorize the various realities” that they had to live as Indigenous peoples.
In addition to using journalism as a powerful means to combat the injustice and violence inflicted upon her people, Ixchíu is also in charge of organizing Solidarity Festivals as a powerful alternative to fighting so Indigenous peoples can simultaneously resist and heal with joy. This multidimensional and radical approach will be invaluable to share with the Colby community, both on campus and beyond. In 2019, Ixchíu earned the Gisela Paz y Paz Award for her work as a young, Indigenous woman.
Ixchíu and Cook are no strangers to the personal risk that human rights activism poses on practitioners, particularly when they identify with the groups they intend to help. Due to the insurmountably taxing nature of their work and livelihoods, they must make the work sustainable. Both Cook and Ixchíu look to their respective Indigenous practices to heal, seek answers, and pursue justice. While their contributions to the Colby and extended community will be invaluable, we must also be diligent in maintaining reciprocity, as a previously underscored necessity in these relationships. For instance, we must commit to bettering our relationship with Maine’s Indigenous people, the Wabanaki, by truly listening to their hopes and needs. As a final benefit for the Colby community, 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.