Speaker Series: "Enhanced Participation of Indigenous Peoples at the UN" - Sheryl Lightfoot


Thursday March 23, 2023
2:30 pm - 4:00 pm


Robert Sutherland Hall Room 202 OR via Zoom
Event Category

Queen's Department of Political Studies and the Centre for the Study of Democracy and Diversity Present:

Dr. Sheryl Lightfoot - University of British Columbia

"Enhanced Participation of Indigenous Peoples at the UN: Pushing the Boundaries of Indigenous Rights, Statehood, and Human Rights Norms"

Thursday, March 23, 2023 | 2:30-4:00 PM

Robert Sutherland Hall, Room 202 | 138 Union Street, Kingston

Light refreshments will be served!


Dr. Lightfoot will be appearing via Zoom.  Attendees have the option to attend in person (in Robert Sutherland Hall, Room 202), OR to join the webinar via Zoom: Click here to register for the Zoom webinar


Throughout the decades that Indigenous peoples have appeared at the UN, only two paths of participation have been available to them: representation by Member States, with whom they are often in conflict, or as non-governmental organizations. Indigenous peoples have not been allowed to represent themselves as nations at the UN. Indigenous peoples have been pushing for an independent status at the United Nations for some time. However, at the World Conference on Indigenous Peoples in 2014, an important shift occurred, as states also committed to making this a reality. In practice, enhanced participation would mean that Indigenous groups, who organize and advocate for themselves in international space, without representing or being represented by states or NGOs, would be engaged in a form of global political self-determination distinct from already existing channels. This paper explores the opportunities and challenges involved in advancing Indigenous peoples’ participation in the UN General Assembly, based on original fieldwork where I have attended drafting and consultation meetings on enhanced Indigenous peoples’ participation.


Sheryl Lightfoot is Anishinaabe, a citizen of the Lake Superior Band of Ojibwe, enrolled at the Keweenaw Bay Community. She is currently Vice Chair and North American Member on the United Nations Expert Mechanism on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples (EMRIP). She is Canada Research Chair in Global Indigenous Rights and Politics, and Associate Professor in Political Science and the School of Public Policy and Global Affairs as well as a faculty associate in the Institute for Critical Indigenous Studies. She is also Senior Advisor to the President on Indigenous Affairs and is leading the implementation of the 2020 Indigenous Strategic Plan across UBC and directs UBC’s Office of Indigenous Strategic Initiatives. She is currently serving as President of the Native American and Indigenous Studies Association (NAISA).

As one of the world’s experts in global Indigenous politics, Sheryl’s research specializes in complex questions of Indigenous peoples’ rights and how those rights are being claimed and negotiated. Her work explores both practical and theoretical aspects of implementation of Indigenous rights globally as well as in domestic contexts. She is the author of Global Indigenous Politics: A Subtle Revolution as well as numerous journal articles and book chapters.

She holds a PhD in Political Science from the University of Minnesota as well as a master’s degree from the Humphrey Institute of Public Affairs, University of Minnesota. Prior to her academic career, she had fifteen years’ volunteer and contract experience with a number of American Indian tribes and community-based organizations in the Minneapolis-St. Paul area, including nine years as Chair of the Board of the American Indian Policy Center, a research and advocacy group.

As a member of the UN Expert Mechanism Sheryl provides the Human Rights Council with expertise and advice on the implementation of the rights of Indigenous Peoples. The Mechanism also assists Member States in achieving the goals of the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples. She is the first Indigenous woman from Canada to be appointed to this prestigious position.