Peace starts at the root – and with all of us

Helen Chen

Marc Garneau Collegiate Institute, Canada

     Peace today means more than the state of no war and violence-it is indeed interconnected with the other Sustainable Development Goals such as climate action, gender equality, health and well-being, and ultimately inclusivity for all groups. How would it be possible to achieve peace and sustainable development while blatantly disregarding 370 million people who are living in danger of exploitation, increasingly high poverty rates, and of high drug use - the indigenous peoples?

       Historically, the Indigenous Peoples population have been struggling to live in peace, where they are dispossessed of their land, resources, and liberty and dignity, both of which are inalienable human rights. Although they are amongst the most disadvantaged people in the world and are extremely vulnerable to changes in their environment, there has been lack of action nationally and internationally to support the natives, most of whom are living in the same if not worse circumstances as those in developing countries.

“The International Labour Organization estimates that there are 12.3 million Indigenous peoples who are victims of forced labour, where it’s linked to discrimination against indigenous peoples and other minority groups. Indigenous peoples throughout the world have historically suffered enormously from slavery and forced labour and many still continue to do so today. Due to discrimination, marginalization, poverty and a host of other factors, indigenous peoples are vulnerable to forced labour, debt bondage, trafficking and other slavery like situations. Surveys have shown that indigenous children are subjected to many of the worst forms of child labour, such as bonded and domestic labour, participation in armed conflicts...” In regions such as Kenya and Guatemala, the number of non-indigenous children in the workforce have decreased with time, however the number of indigenous children has been given very little attention nor has it been even measured to a considerable extent.

       As someone who is an activist for climate change, education, and gender equality, it worries me that the indigenous women and girls are greatly more susceptible to sexual violence and trafficking, and the effects of the climate crisis than non-indigenous women. In Minnesota, USA, deaths and disappearances of native women are linked to trafficking, and the police aren’t taking this issue seriously. It disappoints me that violence against indigenous women is in fact woven into Canadian history, and half of all trafficking victims is indigenous peoples. In Peru, more than 2000 indigenous and campesino women were sterilized by state authorities in the late 20th century without full consent; in 2014, the Public Prosecutors office in Lima closed their case and justice to the mistreated was never sought. When I visited the Chimborazo Province in Ecuador this summer, I worked to build a school for the community to Sablog, a small area high in the Andes mountains; since it's so far away from the city, the indigenous children don't have substantial access to education, and are living in poverty, which distracts them from learning effectively.

     We often hear news about organizations doing work to alleviate gender equality circumstances in countries such as India or what we’re doing to provide safer, drinking water to those in Kenya, but what we don’t typically hear of is what is happening to the indigenous children, the residential schools, the murdered and missing women, the illiterate and intoxicated, and those who cannot move to cities or they’d be stripped out of their dignity and identity. They often go unnoticed and their importance in the world starts to diminish and wipe away, but it’s those voices that are unheard and the stories that aren’t being taken into account, that could lead to exemplary changes to our understanding of what it takes to achieve sustainable development for all. Peace truly starts at the root- the root of the problem, and the details and people underneath the surface that can easily be ignored or overlooked, or the foundation that what we take advantage of everyday. Like Malcolm Fraser says, “Solutions will not be found while Indigenous people are treated as victims for whom someone else must find solutions.”

       When Secretary-General Antonio Guterres said this year would be a year of peace, with it also being the theme for International Youth Day, let it be a year of peace, and peace to all, as we can’t achieve peace without awareness, understanding, sympathy, and action to the vulnerable, especially the vulnerable left behind.


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Dhillon, Jaskiran, and Siku Allooloo. ""Violence against indigenous women is woven into Canada's history | Jaskiran Dhillon and Siku Allooloo."" The Guardian. Guardian News and Media, 14 Dec. 2015. Web. 27 July 2017. <>.

Sullivan, Zoe. ""Crimes against Native American women raise questions about police response."" The Guardian. Guardian News and Media, 19 Jan. 2016. Web. 27 July 2017. <>.

""Amnesty International."" Indigenous Peoples. N.p., n.d. Web. 27 July 2017. <>.