Symposium focuses on indigenous communities

By Chuck Carlson

The Michigan State University College of Law’s International Law Review’s first symposium in three years had a special meaning for organizer and executive editor Ilina Krishen.

“It’s a very personal topic for me,” Krishen said of the recent event  —  “Voices From the Margin: Legal Battle of Global Indigenous Communities. “It’s a lot about the things my family had to go through.”

In her opening remarks, she spoke of how her family was forced by the government of India in 1990 to leave their ancestral lands in Kashmir. Her memories of an idyllic, nurturing life were replaced by uncertainty, marginalization and unforgettable sights of burning villages through her homeland, she said.

It has been a topic of interest for her ever since and showed her at an early age that, “Colonialism is real.” It has taken three years as COVID-19 coursed through communities and campuses across the country for the ILR to once again hold an in-person symposium. And it has taken a year for Krishen, with assistance from the ILR’s editor-in-chief Albert Chang to put the pieces together for this event and show how widespread the persecution of indigenous people is.

“This is about the experience of indigenous communities around the world,” Krishen said. “We want to provide a broad perspective, a more worldwide perspective.”

The symposium focused on the rising persecution of indigenous populations worldwide and the roles of international legal systems played in holding these governments accountable.

“We wanted to provide a forum for the expression of ideas and discussion,” Chang said.

To that end, the symposium featured five presenters, each with a unique view on the subject from different parts of the world.

Sahiba Maqbool, a doctoral candidate at Australia’s La Trobe University, spoke to the issues Third World nations seeking self-determination, including Kashmir, face.
Federico Lenzerini, a renowned professor of international and human rights at Italy’s University Siena and the St. Thomas University School of Law in Miami, Fla. as well as several other international organizations and schools, lent his expertise to that subject.

Dr. Leo Baskatawang is an Anishinaabe scholar from the Lac Des Milles First Nation in Treaty No. 3 territory who is also on the law faculty at the University of Manitoba in Canada.

Heide Castaneda, a professor of Anthropology at the University of South Florida, has researched and lectured on critical border studies, political and legal anthropology, migration and citizenship.

Me Me Khant earned her master’s degree in international policy from Stanford University and currently works for promoting peace, reconciliation and democracy in Myanmar. For Krishen and Chang, the mostly in-person symposium (due to weather issues and distance all five speakers presented remotely), they hope this is the revitalization of the vital and wide-ranging symposiums that the ILR has always sought to present.

“We are back on campus and at full strength,” Chang said.