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Dr. Sheila Gruner and guests from Colombian delegation
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Bridging Borders: Algoma University’s Special Mission and people’s diplomacy

Sheila Gruner

Governments and nation-states globally have not adequately addressed the climate crisis, with biodiversity loss is taking place at unprecedented rates, and water sources are becoming increasingly compromised. The planet is witnessing increasing migratory crises, violence and poverty imposed through unjust wars and global economic policies that have led to unprecedented levels of disparity and human suffering, which is also represented in an exploitation and lack of integral respect for the planet. On an essential level, there is a dire need for listening to and recognizing ways of being, that centre life – both human and non-human – and that orient to governance systems that protect life.

Algoma University is working with the Institute of Peoples, Territories and Pedagogies for Peace (IPTP), Shingwauk Kinoomaage Gamig and others to bring together Indigenous and Afrodiasporic authorities, environmental leaders, women, educators, academics, activists and others, to exchange, build relationships and collaborations to address core environmental, social and political challenges through grassroots people’s diplomacy efforts and educational exchange. People’s diplomacy emphasizes the most local, territorial level of governance where teachings about living a good life, including relationships with land, water and each other, are central.

In an age of global connectivity grassroots movements can transcend nation-state boundaries and shape futures rooted in collaboration, intercultural understanding, and deepened commitments to environmental, gender, and racial justice. Through people’s diplomacy efforts, the role of self-governance, policies and protocols are highlighted, historically most often invisible within conventional nation-state diplomacy. It takes commitment to learning and unlearning, to decolonizing educational frameworks and approaches, in order to fully grasp the relevance of these types of efforts at a planetary level.  

These foundational concepts and sentiments lie at the heart of the upcoming delegation from Colombia to Bawating (Sault Ste Marie) called “Peoples Diplomacy, Environmental Governance, and Self-determination,” which will run June 17 to 21. A special topics Community Economic and Social Development course, “Decolonizing Peace: Gender, Land Rights, and Self-Determination,” runs parallel to this visit for the students who are able to join this spring intensive course.

The Institute of Peoples, Territories, and Pedagogies for Peace (IPTP)  is an emerging global intercultural space that has links to the Faculty of Cross-Cultural Studies and various other faculties, departments, and offices at Algoma University. The IPTP is committed to working from the grassroots level with Indigenous and Black-Afro-diasporic communities, organizations and authorities, regional, national and international environmental and human rights organizations, together with institutes of higher education. The collaboration weaves together commitments to decolonizing education, peace-building with/within Indigenous, Afro-descendant, rural and women’s organizations and territories, and supporting environmental governance through people’s diplomacy and support for movements of land and water defence. The IPTP opened an office in Bogotá, Colombia, and collaborations are underway with/within Indigenous and Black communities in that country, as well as Bolivia, Mexico, Senegal, South Africa, Ghana, and, of course, in the northern part of Turtle Island, specifically in Bawating (Sault Ste. Marie) and the beautiful Robinson Huron Treaty Territory. 

The delegation coming in June, counts on a dedicated logistics team, faculty organizing committee, and contributions from community members, departments, and offices at Algoma University and Shingwauk Kinoomaage Gamig (SKG). It is not merely a series of events but a transformative effort. It brings together governing authorities, dignitaries, social leaders, academics, educators, peace activists, and land defenders, primarily from Colombia, Canada, and Bolivia (virtually), who will participate in events held on the sites of Algoma University and SKG in Sault Ste. Marie, Ontario as well as off-campus, in traditional and important territories. Running parallel to this delegation is a class co-taught by Dr. Sheila Gruner and Prof. Sophie Edwards, adding an academic dimension.

At its core, this delegation’s mission is profound: to strengthen relationships among grassroots organizations and governments as well as educational institutes in Canada, Colombia, Bolivia, and globally within the framework of decolonizing peace, education, and self-determination, including to strengthen environmental governance in the face of combined social and environmental planetary crises. So far, nation-state governments have not been successful in the global efforts to address the climate crisis. In fact, we have seen indications that it is only worsening. The communities and nations working at the grassroots level in land and water defence most directly see and experience this reality. They are the ones to listen to, learn from, and orient to with regard to teachings and governance processes that support the health and vibrancy of lands and waters and relationships between human and non-human life.

This delegation goes beyond diplomacy; it’s about fostering genuine connections and understanding across borders. It’s about recognizing the shared struggles and aspirations of communities worldwide. One of the most compelling aspects of this initiative is its emphasis on women’s roles in peace-building and leadership. With the delegation composed primarily of women, there’s a deliberate focus on addressing gendered and colonial violence in Canada, Colombia, Bolivia, Mexico, and beyond. This highlights women’s pivotal role in reshaping societal narratives and driving positive change. Community members and AU faculty-staff and students are invited to participate in various activities related to meetings and exchanges with Colombian, Bolivian and Afro-descendant leaders in addressing MMIW issues, food sovereignty, water protection and environmental governance.  

A number of AU Cross-Cultural Studies faculty members, including Drs. Jimenez-Estrada (Maya Achi), Paulette Steeves, Nairne Cameron and Dr. Laura Wyper, as well as Visual Arts Prof. Andrea Pinheiro have supported or are involved in events of the delegation, as well as Anishnaabe Kwe Scholar, Dr. Sue Chiblow, and various Anishnaabe community members including Dean Sayers, former Chief of Batchewana First Nation. There is hope that delegation representatives, including Indigenous and Afro-descendant political and territorial authorities, will be able to exchange directly with local First Nations Chiefs and Council members.

The delegation’s objectives are ambitious yet crucial. From fostering reciprocal learning to consolidating networks for research and curriculum development, each goal is a stepping stone toward a more inclusive and equitable future. By elevating issues affecting Indigenous and Black-Afrodiasporic communities, this initiative aims to amplify voices often marginalized in mainstream discourse.

Moreover, the emphasis on environmental justice, biodiversity protection, and food sovereignty underscores the interconnectedness of social and ecological systems. In a world grappling with climate change and ecological degradation, it’s imperative that we adopt holistic approaches to governance and land stewardship.

As we look ahead to the delegation, it’s essential to recognize the significance of this moment. It’s a testament to the power of grassroots movements in driving meaningful change. By coming together across borders and cultures, we have the opportunity to forge a path towards a more just and sustainable world.

In the spirit of people diplomacy, let us embrace this opportunity to build bridges, foster understanding, and pave the way for a brighter tomorrow.

Learn more about the delegation here: https://iptppaz.wixsite.com/institutoptp/general-6

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