How to:

Be a guest at a Classy Conference:

1. Fall asleep during the first panel.
2. play with the translation equipment (spanish. english. spanish. english.)
3. Roll your eyes whenever someone asks a long question.
4. Complain about the quality of the translation (haha, did you hear the male translator correcting the female one in the background?”)
5. Skip out early on the last speaker
6. While skipping out, become completely inept at returning said translation equipment requiring someone to run over and help.
7. Grab some of the free sandwiches at a break, wrap them up in napkins, stuff them in purse, enjoy for dinner in car.
8. Smell like free sandwiches while sitting in the audience.

There you have it, a guide to getting invited back to any conference, ever.

All joking aside, the conference was at York and it dealt with Exclusion and violence in Colombia. The day was broken into 4 panels with three speakers each. The focus of the talks was not the drug trade at all (gasp) but the struggle of the indigenous and afro-colombian groups in the country. I was not even aware previously that Colombia once had a thriving slave industry. A middle-aged women with distinctly indigenous south american features sat quietly in the second row. She wore a pale blue cotton dress and layers of colourful beads around her neck in the custom of her people. “Wow, this conference attracted indigenous people who have immigrated to Canada. I wonder if she can understand Spanish, or just her native language.” Both apparently. and English. She sat at the panel a little hunched when we came back in after coffee. She spoke about the problems that indigenous women face when trying to protect their land and claim their rights in Colombia. Her perspective was that of former governor of a Colombian state. She looked meek but she had power and conviction.

This is an attempt to share some of the information and tragedy spoken about at the conference.

1. Both indigenous and afro-Colombian peoples finally received recognition in terms of rights to land and to identity by the government in 1991 through a constitution. It is one thing to have rights on paper, another to attempt to claim them
2. Colombia has had a great term of growth in the last decade but is one of the least economically equal countries in the west. Over 60% of people live in poverty.
3. A major problem for indigenous Colombians in the extraction of resources. The government allows foreign companies to ransack rainforests, sends military and paramilitary groups to protect the companies and does not pass any of the benefits to the people. For example: a Canadian corporation built a massive dam upstream from a thriving rain forest community. The result was more money for the government and for the people? The running river turned into stagnant water bringing malaria, malnutrition and death from a lack of protein when the fish could no longer swim downstream to the community, rising water levels forcing them to move to higher ground and destroying sustenance that grew at the waters edge. What can they do? Nothing. It is illegal to hold rallies or marches. 4 leaders who have tried to speak out have been murdered.

4. Women are raped by guerrillas to bring shame on their families. When one 11 year-old reported the assault she was first told by officials that she had brought it on herself and would do best to forget about it. Her father, instead of sympathy, berated her for shaming her family and told her that she was never to speak about it again.

This could easily become a report so I will stop. There is just so much more that I could say. Should corporations be free to go unchecked in foreign countries doing business that harms the population of that country? There needs to be a better system in place. Canada needs to be accountable.

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