Breaking down the binary: the John Gibbard Award 2014

unacto1On Sunday, the United Nations Association of Vancouver proudly presented Ta’Kaiya Blaney with the 2014 John Gibbard Award. In celebration of World United Nations Day and in memory of John Gibbard, an activist with the UN from its inception, the award commemorates youth activism in the Vancouver area. This year’s winner exemplifies both the values, and ambitions of both the organization and of Mr Gibbard.

Our setting for the ceremony could not have been more appropriate, or rather, symbolic.  Held at the Unitarian Church of Vancouver, a place of worship welcoming all denominations, it represented the very values that the UN has sought to encourage: cooperation, acceptance, and the recognition of the dignity of all people.

Screen Shot 2014-10-28 at 9.36.51 AMTa’Kaiya complemented the setting, with her embodiment of the environment, another issue at the top of the UN agenda. Ta’Kaiya’s is renowned for her activism for environmental protection which is driven by her knowledge and cultural heritage as an indigenous person. Several themes can be drawn from the young lady’s acceptance speech: which were especially insightful to viewers of the award ceremony.

Recognizing the disconnect between the stories of her ancestors and the lives of those around her, Ta’Kaiya encourages us to ask not only, “what land will we leave for our children?” but “what children will we leave for our land?” Inspiring both youth activism, and a greater connection to the Earth, Ta’Kaiya also seeks to dismantle the “us vs. them” binary, present both within and across communities. Her speech highlighted the struggles facing indigenous youth; torn between their ancestral heritage and identities, and the lives of the West. Such struggles can prove very difficult to balance.

There also remains a distance between Indigenous and non-indigenous people within Canadian society.

Yet, these binaries are superfluous; as Ta’Kaiya emphasized: we all breathe the same air and drink the same water. Therefore we are all brothers and sisters, and should protect our earth together.

From left to right: Tanya Smith, George Somerwill, Ta’Kaiya Blaney, Tazul Ali, Karen Truscott, Greg Neumann.

Ta’kaiya pursues such protection especially through her activism against the Embridge pipeline, which is particularly threatening to the Heiltsuk, in the Great Bear Rainforest.

“It takes a community, a culture to raise a child.” Evidently the values instilled in Ta’Kaiya through her family and community have proved not only meaningful in her own personal development, but also in continually inspiring those around her. By seeking to ensure our future children are also ambassadors of the Earth, Ta’Kaiya Blaney is an inspiration to all ages.

Screen Shot 2014-10-28 at 9.46.58 AMEnvironmental sustainability was not the only theme of the occasion; Sunday’s mass also included words by Vangelis Nikias, an activist with the Council of Canadians with Disabilities In his work with the Council, Nikias seeks to ensure that the articles outline in the The United Nations Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (CRPD) are being upheld across Canada.

In 2006 CRPD was established in order to ensure that article #1 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, was being realized: All human beings are born free and equal in dignity and rights.  However, the Convention’s protocol informs that, “in practice certain groups, such as women, children and refugees have fared far worse than other groups and international conventions are in place to protect and promote the human rights of these group” (CRPD).

Through the framework of CRPD, Nikias’ seeks to overcome the “invisibility of those with disabilities” by bringing to light their marginalization and exclusion. He too emphasized the need to break down the us vs. them binary, pointing out that there is much more that unites us, than keeps us apart.

Evidently, these activists are both “thinking global, and linking local” through their focus on human rights issues that effect both the collective, and the particular both in Vancouver and worldwide. UNA Vancouver both supports and continues to look forward to the work of these individuals.

To listen to Ta’Kaiya’s acceptance speech click below: