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Kolybabi an advocate for Aboriginal rights.

VANCOUVER

Deanie Kolybabi, the executive director of Environmental-Aboriginal Guardianship through Law and Education (EAGLE), is working on her legacy. She has been a strong supporter of Aboriginal rights during her working life and has made significant contributions to Aboriginal communities over the years. But a struggle with cancer made her more determined than ever in her efforts.

"I didn't want my grandchildren to be looking me in the eye someday and look at the world around them and say 'Where were you?' I want them to look at me and understand that we put up a good fight for the things we felt were important for the legacy that we leave them. The incident with cancer does make you think about it. It makes you think about the value of the relationships that you have."

Having cancer contributed in a big way as well to Kolybabi's decision to move to the West Coast to elevate her career working with charitable organizations. She had been a well-known advocate of the Aboriginal point of view for many years, but more could be done, she thought.

Kolybabi is of Inuit decent and originally from Manitoba. It's taken her some time to build her own family's esteem of their Aboriginal roots.

"There were years when, like so many of us, part of [her grandmother's] heritage was shameful to her." Kolybabi was able to demonstrate to her grandmother, before she passed away at age 93, the intense pride she had of the Indigenous part of her, "claiming our Inuit and Aboriginal heritage, and to really stand up for our people and be proud of our Aboriginal roots."

Kolybabi's pride and talents helped in the development of the Aboriginal Peoples Television Network, and then she turned her attention to the National Aboriginal Achievement Foundation, working there for a time. Still, despite the impact of these two organizations, Kolybabi believed the Indigenous voice was not being heard enough in the country.

"It just astounds me that in Canada, in this day and age and globally, that Indigenous people are not more respected, more heard and more listened to, particularly with some of the environmental issues we are dealing with," said Kolybabi. "It is a culture that is inextricably linked to the land and it just frustrates me something fierce that there isn't a louder voice."

Kolybabi's work through EAGLE contributes in turning up the volume of Aboriginal voices. EAGLE is a not-for-profit organization that combines Aboriginal and environmental law with education to support responsible stewardship of the land for future generations.

EAGLE operates under principles of traditional governance and is primarily staffed by Aboriginal people, including some of the most notable Aboriginal professionals in Canada.

The EAGLE mandate is to combine Aboriginal and environmental law, to advance the understanding of the Aboriginal right and responsibility to be cultural stewards of the land and to mentor Aboriginal careers in environmental protection and law.

The most notable contribution EAGLE has made came with the 2004 Haida decision of the Supreme Court of Canada.

"The Supreme Court upheld the Crown's duty to consult with Aboriginal communities, even where the title is yet to be proven," said Kolybabi; "where if there is any question, whatsoever, it upholds the Crown's duty to consult and that is the most cited and notable case in Aboriginal law and environmental protection today."

EAGLE also contributes to the education of Aboriginal people, mostly on a post-secondary level, though Kolybabi hopes to see an expansion of their efforts and reach students in the middle grades.

The organization currently offers internships and is working with three students in the University of British Columbia's environmental law program providing them with experience, said Kolybabi.

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"There is a call to stewardship that I will say to all Aboriginal peoples in North America and in Canada in particular," said Kolybabi. "I would say this is a call to be a leader in the protection of what we know to be sacred water and sacred land that supports all life. The call to stewardship, to be able to look at and understand the very weighty responsibility we all have being Indigenous people in creating a healthier planet."

By Chereise Morris

Windspeaker Staff Writer
COPYRIGHT 2008 Aboriginal Multi-Media Society of Alberta (AMMSA)
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Copyright 2008 Gale, Cengage Learning. All rights reserved.

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Title Annotation:[education]
Author:Morris, Chereise
Publication:Windspeaker
Date:Aug 1, 2008
Words:702
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