Communities should have the right to realize their own visions for development

I had my first encounter with systemic injustice when I visited an Indigenous reserve in Northern Canada as part of a youth exchange. The community was vibrant, thriving, and active in reclaiming their language, land, and culture. But their story was one of horrific abuse. For resisting colonial hegemonies, for being true to their identity as a people, they have historically suffered at the hands of the Canadian government.

Since then, I have witnessed versions of the same struggle played out across national and cultural borders. I’ve seen this in Belize, where a Maya community was establishing community consultation protocols to resist government and corporate incursions; in Costa Rica, where a Bribri community fought to protect their lands from illegal deforestation; in Cambodia, where various Indigenous communities were mobilizing against a Canadian gold mining company.

I am here because I am driven by the belief that peoples and communities have the right to define and shape the lives they live according to their own visions of themselves. How can development promise anything less?

Before joining IAP, I worked with the Business and Human Rights Division at Human Rights Watch, contributing to research on forced labor practices in the World Bank’s investments in Uzbekistan. As a part of Columbia University’s inaugural Business and Human Rights Clinic, I also worked with Inclusive Development International, mapping out the investment chains of corporate actors involved in land grabs, and tracing the harmful trail of investments enabled by the International Finance Corporation’s lending to financial intermediaries.

I am thrilled to be a part of IAP’s incredible team, and to play a role in ensuring that community voices reach inaccessible decision-making spaces to influence policy and project design. I look forward to learning from their expertise, and continuing to mobilize my background, skills, and energy to reinforce community struggles to realize their own visions for development.

Ishita Petkar is an Indo-Canadian, and is the Policy and Community Engagement Coordinator at International Accountability Project. Ishita holds a B.A. with honours in Indigenous Studies and English Literature from the University of Toronto, and an M.A. in Human Rights Studies with high distinction from Columbia University, where her concentration was in Indigenous Rights and Business and Human Rights. Ishita is based in Washington, D.C.

IAP is a human and environmental rights organization that works with communities, civil society and social movements to change how today’s development is done.