Indigenous Scholar and Forester from Canada’s James Bay Cree Named New Chair of the RRG Board
Rights and Resources Initiative

A longtime defender of Indigenous rights in Canada, Dr. M.A (Peggy) Smith will lead the governance of Rights and Resources Initiative – a global coalition of Indigenous and Afro-descendant Peoples and local community organizations.

04 .10. 2021  
4 minutes read

WASHINGTON, D.C. (Oct. 4, 2021) – The Rights and Resources Group’s (RRG) Board of Directors has named Indigenous scholar, forester, and educator Dr. Margaret (Peggy) A. Smith as its new Chair.

The Board governs the Rights and Resources Initiative (RRI), a global coalition of over 150 rights-holders’ organizations and their allies dedicated to advancing the land, forest and resource rights and livelihoods of Indigenous Peoples, local communities, and Afro-descendant Peoples – particularly the women within them. RRG is the coalition’s coordinating mechanism and headquartered in Washington, D.C.

Dr. Smith is of Cree ancestry from the James Bay Treaty #9 area in Canada, a territory also known as Mushkegowuk Aski. Her spirit name is Miskwaanakwadook (Red Cloud Woman). She is Professor Emerita in Lakehead University’s Faculty of Natural Resources Management and retired from Lakehead University in 2017 as Interim Vice-Provost of Aboriginal Initiatives. A longtime researcher on natural resource management by Indigenous Peoples, Dr. Smith has taught policy and legislation, environmental assessment, and Indigenous Peoples and natural resource development for decades. She holds a PhD in Aboriginal issues in forest management from the University of Toronto.

“Since its formation in 2005, RRI has achieved the status of a strong and unique global network with the ability to create fundamental change,”said Dr. Smith.“I am pleased to be invited to be a part of its leadership and help strengthen its new direction as a network led by rightsholders.”

Dr. Smith said her first priority is to help ensure that RRG and RRI do everything possible to advance Indigenous and community rights at the upcoming climate and biodiversity CoPs. Billions of dollars have been pledged to address these global crises and to be effective funding needs to go to Indigenous and community organizations that are on the front lines defending their lands and resources. She will also help to erase the existing divide between Indigenous movements across the North and South.

“We have much in common in terms of our struggles, as recognized by the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples, and so much to learn from each other’s advocacy and successes,” she said.

Dr. Solange Bandiaky-Badji, Coalition Coordinator and President of RRG said, “As a next step in our transition to a truly rightsholder-led coalition, we are delighted to see Peggy lead the Board and take on RRI’s highest governance leadership. This reflects RRI’s commitment to promoting the role and participation of Indigenous and community women across the world.”

Dr. Bandiaky-Badji recently assumed her own leadership role from Andy White, who co-founded RRI.

“This is a big leap forward for rightsholders as well as for women,” she added.

Dr. Smith is a member of the Board of the Ernest C. Oberholtzer Foundation that maintains Ober’s legacy and the Rainy Lake Island home as a source of inspiration, renewal, and connection to Indigenous Peoples, kindred spirits, and the natural world. She has a longstanding affiliation as Senior Advisor with the National Aboriginal Forestry Association, an Indigenous-controlled non-profit organization with the goal of increasing Indigenous participation in the forest sector. She continues to carry out research on free, prior and informed consent, and is a Board member of Canada’s Forest Stewardship Council. She is also part of FSC International’s Policy and Standards Committee, which approves the Council’s national standards.

Tapani Oksanen, the outgoing RRG Board Chair said, “This is a remarkable moment, not just for RRG and RRI, but for the Indigenous Peoples, local communities and Afro-descendent Peoples they serve through their global coalition. I am thrilled that Dr. Smith has agreed to lead us into our next chapter. With more Indigenous women like her joining RRI and its governance, we have more opportunities to advance their rights than ever before.”

In her role, Dr. Smith will preside as leading officer over the Board’s decisions and the RRG Executive Committee. In coordination with Dr. Bandiaky-Badji, she will also undertake a key representational role on behalf of the coalition with key external stakeholders, donors, and media.

“Since RRI was founded in 2005, community land rights movements across the world have become more inclusive,” said Andy White, who continues as a member of the RRG Board. “It is time now for the organizations that aim to support them embrace another change – to move from being historically male and western-dominated to more female leadership and direct representation from rightsholders. Dr. Smith’s appointment is a much-needed step in that direction.”


Media Contact: Madiha Waris Qureshi

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