Peacemakers receive awards

The annual international conference of the Peace and Justice Studies Association was held this year in Nelson.

JJ Verigin

Four awards were given out at an international peace and justice conference in Nelson last month, three of them to people with connections to the West Kootenay.

This year’s annual International Peace and Justice Studies Association conference, attended by about 250 people from across the continent, most of them university or college educators, was held in Nelson on September 23 and 24, hosted by the Mir Centre for Peace at Selkirk College.

Every year the conference gives out four awards, often to people from the geographic location of that year’s conference.

The Peace Educator/Scholar Award was presented to JJ Verigin, the executive director of the Union of Spiritual Communities of Christ (Doukhobors). He has advocated for peace and justice at the local level and internationally.

“JJ has been at this work for decades,” said Mir Centre chair Randy Janzen, the organizer of the conference.

“He is well respected inside his community and outside. JJ would probably say it goes to the entire USCC community for their long-standing work, which is not high profile, often behind the scenes.

“He has helped keep alive the vision of peace and non-violence in that community.”

The Next Generation Peacemaker Award was given to Htoo Paw, who, as a refugee to Canada in 2012 from government persecution in Burma, lived in Nelson and attended Selkirk College.

Even then, she had already done extensive work on the Burma-Thailand border in refugee camps as a human rights organizer on behalf of her people, the Karen ethnic group, and often travels back there now to continue that work.

She is currently working on a Master’s in Human Security and Peacebuilding at Royal Roads University.

“She is an example of a young person who is making it her life long career to work for peace and justice,” said Janzen.

“She has made it very clear that her plan is to continue to dedicate her life to this work for Burma and the Karen people.”

The Social Courage Award was presented to Virgil Seymour, who, until his death earlier this year, was the Arrow Lakes Facilitator for the Sinixt.

“Virgil brought together people to talk about the issues of the Sinixt and created dialogue about Sinixt issues in many communities north of the border. He has done so as a diplomat, working with indigenous and non-indigenous groups.

“And he has worked with other people in bringing the Sinixt language back to the region.”

The Howard Zinn Lifetime Achievement Award was given to Sandra Moran of Guatemala, who attended the conference as a guest speaker.

She is currently a member of parliament in Guatemala, continuing her decades-long struggle for indigenous, women’s and LGBTQ rights, for which she has to go into exile in other countries, including Canada.

“I think she exemplifies lifetime achievement because she started a generation ago and continued to work at these issues regardless of where she is.” Janzen said.

“Now that she is in a position of power and privilege, she has genuinely and authentically held to her grassroots.”