Somia Sadiq, located in Winnipeg, Canada, is currently pursuing a Doctoral in Philosophy from the Netherlands’ University of Leiden in War, Peace, and Global Justice. The program is in conjunction with the University of Maryland’s National Consortium for the Study of Terrorism and Responses to Terrorism (START). Through her research, Somia will be examining the psychosocial barriers to reconciliation between indigenous people and the Crown, Canada’s constitutional monarchy. Aiming to “level the playing field” between the distinct communities, Somia will explore avenues to address perceptions and systemic racism that has been reproduced through framing and ‘othering’. Canada is part of Turtle Island, an indigenous territory Somia explains, “we are the newcomers”, therefore we must do our part to reconciliation.

Invoking Cultural Understanding of Indigenous Communities, Reclaiming Identity

During the Canadian colonization period, the government implemented a residential school experience, which Somia explains as the effort of taking the Indian out of the Indian”. Children were forcibly taken from their families, enrolled in Christian-Catholic schools; their Indian names are taken from them, and they were subjected to unimaginable violence if they in any way expressed their identity. Through the colonial system their respect, dignity, freedom, self-determination, and voice were taken away from them. When you’ve been tortured for who you are, at such a young age”, Somia says, “then there is no hope. It is just despair”. Today, it is essential that we find strategic ways to decolonize the system, creating space to move forward. It requires critically examining and where required deconstructing the colonial system and re-learning,” Somia explains. Indigenous Peoples are fighting for what is inherently theirs, they are still recovering from the decades of trauma inflicted upon them, and this healing will take time. Somia claims, “to get people to a place where they can start healing, they need as much time to heal as they’ve been subjected to trauma. It takes listening and patience”. 

Somia’s career in impact assessment was largely shaped by her adolescence. Punjabi and Kashmiri by descent, Somia moved to Canada at the young age of 18. “I was exposed to violent conflict in the world around me at a young age. Bad decisions can literally destroy lives, destroy generations and we need to stop and think about impacts before we make decisions”, she recalls. Somia, wanting to understand how communities were impacted by projects, enrolled at the University of Manitoba to study environmental sciences. After completing her Bachelor’s, she then obtained her Masters in Natural Resource Management. Now pursuing her Ph.D. in war, peace, and global justice, Somia explains, “Systemic racism can breed violence both ways. When our identity starts to rely on oppression of or denial or someone else’s identity, we have a problem in society”. 

A Translator in practice

Somia began her career in impact assessment, understanding how different projects may impact the both environment and the people who live within. “I can be best described as a translator”, she says, bridging the communication and information gap between governments, business actors, and community members. Natural resource conflict exists in almost all countries today. “You need to understand how a project is going to affect the birds, the bunnies, and the bees”, Somia laughs, “but you can’t end there. Projects and policies impact people on a deeply fundamental level.” All policies have far-reaching societal implications beyond the environment; implications that get amplified in communities with historical trauma. 

Now, Somia holds her own practice called Narratives, a consulting firm specializing in impact assessment, created in 2017. The name Narratives comes from Somia’s adoration of stories, which she believes bring people together to listen, to share, and to heal. Inspired by the UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples, her company represents indigenous communities to both companies and the Crown, facilitating dialogue, mediating conflict, and strengthening the relationship between all parties to formulate a resolution.

Mediation in practice

“It was only a recent realization that what I’m doing is mediating conflict”, Somia admits. She never saw her work as mediation, claiming only that she helped communities understand what decisions they were committing to. She believes the power of mediation is “in being able to bring parties together in a manner that they can share some principles and understand together where the conflict lies”. Having worked with large multidisciplinary teams, Somia explains that many times the hardest negotiations are internal negotiations; building recognition of the need to understand the human impact within your own team. Somia recalls an experience when an Indigenous community rejected a project indicating the mining company did not have their free, prior, and informed consent. Somia with her small team represented by a few different disciplines asked everyone what they thought this meant. To her amazement, everyone had a different idea of what free, prior, and informed consent meant. If her small team could not agree on what each of those words meant, “can you imagine how different the world is outside this team?” she asks. “Words have power”, Somia declares, “you have to create psychologically, socially, spiritually, and culturally appropriate space for people to express themselves so everyone can at least try to better understand what they all mean when they are in conflict with one another”. 

Taking her mediation skills further, Somia found MBBI through a published member spotlight on LinkedIn and quickly became a member of the organization. Somia lightheartedly exclaims that meeting all the members, “fires me up big time”. She is now a member of the Canada Group in MBBI and sat in on a few meetings with the UN multilateral working group. She hopes to eventually establish a subgroup that can advance Indigenous rights using mediation. 

Article by Emily Shultis, MBBI Writer