Armstrong Wiggins, Director of the Indiana Law Resource Center (Washington D.C. office) sits down with Lucianne Walkowicz, Baruch S. Blumberg Chair in Astrobiology at the Library of Congress and an Astronomer at Adler Planetarium, to examine: What would be the potential implications of discovering life beyond Earth (scientific, cultural, philosophical, ethical), and do they warrant the billions of dollars spent on the endeavor? Dr. Avi Mandell, exoplanet scientist in the Planetary Systems Laboratory at Goddard Space Flight Center, will introduce the speakers and provide a framework to the topic of Life.
Armstrong A. Wiggins serves as Director of the Washington, D.C office of the Indian Law Resource Center’s (Center). Born in Nicaragua, Wiggins is a Mískito indian from the village of Karatá, La Moskitia. At the age of eighteen, he became President of his Karatá community and in 1972, he became a founding member of AIPROMISU, the first Indian regional organization in La Moskitia, an organization that works to defend Miskito rights to self-determination, to land, territories, environment, natural resources, sustainable development and their cultural survival.
In 1977, Wiggins and other indigenous leaders from the Americas and from around the world traveled to the United Nations’ headquarters in Geneva, Switzerland to demand that the international community hold countries accountable for taking away their lands, natural resources and children, and violating their rights of self-government and self-determination. The result of this international effort was the eventual birth of the United Nations Declaration.
After the Sandinista Revolution of 1979, Wiggins became the national representative for MISURASATA, a regional indian organization in Nicaragua. Due to his human rights work in La Moskitia, Wiggins was arrested both during the Somoza and Sandinista regimes and was taken as a political prisoner. His political situation forced him into exile in 1981; his education and influence as an indigenous leader had made him a threat to national political interests. In the United States, Wiggins began working for the Center and served as Director of its Mexico, Central and South America Program in their Washington D.C Office. For the past two decades, Wiggins has been actively involved on numerous human rights cases involving indigenous peoples of the Americas at the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights and the Inter-American Court of Human Rights. Some of the important historical milestones of his work with the Center include:
- The 1979 case of the Yanomami indians of Brazil, which was the first case to discuss the rights of indigenous peoples in the Americas. Tragically, the massacre of indigenous people in Brazil was relatively common during that period. Thanks to the Center’s involvement, the Yanomami gained protection and were able to self-manage their own natural park.
- Assisting Miskito Indian leaders of Nicaragua in seeking support from the Inter-American Commission during the years of civil war between Miskito Indian Nations and the Sandinista leftist government of the 1980s. The Center’s involvement lead to changes in the Nicaraguan constitution in 1987.
- In 1995, the Center filed the Awas Tingni vs Nicaragua case which resulted in a landmark ruling by the Inter-American Court of Human Rights in 2001 to protect indigenous peoples’ right to collective land, environment, and natural resources.
- The case of the Maya people of southern Belize, who were demanding recognition of their land and resource rights, rights which were completely denied by the Belizean government at the time. The case prompted the creation of a law protecting their rights and was rapidly adopted by Belize’s Supreme Court.
- The case of Mary and Carrie Dann against the United States for the illegal taking of the Western Shoshone Nation’s territory and for the implementation of racist laws and discriminatory practices towards Indian people.
Wiggins played a leading role in the Center’s standard setting work with the United Nations (UN) and the Organizations of American States (OAS), particularly during the adoption of the U.N. Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples by the U.N. on September 13, 2007, and the adoption of the American Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples by the OAS on June 15, 2016. Since 2004, Mr. Wiggins supervises the Center’s international efforts towards standard setting in international bodies such as the U.N. and O.A.S. and Multi-lateral Development Banks (MDBs), as well as the management of legal cases for the protection of the human rights of the indigenous peoples of the Americas.