Russel Barsh

Russel Barsh was a weekend beachcomber and fossil hunter as a child growing up on Long Island Sound who went on to study paleontology at Harvard with Stephen Jay Gould.  Friendships in Indian country and a research trip to Fiji in 1970 convinced him to opt for a law degree to be able to defend the environmental integrity of traditional peoples.  His friendship and collaboration with Sakej Henderson began at Harvard Law School, including an effort to compel the 350-year-old university to honor its original commitments to providing free education for Native scholars.  Russel taught at the University of Washington and helped develop its American Indian Studies Center, then pursued a second career as an adviser to the Grand Council and consultant to United Nations agencies on indigenous and tribal peoples in sensitive ecosystems such as the Kalahari.  This included coordinating indigenous peoples’ input in the 1992 Earth Summit, helping negotiate the revised ILO convention on indigenous peoples and the UN declaration on the rights of indigenous peoples, and helping establish the UN Permanent Forum on Indigenous Issues.  He played an important role as personal advisor and speechwriter for Dr. Erica-Irene Daes, the chair of the UN Working Group on Indigenous Populations. Russel also participated in three Royal Commissions: the Royal Commission on Seals and the Sealing Industry (as a commissioner), the Royal Commission on Aboriginal Peoples (researcher and personal advisor), and the Treaty Commission in Saskatchewan (senior mandarin).  Russel taught at Lethbridge with Leroy Little Bear, at Dartmouth, and at New York University in the 1990s, then returned to the Northwest in 2000 at the urging of a longstanding friend, Samish Tribal leader Ken Hanson, with whom he founded Kwiaht as an application of his scientific training to what Aboriginal Australians describe as “taking care of country”... or “netukulimk” in Mi’kmaw.

Added to Archives 2014