United Nations Permanent Forum on Indigenous Issues (UNPFII) Report

From May 9 to May 16, 2016 UCLA students engaged in American Indian Studies participated in the working of the fifteenth session of the United Nations Permanent Forum on Indigenous Issues (UNPFII) in New York. Permanent Forum is an advisory body to UN Economic and Social Council and a focal UN point for coordination of activities in the area of indigenous issues. The Forum is also a unique space for political dialogue between indigenous politicians, representatives of member states and international community.

The trip was possible due to support by UCLA American Indian Studies Center. It was led by the Center visiting scholar Ulia Gosart (Popova) who also organized a seminar “Resolving Conflict and Loss - an Indigenous Path” which featured as a side event of the Forum’s session. The seminar occurred on May 12 and featured case studies of structural violence against indigenous peoples from New Zealand, Samoa and annexed Crimea. It offered a critique of violence against indigenous people and a path toward healing to contribute to this year Forum’s theme “Indigenous peoples: conflict, peace and resolution.” The seminar also provided Lydia Faitalia, a part of the UCLA students delegation, a venue to share her research with the Forum’s delegates:

Lydia Faitalia presenting

The students learned of the functions of the UNPFII by joining the Opening Ceremony of the Forum, participating in the Forum’s plenary sessions and attending events organized by the UN bodies involved in indigenous issues and governments. Students also took part in the UNPFII training session and in the dialogue with Special Rapporteur on Indigenous Issues Victoria Tauli-Corpuz. By personal meetings with politicians and scholars involved in indigenous issues, including WIPO indigenous fellow Hai-Yuean Tualimaun, UNPFII Vice Chair Valmaine Toki, and UN Special Rapporteur in Cultural Rights Karima Bennoune, they gained an insight into experiences of indigenous advocacy work. The trip concluded with students’ participation at the Columbia University Seminar on Indigenous Peoples’ Rights conducted in support of the Forum session.

Here are a few words from the students:

Gabby Beeler (undergraduate student, President of the American Indian Student Association): Being in the same room with so many different indigenous leaders from around the world was a once in a lifetime experience that I'll never forget! I loved learning how to diplomatically bring to light important indigenous issues and I hope to bring this knowledge to use at a campus-wide level by addressing issues of Native retention and outreach.

Gabby Beeler and Jane Davis at the opening ceremony, UN General Assembly

Iris Colburn (undergraduate student in Art History and minoring in American Indian Studies): My time at the UN demonstrated firsthand the necessity and power of community based work and governance, at all levels of engagement.  This experience will direct my approach of my writing on and curating of contemporary Native art, one to be integrative, rooted in relations, so that I may write and speak not for, but in proximity to. I am grateful to have learned and heard firsthand about ongoing issues from Indigenous leaders and representative groups at this international level.

Jane Davis (far left), Lydia Faitalia (center) and Iris Colburn (far right) with UNPFII delegates.

Practical exposure to the United Nations activities remains by far the best learning tool to inspire students to contribute to their communities by means of political engagement and advocacy.  By means of this trip the Center greatly strengthened support for UCLA students in American Indian Studies.

Posted June 6, 2016 9:20 AM PST