United Nations Permanent Forum on Indigenous Issues 2022

Youth Delegates to UNPFII in New York City

When Dakota Crow Spreads His Wings was young, his grandparents would tell him stories about attending big meetings at the UN headquarters in New York City. Although they have since passed on, Dakota said being in the buildings at the UN headquarters, it is incredible to think that they walked the same halls, and sat in the same rooms.

“I wanted to get a full experience of what it is to be in the UN,” he said, “It’s always been a dream of mine to come, and to see what they were talking about.”

Dakota, now 26, is a part of our Youth Delegation to the United Nations Permanent Forum on Indigenous Issues, who were in New York City last week for the Forum. Accompanying them was CWY-JCM alum Daryl Kootenay from Stoney Nakoda First Nation.

Meet the Delegates

Youth Delegates are from the Nakoda Youth Council in Alberta and from Humber College in Ontario. Dakota and Daryl were joined by Lita Crawler, Leera Waskewitch, Dustin Housebearspaw, Mekowasopesim (Meko) Misquadis-Mack, Kara Neveau, and co-supervisor Kevin Vose-Landivar, who is the coordinator of Indigenous Education and Engagement at Humber College.

Daryl, co-founder of the Nakoda Youth Council, went with the first CWY-JCM delegation at the UN permanent forum back in 2014 and is also an alum of the Peru International Aboriginal Youth Internship (“IAYI”) exchange program. A faculty at the Banff Centre for Indigenous Leadership, a public speaker, traditional dancer, singer, artist, and proud father, Daryl said he is honoured and delighted to be leading the delegates through this journey.

Katsenhaienton Lazare, Bear Clan, Mohawk of the Haudenosaunee, who opened the sessions at the UN on Monday with a traditional welcoming ceremony, and Daryl Kootenay (left), at UN Headquarters in New York City (25/04/2022).

“I’ve been trying to grasp what is happening, just soaking in being able to be a part of this,” said Kara, who is in her 4th year of Community Development at Humber College. “I’m really excited to be a part of the conversations.”

Senator Michèle Audette provided inspiring words and insight to the delegates prior to their departure. The Senator is a former CWY-JCM participant herself, having done an exchange to Brazil as a teenager in 1993.

“To defend, to promote, to advocate, it’s the right place,” she said. “You carry thousands of years of knowledge inside of you, I know that because I feel it. So enjoy. Go. Don’t be afraid,” Senator Audette told the young delegates. “It’s a mosaic of experiences, but very powerful.”

“When we have a voice, we remind them (world leaders), ‘you could do better,’ and this is where it does influence the policy, the politics, or the legislation here in Canada. You can influence that. It might take time before we see the results, but when we see it, it’s very exciting.”

“You will become for us the watch-caribou, the watch-moose, collectively you’re making sure that our voices are represented by your presence, so I say thank you to you,” said the Senator. Read more about her journey below.

Many Indigenous people in Canada are still living in a parallel country, where their basic human rights are not always being met. According to the Human Rights Watch World Report 2022, “Wide-ranging abuses against Indigenous peoples persist across Canada with significant challenges remaining to undo decades of structural and systemic discrimination.”

Delegates supporting Dustin House-Bearspaw, who made a statement to the UN about the contaminated drinking water in his community.

Some of the most pressing issues facing Indigenous people in Canada include access to clean drinking water, persistent and disproportionate levels of violence against Indigenous women and girls, and systemic social and economic inequalities such as reduced life expectancy, and higher suicide rates.

Despite these challenges, seeing the international Indigenous community coming together has been incredible, said Kevin, who is Indigenous to Ecuador, but grew up in Canada.

“No matter what part of the world they are in, they’re all trying to ensure that the world is here and healthy to continue to allow us to have a home to live in. They’re all working to better the future for youth of today and the youth of tomorrow.”

Leera, Lita and Dustin explore Times Square (24/04/2022).

Leera, who just finished her first year of college in Calgary, said the experience has inspired her to be more of an ambassador to youth back home. “My aunt and uncle help the youth who are dealing with intergenerational trauma from the residential schools,” she said. Leera wants to get more involved with their work.

“I think this experience is teaching me how to use my voice,” said Lita, 20, who is a barrel-racer in Alberta. “I was really honoured to be one of the chosen delegates, and I’m just trying to take everything in, take all the information and see what I can bring back to my community.”

Many of the important conversations and connections made at UNPFII happen outside the official meetings, said Daryl. For him, the richness of the experience comes from the encounters such as those in the coffee shop downstairs at UN headquarters or speaking with demonstrators outside the buildings.

 

Rob Norris (left), CWY-JCM board of directors, and Youth Delegates met with Métis Nation President, Cassidy Caron (25/04/22).

“We went to a side event about Indigenous revitalization strategies,” said Dustin, “we heard the perspectives from the nations around the world and their voices and those conversations where true nation to nation talks. A lot of us share a similar story, just different geographical locations.”

“It’s something that I’ll remember forever and it definitely built me as a person and helped my career.”

“To meet and be with other Indigenous people who know about Indigenous issues, and to learn how we can improve upon those issues,” said Meko, who is currently his first year of Media Studies at Humber College, and thinking of going into Journalism. “That’s why I wanted to go.”

“This experience,” said Kara, “I’ll definitely cherish it forever. I’m super grateful that I can even say I’m here right now. Thank you to everyone that has brought me here.”

Thank you to Senator Audette for her sage advice, thank you to our incredible youth delegation and to Daryl and Kevin for guiding them through this journey.

Thank you to Power Corporation of Canada for their sponsorship of our Youth Delegation to UNPFII 2022. 

Delegates at the podium in the General Assembly Hall at the United Nations (28/04/2022).

Senator Michèle Taïna Audette: her journey from CWY, to the United Nations Permanent Forum, and beyond

Senator Michèle Audette, Courtesy and copyright of the Senate of Canada.

Michèle Audette was just 18 years old when she was accepted for a CWY exchange in Quebec and Brazil.  

During her exchange, Audette met with CWY-JCM founder Senator Jacques Hebert, who told her; “You have one opportunity, so seize it, because it will show you many, many things that you carry inside of you, gifts that you are not even aware that you have.” 

At first, the young woman dismissed Sen. Hebert’s words, not believing in her own strength, but over the years, she said, she learned about the power of her voice to create change. 

When she was 28 years old, Audette was elected to Quebec Native Women, and she had the opportunity to travel to New York and Geneva and participate in numerous high level forums. 

“It was a cultural shock to see that we have leaders who are defending the land, defending Indigenous rights, defending the language. That they would go inside the UN to remind the world that we never surrendered, we’re still alive and we will fight to make sure that we are respected and recognized. It was the decade of the Indigenous people,” said Senator Michèle Audette. 

During the negotiations for the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples, Audette had her first opportunity to use the power of her voice. 

“All nervous, I stood up in that huge room at the UN. I was shaking, I was nervous, but I was reading my little piece of paper, and I said, this declaration, promise me, you people who will influence, or lobby your countries, your people, the official delegation, can we have an article that will say in that declaration that every article will also apply to Indigenous women?” 

Following her statement, Audette said she was admonished for her actions. Representatives at the meeting told her she was slowing down progress, and that she had risked discouraging states from ratifying the declaration.  

“If we open the door for women, we will have to open it for people with disabilities, for youth and elders,” she was told  

 Instead of backing down, Audette asked ‘Why not?’ 

“This is who we are, this is the circle of life,” she said, “Let’s be creative, let’s be who we are.” Gradually, said Audette, women around the world stood up in support of her proposal. “Today we have that article in the UNDRIP,” she said, “A little voice that became a movement.”

From there, Audette went on to become the President of the Native Women’s Association of Canada, and in 2021, she was appointed by Prime Minister Justin Trudeau to the Senate of Canada.  

Now, she aims to pass the torch to the younger generations. “We need more women and more men who probably have more energy than I do and other people to go to those meetings,” Sen. Audette told our youth delegates to UNPFII 2022. 

“Canada made a commitment on reconciliation, but we are passed that, now we want to see the action, the sincerity, so your presence, your voice might make them a little uncomfortable, you have that power.” 

At CWY-JCM our raison d’être is helping young people find their voices, and we cannot do that without the generosity of people such as yourselves. Help more young people find their voices and become the change makers of tomorrow. 

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