Western Michigan University Cooley Law students Stephanie Samuels and Linda Marion attended the 15th Session of the United Nations Permanent Forum on Indigenous Issues (UNPFII) at United Nations Headquarters in New York City. The forum topic was Indigenous Rights and Stephanie and Linda were inspired. They share their experience below.
We both took a course on Indigenous Rights during our participation in WMU-Cooley’s New Zealand foreign study program last winter. This eventually led us from New Zealand to New York to participate in the United Nations forum on the topic this past spring. Valmaine Toki, our law professor at the University of Waikato, encouraged us to attend the meeting. Professor Toki is an internationally respected expert in the field of Indigenous issues and the Vice Chair on the United Nations Permanent Forum on Indigenous Issues.
The theme of the 15th Annual Session of the UNPRII was “Indigenous Peoples: Conflict, Peace, and Resolution.” The topics covered included: autonomous processes and indigenous self-governance; the rights of Indigenous people to their ancestral lands and sustainable development; the effect of climate change, climate projects, and the Paris Agreement; the preservation of indigenous languages and culture; the unique role of indigenous women in addressing indigenous issues and gender equality; the role of nations in helping or hindering progress for indigenous peoples; the disproportionately high rate of suicide among indigenous youth, and many more. A special session was held to allow indigenous youth representatives to speak to the forum; this way, they were allowed to participate in the process and express their concerns directly to this powerful international body.
As WMU-Cooley Law School representatives at the forum, we acted as academic observers to the presentations made by representatives of Indigenous peoples, nations, and NGOs from all over the world. During special side events, we were able to interact with indigenous representatives as well as international dignitaries and U.S. government officials from the U.S. Mission to the United Nations. On one occasion, we met one-on-one with EPA Environmental Justice officials and a law professor heading an NGO on the subject area.
Another day, the door was opened to talk with diplomats and Indigenous representatives who assisted in drafting language related to Indigenous peoples for the 2015 Paris Agreement on climate change; there were many such occasions. This was a wonderful opportunity for us — particularly since we are both interested in International Law. It allowed us to meet and interact with members of the global community and high ranking government officials. It broadened our understanding and opened doors to prospective national and international opportunities.
We are thankful to WMU-Cooley and our New Zealand Study Abroad Professor Toki for encouraging us to attend the UNPFII meeting. WMU-Cooley’s Foreign Study Office coordinated and registered us on behalf on the law school, which opened the door for us to attend. We strongly urge other students to seek out similar opportunities as part of their personal and professional development.
INTERESTING AND POTENTIALLY USEFUL LINKS:
Official summary of the 15th Session of the UNPFII.
Official transcript and a video of the presentation by Statement delivered by National Chief Perry Bellegarde.
More information on the United Nations focus on Indigenous peoples.
The United Nations Department of Economic and Social Affairs.
More information on Indigenous peoples rights as they relate to intellectual property concerns (Intellectual Property and Genetic Resources, Traditional Knowledge and Folklore)
More on international law and intellectual property.