What’s in a Typical Day at the UN?

The UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples is of critical importance in the struggle to transform relationships based on colonialism and oppression to ones based on human rights and mutual respect. We know how significant the UN Declaration is to Indigenous Peoples, and we work for its full implementation through being active allies at both the United Nations Permanent Forum on Indigenous Issues (UN PFII) in New York and the UN Expert Mechanism on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples (EMRIP) in Geneva.
 
Each year we work with Indigenous partner organizations to prepare Joint Statements to be submitted and delivered orally (you can find them at http://quakerservice.ca/resources/). Such statements can impact the final UN reports and recommendations. This year we focused on the 10th anniversary of the UN Declaration, as well as the issue of Indigenous Peoples’ enhanced participation at the UN. In April, CFSC staff Jennifer Preston was joined by CFSC member Rachel Singleton-Polster at the PFII. In July, Jennifer traveled to Geneva for EMRIP.
 
In addition to the written statements and attendance in the plenary, CFSC engages with many Indigenous partners, government representatives, UN officials, academics, and civil society groups. The days and evenings are filled with attendance in the main session, meetings, side events, conversations, and generally hurrying to the next place we are meant to be! Coordinating with the Quaker UN Offices (QUNO) enhances our work. We are blessed with, and thankful for, the use of Quaker House in both New York and Geneva. We always enjoy connecting with these sister Quaker organizations.
 
At the PFII we hosted a dinner for state and Indigenous representatives on the theme of participation. At EMRIP, together with QUNO Geneva, we hosted a dinner for state representatives to meet with UN appointed expert members of EMRIP. The dialogues held over dinner or coffee at Quaker House offer a unique atmosphere of candor and productivity. In Geneva, Jennifer also presented to the Quaker summer school on the work Friends do internationally to support Indigenous Peoples. The summer school students then took in a session of EMRIP.
 
To provide readers with a snapshot of what we do at the UN, here is a description of a day in the work of Friends representing Quakers at the PFII:
 
Monday April 24, 2017, Jennifer and Rachel begin two weeks of representing Friends at the seventieth session of the United Nations PFII. As usual, we are enjoying a humble yet comfortable stay at Quaker House very near to the UN. Quaker House is a historic brownstone, available to Friends as they carry out the work of the Friends World Committee for Consultation at the UN. It may be the only place in midtown Manhattan where one can wake up to the sound of birdsong (there are lovely shared gardens at the back of the House, a haven for wildlife in the bustling city).
 
Today is a busy day for us, Rachel starts off with a welcome reception at the Permanent Mission of Canada (conveniently directly across the street from Quaker House) and Jennifer goes straight to work with partners from Indigenous Peoples’ organizations on editing our joint statement on the implementation of the UN Declaration. This year marks the tenth anniversary of the Declaration, so the theme of this year’s Forum is implementation of the Declaration.
 
After our respective morning meetings, we congregate in the UN’s grand General Assembly Hall for the opening of the Forum. This is always a fun morning as everyone is in their finest clothes and it is a colourful room of friendly faces greeting one and other – like a high-school reunion Jennifer exclaims – as she has attended all except one of the Permanent Forums.
 
We hear statements from high-level UN representatives, and also from Canada’s Minister of Indigenous and Northern Affairs, Carolyn Bennett. Despite Canada’s lofty promise last year at this very Forum – saying it supported the UN Declaration without qualification and would fully implement it – significant progress on this promise remains sorely lacking. CFSC has long advocated alongside Indigenous Peoples for a legislative framework for implementing the Declaration, precisely so that governments have a framework for action to see real changes.
 
After a long day of high level statements, in the evening we remain at the UN and listen to a panel of experts discuss the issue of violence against Indigenous women and girls in Canada, Mexico, and the United States. Bev Jacobs, an advocate, leader, and lawyer from Six Nations, speaks truth to power on this issue, and we’re enriched by her wisdom. We leave the UN approximately 12 hours after the day began, full of the many important conversations we had engaged with and plans for the coming week.

 
This is just a glimpse of one day at the UN. CFSC works with our partners year round to build and promote this international level of human rights advocacy, as it informs all our domestic relationships and efforts in the implementation of the UN Declaration. For more information about the PFII and EMRIP see: http://quakerservice.ca/our-work/indigenous-peoples-rights/international-forums/
 
Jennifer Preston is the staff person for CFSC’s Indigenous Rights work and Rachel Singleton-Polster is a CFSC member.