A Week at the UN Permanent Forum on Indigenous Issues

Every year CFSC participates in the United Nations Permanent Forum on Indigenous Issues (PFII), as the lead for Friends globally. The theme this year was the critical topic of Indigenous Peoples’ collective rights to lands, territories, and resources. People often ask, “What do you do at the UN?” In answer, we offer a few daily highlights from our busy week at UN headquarters in New York City.
Sunday, April 15, 2018: Sunday started with a preparatory meeting for the week ahead – we drafted a schedule for where we would be and when, since there is hardly a minute to think between meetings and events! We discussed how to make our annual Quaker House dinner a success, and how to make the week run smoothly. A trip to the bureaucratic UN pass office for our accreditation had us meeting up with colleagues in the long waiting line and acquiring our IDs, critical to get us in the buildings all week.
Monday: The first day of the Forum is always the most colourful, with delegates arriving from around the world in their traditional dress and regalia. Tadodaho Sid Hill welcomed us to Onondaga territory, and offered a prayer in the beautiful General Assembly (GA) Hall. Offering a spoken prayer in the GA Hall is actually quite unusual. In fact, there is some Quaker influence in the opening ceremonies of the GA, where its President invites the representatives to observe one minute of silence dedicated to prayer or meditation. We reflected on the space that Indigenous Peoples have fought so hard for in this international arena. These opening ceremonies may be symbolic, but are a momentous achievement when considering Indigenous Peoples’ early struggles for recognition at the UN.
The day was long. In addition to the plenary meetings, we attended events in both the lunch period and after the formal session ended. Our evening event was at the Canadian Mission to the UN – a panel on Indigenous child welfare, with examples of challenges and work being accomplished in Canada, Australia, and New Zealand.
Tuesday: Rachel attended a dialogue session on the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), and how Indigenous Peoples are affected. As a program associate in the Quaker United Nations Office (QUNO) from 2013-2015, Rachel assisted in the lobbying for Goal 16, which relates to peace and good governance. The SDGs are global in nature, which means that they apply to Canada along with every other country in the world. This global nature is important because Canada has a long way to go in addressing the inequalities that persist between Indigenous Peoples and non-Indigenous Peoples. Canada must be accountable to this on the world stage.
Jennifer was busy accompanying Grand Chief Wilton Littlechild in a technical capacity, as he was an honoured speaker (at the invitation of the President of the General Assembly) at a special session on the ongoing issue of the status of Indigenous Peoples in the UN. Indigenous Peoples are not always properly characterized as non-governmental organizations – and yet this is mainly how they are accredited. The UN has been studying this for a few years, but several countries are deeply resistant to strengthening the status of Indigenous Peoples.
Tuesday evening there was a Canadian government event on rights implementation. Afterward a fun highlight of the week was cultural performances that took place in the foyer of the GA Hall. Rachel danced with Neskonlith Chief Judy Wilson from British Columbia to beautiful Andean music!
Wednesday: Jennifer attended a working breakfast at the residence of the Canadian Ambassador. This was an opportunity for discussion between some Indigenous representatives and members of the Canadian government delegation, including on the important issue of participation.
With only one day before the Quaker House Dinner, Rachel and Jennifer both “worked the room” to ensure that all invited attendees would be able to join on Thursday night. Quakers often speak about their work as relationship-based, and indeed this was true, as those who had previously attended Quaker House dinners greeted us warmly and were keen to attend again this year.
The evening included the launch of the book Indigenous World 2018, to which Jennifer annually authors the chapter on Canada. This text shares an important overall view of Indigenous Peoples globally. This year’s publication demonstrated the disturbing trend of growing human rights violations and criminalization of Indigenous human rights defenders.
Thursday: A highlight of our work is always the Quaker House Dinner, which consists of rich dialogue between Member States, PFII members, Indigenous Peoples, and civil society representatives. This year’s topic was the SDGs. This dinner is an ongoing process of relationship- and trust-building to provide space for Indigenous Peoples and States to engage in meaningful dialogue. Again this year we teamed up with longtime partner Kenneth Deer, who chaired the discussion.
Friday: We accompanied Grand Chief Littlechild to a meeting with the Office of the High Commissioner on Human Rights. The meeting was on follow up to the Truth and Reconciliation Commission of Canada. CFSC helped secure a letter from the UN Secretary General in 2015 for the closing events of the TRC, and this meeting was to discuss possible further collaborations. This was also the only day with enough time to connect with our colleagues at the QUNO office for a catch-up on respective work.
CFSC teamed up with many partners for some joint statements to the Forum, which can be found at https://quakerservice.ca/publicstatements. This session our statements focused on UN Declaration implementation and the theme of the session: lands, territories, and resources.
During our week we engage with and support many partners in their efforts to advance Indigenous Peoples’ human rights on the global stage. The 2018 Permanent Forum was a whirlwind and we are ever grateful to QUNO for their practical support (including the comfortable place to lay our heads at night!) and also to our Indigenous partners whom we are proud to work and learn alongside year after year.
Jennifer coordinates CFSC’s Indigenous Rights program and Rachel serves as a committee member.