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Inspiring Indigenous internationalism

Piers Kreps graduated from McMaster’s political science program in the Faculty of Social Sciences in the spring of 2018. He writes about his experience attending the United Nations Permanent Forum on Indigenous Issues and shares his insights

Jul 17, 2018

My desire to reconnect with my people, engage with Indigenous peoples from around the world, and love of political discourse led me to attend a unique training for Indigenous peoples called Project Access. This program is offered by the Tribal Link Foundation in New York City. What follows is an account of my experience at the United Nations Headquarters in New York, how I got there, and the lessons I learned.

I grew up outside my home community of Tuktoyaktuk, which lies on the Arctic Ocean 150 km north of Inuvik in the Northwest Territories. When I was five years old, my dad took my sister and I to Toronto. Since then, I’ve lived, grown, and been accustomed to life in the south, graduating from high school and university. Unmotivated by introductory courses, I took a brief hiatus and found myself working in the field of Sport for Development at Right To Play. This gave me the opportunity to reconnect with Indigenous communities across the country. Prior to that, I had been ashamed of my heritage but that experience motivated me to go back to school [at McMaster] and complete my degree. My desire to get involved in international Indigenous politics began during a unique community exchange with Indigenous Water Rights Activists in Gisborne, New Zealand (Aotearoa), complimenting an experiential learning class with Dr. Dawn Martin-Hill of Indigenous Studies. Following our trip to New Zealand, we reconnected with Maori and supported their statements (or interventions, in United Nations (UN) lingo) at the UN Ocean Conference in New York City. There, I was able to connect with Tribal Link Executive Director, Pamela Kraft; who invited me to the Project Access training.

Indigenous peoples have been active on the international stage for decades. The first major appearance on the global stage was by Haudenosaunee Chief Deskaheh (Cayuga, Six Nations); who traveled to Geneva in 1923 to seek recognition from the League of Nations. The League dissolved and the world descended to world war.  The push for Indigenous involvement in international politics resurged in the mid 1970s and onwards, including: international UN-commissioned studies, an International Decade of Indigenous Peoples, and the creation of the United Nations Permanent Forum on Indigenous Issues (UN PFII); the Forum which I attended. The forum is an annual event that takes place at the UN headquarters in New York City the last two weeks of April. It provides our people with an opportunity to influence various agencies within the UN network. NYC is also a convenient and accessible location for Indigenous groups from all over the world.

As an Inuk, my people (Inuit) reside in four ‘host states’: Russia, USA, Canada, and Greenland (Denmark). This factor has motivated me to get involved in international politics. Borders, as they are seen [and created] by western constructs, did not traditionally exist to Inuit. As a result, our rights often vary as we cross borders. The Inuit experience in Greenland is different than in Canada, as our parliaments view our rights as Inuit differently. What drives us as Indigenous peoples to the international stage is the desire to advocate for our rights as a collective.

Read the full story at: https://dailynews.mcmaster.ca/article/inspiring-indigenous-internationalism/

See video of Piers' Soc Sci Social Media takeover at: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=j48My8A97Es&feature=youtu.be