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Indigenous Peoples gathered at the United Nations headquarters in New York City for the opening of the 2023 UN Permanent Forum on Indigenous Issues. Photo

Indigenous Peoples gathered at the United Nations headquarters in New York City for the opening of the 2023 UN Permanent Forum on Indigenous Issues. Photo by Hill Ossip.

April 4, 2024

Indigenous Rights Defenders Join in Virtual Trainings Ahead of UN Permanent Forum on Indigenous Issues

Four virtual training sessions will cover important information for Indigenous rights defenders to effectively participate in the United Nations Permanent Forum on Indigenous Issues, taking place in New York City this April.

Indigenous Peoples from around the world are participating in four intensive online training sessions this month in preparation for the 23rd Session of the United Nations Permanent Forum on Indigenous Issues (UNPFII). Organized by Nia Tero, the United Nations Voluntary Fund For Indigenous Peoples, and Indigenous Peoples Rights International (IPRI), these virtual sessions are being held during the first two weeks of April, aligning with the commencement of the UNPFII. This year’s UNPFII session will be held from April 15th to 26th at the United Nations Headquarters in New York.

The sessions in the lead-up to the UNPFII aim to equip attendees with key information, knowledge, and skills to effectively participate in the UNPFII and understand what to expect during the event. Interpretation in English, Spanish, Portuguese, and French is being provided to connect and make the event more accessible to Indigenous Peoples from different parts of the world.

Approximately 72 participants joined the first session on April 2. It focused on relevant mechanisms for Indigenous Peoples at the UNPFII level, with a special emphasis on how the Permanent Forum functions and operates. Panelists included Dr. Rosalee Gonzalez, Director of International Advocacy at First Peoples Worldwide, and Prof. Elsa Stamatopoulou, Director of the Indigenous Peoples’ Rights Program at Columbia University and Former Chief of the UNPFII Secretariat. They answered questions from the participants, offered guidance to Indigenous Peoples on how they can prepare for the UNPFII, and encouraged attendees to take the struggles from their territories to the global arena in New York.

“Today’s session was great. The introduction to the UNPFII was fairly elaborate and well-presented. I went to the UNPFII for the first time without having an introduction, and I wish I had had this before,” said Elias Sakau (Maasai, Kenya), from Indigenous Livelihoods Enhancement Partners (ILEPA). “Having a plenary where participants could ask questions was also really good because we got to listen to each other.”

Each of the four training sessions are designed to cover a specific theme. The subsequent sessions will strategically cover a wide range of topics, such as the UNPFII’s agenda for this year, key recommendations from last year’s session, opportunities for Indigenous engagement with actors inside and outside the UNPFII, how to draft and present strong recommendations, and how Indigenous Peoples can convert the results of the UNPFII into action on the ground.

“Indigenous Peoples have their own knowledge systems. When they want to engage in battles outside of their worlds, they need to speak a different language and dialogue with another system, like the United Nations system, which is very challenging,” said Carmen Rosa Guerra Ariza (Kankuama, Colombia), Policy Manager at Nia Tero. “They need more tools to defend themselves, and providing quality information can enable them to optimize their efforts.”

Opportunities For Indigenous Alliances

The UNPFII is a high-level advisory body to the Economic and Social Council, established in 2000 to discuss global issues related to Indigenous Peoples and to ensure their effective participation. Its creation followed concerns from Indigenous Peoples and others that the United Nations’ structures needed to be adequately equipped to address the broad range of issues affecting Indigenous Peoples, and that the participation of Indigenous representatives within the United Nations was limited.

The UNPFII’s activities include providing expert advice and recommendations on Indigenous issues, raising awareness and promoting the integration and coordination of activities related to Indigenous issues within the UN system, preparing and disseminating information on Indigenous issues, and promoting respect for and full application of the provisions of the UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples.

“For newcomers in the UNPFII, this is a great opportunity to establish networks, build solidarity and alliances, and raise the visibility of key issues they face in their communities. For those who attend the forum regularly, there is an opportunity to do concrete follow-up, take stock, and assess progress or gaps of the implementation of the rights of Indigenous Peoples”, said Morse Flores (Ibanag, The Philippines), Secretary of the UN Voluntary Fund for Indigenous Peoples.

UNPFII 23: Focus on Indigenous Youth

This year’s UNPFII will focus on ‘Enhancing Indigenous Peoples’ Right to Self-Determination in the Context of the UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples: Emphasizing the Voices of Indigenous Youth.’

By highlighting Indigenous youth, UNPFII 23 aims to further integrate the youth's perspectives into global policy discussions, acknowledging their critical role in the future of Indigenous communities. For this reason, this year’s forum will be open to those under the age of 18. It is an opportunity for young Indigenous Peoples to participate in global policy debates and contribute to shaping the policies that affect their communities and lands.

Including Indigenous youth in these discussions strengthens Indigenous collective action on key themes such as human rights, biodiversity protection, and climate change, which have disproportionate impacts on the present and future of Indigenous communities.

“Youth defend Indigenous Peoples’ rights because they will have to handle this in the future. They bring a complementary approach while benefiting from elders’ guidance and knowledge. They understand this is a collective effort. They can also be creative with new technology and tools to promote and elevate issues in critical situations in their territories”, said Carmen Rosa Guerra Ariza (Kankuama, Colombia), Policy Manager at Nia Tero.

Learn more and attend the policy trainings: