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Fall 2011 - National Indian Child Welfare Association

Fall 2011 - National Indian Child Welfare Association

United Nations

United Nations Indigenous Fellowship Lists NICWA’s Senior Program Director as One of Eight Fellows, Representing Indigenous Peoples of the North American Continent NICWA is an organization that invests in and supports employees to pursue professional development and leadership opportunities that would complement individual interest and growth. I had a personal desire to learn about human rights and their implications to protect Indigenous children in the United States. Terry Cross strongly supported my interest, and together we linked my interest to my professional development plan, which in the long run supports NICWA’s mission to be an organization where special- Melissa Clyde, during her UN Fellowship ized information and advocacy to protect American Indian and Alaska Native children expands internationally. On February 28, 2011, I was notified by the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) at the United Nations in Geneva, Switzerland, that I was one of eight English-speaking Indigenous people in the world to participate in the United Nations Indigenous Fellowship Programme. I was selected to represent my Indigenous community of the Navajo Nation, NICWA, and the United States. The Indigenous Fellowship Programme (IFP) was launched by the OHCHR in the context of the first International Decade of the World’s Indigenous Peoples (1995/2004). The aim of the program is to give Indigenous people the opportunity to gain knowledge about the U.N. system and mechanisms dealing with human rights in general and Indigenous issues in particular, with the expectation that fellows will assist their organizations and communities in protecting and promoting the rights of their people. In its first decade, more than 100 Indigenous men and women from 46 countries undertook the program. The first attempt by Indigenous people to gain visibility at the international level occurred in the 1920s. In 1923, Cayuga Chief Deskaheh presented some claims of Indigenous issues to the League of Nations, but was not successful. In 1924, T.W. Ratana (Maori) attempted again where small doors of opportunity opened through the International Labor Organization. Eight English-speaking fellows from the Indigenous People of Sammi (Norway); Karenni (Burma); Khmu Lao Therng (Laos); Tampuan (Cambodia); Palama/Palawa (Australia); Marma (Bangladesh); Mbororo (Cameroon); and the Navajo (United States) came together to learn, dialogue, network, and understand human rights in five weeks. My personal experience at the U.N. was life-changing and helped me look at immediate Indigenous issues (e.g., climate change, intellectual property, culture and language preservation, decision-making, self-determination, etc.) from a broad worldview. The Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples (DRIP) was widely discussed, and I learned how to use this instrument to inform and educate people as well as partner with policy makers to make better-informed decisions through meaningful and early consultation with Indigenous people in North America. Lastly, the fellowship taught me how to monitor and document human rights violations. Not only did the formal classroom setting conducted in other languages expand my thinking about how to become a better leader for the protection of human rights, the most meaningful learning took place in informal and formal meetings at the U.N. I witnessed the U.N.’s mechanisms by participating in the Expert Mechanism on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples (EMRIP). EMRIP focuses on providing the Human Rights Council with thematic expertise on the rights of Indigenous people in the form of a report. Expertise at EMRIP is provided by studies and research-based advice by member states/countries and Indigenous people representing non-governmental organizations (NGOs). The participants at EMRIP provided information on education, decision-making, and the implementation of DRIP. (continued next page) 4

(continued from previous page) I also attended the U.N. World Intellectual Property Organization’s Intergovernmental Committee on Intellectual Property and Genetic Resources Conference. Indigenous experts presented best practices and future research on intellectual property. Intellectual property includes such things as designs, song, dance, stories, jewelry, art, crafts, and traditional practices. Although violations and the misuse of intellectual property continue to occur worldwide, Indigenous peoples must learn how to document, educate, and protect the things that make up their identities, cultures, and existence. I personally met with the U.S. Ambassador, special rapporteur on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples, chairperson of the Permanent Forum, committee secretary on the Rights of the Child, committee secretary on the Elimination of Discrimination Against Women, desk officer for the United States, and other U.N. staff working toward the protection of Indigenous children. Melissa Clyde and Susanne Amalie, Saami (Norway), at the Expert Mechanism on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples held at the United Nations in Geneva, Switzerland I left the fellowship with friendships and professional relationships that support my personal mission to protect Indigenous children. I believe Indigenous children deserve to grow up with access to and pride in their family traditions, language, song, dance, land of their ancestors, spirituality, plants and animals, natural resources, etc., that make them whole human beings. The fellowship offered me the opportunity as a leader to self-reflect, step outside of my comfort zone, and understand human rights from a broader worldview. Now, I have a better appreciation, respect, honor, and love of my original homeland of the Navajo Nation; all our tribal leaders protecting our sovereignty; elders; NICWA and our national partners, community leaders, and members who all want to promote the existence of our people through the protection of children, their rights, and our culture. For more information about OHCHR, the DRIP, or IFP, please go to the following website: www.ohchr.org. Aissatou Bouba, Nala Mansell-McKenna, Melissa Clyde, and Namthipkesone Bouttasing touring the United Nations Article submitted by Melissa Clyde NICWA Senior Program Director 5

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