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The Permanent Forum, a true learning experience for five Wapikoni youth

// Wapikoni mobile

Sunday, May 18, 8:00 PM... The small van is jampacked! Five participants: Melissa Mollen Dupuis, Samian, Emilio Wawatie, Amanda Roy and Craig Commanda, accompanied by Karine van Amerigen and Iphigénie Marcoux-Fortier, two Wapikoni mentors and documentary filmmakers, leave Montreal. They are en route to New York, the United Nations Permanent Forum on Indigenous Issues, and a room filled with 1,500 delegates come together to discuss the implementation of the UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples. 

A 10-hour car ride to prepare, share thoughts on the event, feelings... and arrive in New York excited and eager to speak. 

Monday, May 19, at 8:00 PM, the small delegation moves slowly toward the first subway station and find themselves at the foot of 1 UN Plaza an hour and a half later. Accreditations in hand, it is now time to prep for the event running in parallel during which the youth will present Wapikoni... at 2 UN Plaza. We grab a bite in front of the UNICEF House. The feeling of excitement settles. Everyone is ready and in the presence of a small audience, Melissa Mollen Dupuis presents Wapikoni, its mission and its operations. Then, she hands the floor over to the other participants who respectively present their short films and experiences. Ghislain Picard, Acting Chief of the Assembly of First Nations of Canada, is in the audience and his presence is very rewarding for the youth. Time flies. The questions and answers give way to pack up the equipment! "This is where it happens!" Samian says, "In these events, the encounter takes place in the halls following the speeches." 

At 3:00 PM we return to 1 UN Plaza to listen to the debate about holding the World Conference on Indigenous Peoples in September. Indigenous representatives from around the world are not all in agreement. The form that this event is taking is moving away from what the General Assembly requested in 2010, which was a high-level plenary meeting whose main objective is to share perspectives and best practices on the realization of the rights of Indigenous peoples and to pursue the objectives of the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples

This objective rings true to that of Wapikoni’s: Contribute to safeguarding First Nations cultural heritage. It is for this reason that the Wapikoni would like to participate in the World Conference of Indigenous Peoples – to share its experience. In its collection of Successful Practices in 2011, the Organization of American States presents Wapikoni Mobile as the Canadian organization whose practices are part of the "cultural initiatives that have influenced some aspects of development, such as reduced violence, poverty, and dropout rates, among other things, and have pushed towards more just and egalitarian societies."

However, the debates around the Conference have clearly reflected the dissatisfaction of Aboriginal representatives and their doubts about the power of representation. Ultimately, it is the United Nations, and therefore Member States, organizing this conference, that offends Aboriginal representatives because in their respective countries they constantly assert their rights to these same States... 

So participate? Or not participate? Wapikoni asks itself that very question! And with that, the delegation makes its way to Brooklyn... but this time by ferry, which is much faster and more pleasant than the subway!

The next day, Samian wakes early and starts his day with a series of interviews with Radio-Canada, the French division of the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation (CBC). Meanwhile, the youth prepare for their second day ahead set out to be hectic, as they will hear James Anaya’s report, the Special Rapporteur on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples. Melissa Mollen Dupuis intends to address him. 

At the Permanent Forum, Melissa heads to the registration table for speeches. She has the green light! She must write an essay of a maximum of three minutes, which she must then submit fifteen copies and submit to translation. In search of a computer, she spends the morning and early afternoon reading Mr. Anaya’s report and writing her speech. Upon her return, her name is featured on the list of "speakers"; the butterflies jump up a notch. 

While waiting for her name to be called, Radio-Canada interviews her. However, with the clock ticking, Samian takes over as her name has not yet been called out. Speeches follow and the president of the assembly takes care of distributing the names listed by region of the world from which Aboriginal representatives are from... Time passes as the end of the session approaches. The president passes the mic to Professor Anaya who has completed his mandate. He hands the mic over to Vicky Tauli-Corpuz, who will replace him in his functions. The president apologizes to representatives who had asked to speak... the lack of time. The session ends.

"I'm not disappointed. How many people prepare to climb Everest, and once on the mountain, for many reasons cannot reach the top? Well it’s the same! But at least I'm on the mountain!" Melissa stated prior to running over to meet Mr. Anaya as he left the room. 

Time to say goodbye to the representatives met during this session, to exchange a few business cards and take some pictures. Wapikoni’s UN delegation’s experience ends. Now that the delegation is familiar with the procedures and operations of the Permanent Forum, the delegation wishes to pursue this experience again next year. See you in 2015 for the 14th session!