The United Nations and New York Experience
Kathy Mokaraka from Perth, Western Australia was one of the three Indigenous women sponsored by The International Presentation Association to attend the United Nation’s first World Conference of Indigenous People at the United Nations in New York.
Kathy: “I arrived in New York on the 19th September 2014 about the same time the other two women, Bernadette and Edina from Zambia, arrived.
We were met at the airport and taken for our first experience in New York, a ride on the subway, our first taste of New York. It appeared big, noisy, fast, and manic with more people than I had ever seen in one place at one time.
After arriving and settling into The Leo House on 23rd & 8th Avenue, we went to dinner with our hosts. We were too tired to register being in the Big Apple.The following day, we visited the 9/11 Memorial. This was very moving for me, as I remember watching this shocking and disturbing event on television in Australia years ago. Bernadette, Edina and I decided to explore further by taking a double decker bus tour around New York. This gave us a greater view of the city, and we didn’t have to walk. We watched in awe at the skyscrapers, the many lights, the enormous number of people moving everywhere and the iconic sights I had only heard of in movies.
The following day Sunday 21st September, we attended Mass and joined one of the biggest events of people power ever seen by us, the Climate Change March. We were told that they expected around 250,000 people. Later we heard that there were approximately 400,000 people who marched peacefully and even joyously.
After attending the march, we registered for the United Nation’s World Indigenous Conference. I found this process a little disorganised (by the organisers), but we managed to register and receive our passes for the following day at the United Nations. I received 3 passes. All in the overflow section. 2 passes for the first day and one for the closing.
Day One of the Conference – Welcome to the United Nations
We woke early and prepared for the first day of the Conference. We were very excited at entering the great United Nations in New York. We arrived in plenty of time and were in awe at the great security surrounding the UN, later learning that the General Assembly consisted of the “Heads of State” were present at the same time.
Although Edina, Bernadette and I were in the ‘overflow’, we watched the proceedings with interest in the great hall. There were some magnificent speakers, my personal favourites were the American Indigenous people, who opened the Conference and spoke.
We watched all the countries giving statements in the great hall. We learned every Indigenous person who spoke had the same story and issues as we had.
Although we didn’t fully understand the UN process we learned that Indigenous people who spoke about their struggles for justice, equality and climate change were speaking not only from their own perspective, but in the united voices of all Indigenous people. This gave me hope … but I wondered, so many words, and such little action flowing on to people on the ground in communities.
All speakers talked about Implementation of the United Nations Declaration of the Rights of Indigenous people. I wondered when this would happen.
Day Two of the Conference
As we only had a pass for the closing ceremony in the afternoon, we attended a ‘Sacred Circle’ hosted in the Nigerian Embassy. Led by Dawn Skywalker, we gathered and connected as Indigenous peoples within the Circle, and shared our experiences. It was a great event where people could slow down, sit and share their stories together.
After lunch, we attended the last part of the UN Conference. Because there was a Climate Change Conference at the same time in the UN, the closing ceremony of the Indigenous Conference was held in the ‘overflow’ room where all Indigenous people gathered, many dressed in traditional dress.
The United Nations experience was summed up for me by one of the Keynote Speakers at the Closing Ceremony: “the UN represents everything that is wrong in the world, and everything that is right in the world”.
I agree with this statement. I wondered when Indigenous people would be able to assert their rights in their own countries. I hoped that being part of it, in some small way, would help my people.
Day Three – Presentation of Community people’s voice
On the Wednesday, Bernadette, Edina, Justine and I were panel members for an interactive program, speaking on the challenges, struggles, resilience and contributions of our people.
It was held at St Francis of Assisi Church and was well attended. Each of us presented a short overview of relevant information from our Indigenous people.
I was very interested to hear of the Indian and Zambian experiences of their Indigenous people. The stories were very similar, colonization had created a separation of the Indigenous people from their lands, culture, and political participation. This was the recurring theme for all speakers I had heard during my time in New York. It was a worthwhile experience being at the UN.
I wish all my brother and sister Indigenous people success and happiness.”
– Report by Kathy Mokaraka, Perth, Western Australia