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Empowering Youth Voices: Reflections of a Young Indigenous Woman at the UNPFII 2024

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Text and Photos by Sabba Rani Maharjan, Executive Council Member, Asia Indigenous Youth Platform (AIYP)

As an Indigenous young woman from the Newa Nation of Nepal, the opportunity to represent my community and the broader spectrum of young Indigenous people in Asia at the 23rd session of the United Nations Permanent Forum on Indigenous Issues (UNPFII) was an exhilarating experience. The 23rd UNPFII, which took place from 15 April to 26 April 2024 in New York, stands as a global platform dedicated to the discussion of Indigenous issues, addressing severe human rights violations, providing expert advice and recommendations to the Council and various programs, funds, and agencies of the UN, and raising awareness about Indigenous concerns while facilitating integration and coordination of activities within the UN system.

The journey leading up to UNPFII involved rigorous preparation and logistical challenges, but the experience of being there made it all worthwhile. The question of whether it was worth it echoes loudly, and from my professional standpoint as a first-time participant, the resounding answer is, “Yes!“.

It is indeed historic to be able to participate where many of our Indigenous relatives fought tooth and nail for years to make this forum a reality. The initial days were a whirlwind of activity, acquainting myself with the intricate processes and dynamics of the UN and the forum itself. One of the immediate challenges was navigating the multitude of concurrent events — main room statements and side events addressing crucial topics — forcing me to prioritize where to direct my focus strategically. The experience of encountering a completely negligent statement that disregarded the recognition of Indigenous peoples by certain member states and even included threats directed at participants during the forum was deeply distressing. However, our collective unity and resilience shone through in the face of such challenges.

The opening session at the 23rd session of the UNFPII in New York

The thematic focus of 2024’s UNPFII was, “Enhancing Indigenous Peoples’ right to self-determination in the context of the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples: emphasizing the voices of Indigenous youth,” was particularly significant. As an Indigenous youth activist, this theme underscored the critical importance of amplifying youth voices and asserting our rights in front of key stakeholders and member states, a task we embraced wholeheartedly. I had the honor of presenting the joint statement on behalf of the Asia Indigenous Youth Caucus, outlining crucial recommendations made by Indigenous youth. This milestone marked a historic occasion as over 10 Indigenous youth activists from Asia participated for the first time, showcasing our commitment to amplifying the voices and priorities of Indigenous youth at the forum.

The author delivering the joint statement on behalf of AIYP

Participating in forums like UNPFII is professionally enriching and personally transformative. It instils a deep sense of responsibility as a representative of diverse communities, prompting introspection on the efficacy of one’s advocacy efforts. Moreover, exposure to global youth perspectives—from their challenges to innovative solutions—fosters a dynamic learning environment. A key takeaway is the solidarity shared among Indigenous peoples globally, reinforcing the interconnectedness of our struggles and aspirations. Additionally, the networking opportunities afforded by such forums are invaluable, fostering collaborations and alliances that strengthen our collective advocacy endeavour

In conclusion, my experience at UNPFII reaffirmed the significance of youth engagement in shaping Indigenous agendas on a global scale. It underscored the importance of continued dialogue, collaboration, and advocacy to advance Indigenous rights and self-determination. As Indigenous youth, we stand at the forefront of change, and platforms like UNPFII empower us to drive meaningful impact for our communities and future generations.

The author (second from left) speaking at a side-event
The author (front row sitting second from right) with the rest of the youth group

About the author

Sabba Rani Maharjan is an Indigenous Youth activist from Nepal who is working for indigenous issues and justice at the national as well as regional levels. She works with indigenous youth as an Executive Council Member of the Asia Indigenous Youth Platform (AIYP) and the Youth Federation of Indigenous Nationalities, Federal Council Nepal (YFIN). In 2023, Sabba was nominated by the Bagmati State Government for the position of Executive Member of the Bagmati Provincial Youth Council (under the Department of Environment and Labor).

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