May 30, 2024

This story is published as part of the Global Indigenous Affairs Desk, an Indigenous-led collaboration between Grist, High Country News, ICT, Mongabay, Native News Online and APTN.

More than 20 years ago, the United Nations Permanent Forum on Indigenous Affairs held its annual meeting with a focus on youth, on their education and nurturing. This year, the forum’s 24th meeting, the emphasis was again on the youth — but this time to listen to them.

Meet seven of the young leaders who spoke at this year’s forum:

A headshot of a young person in a checkered jacket on a green and yellow striped background
Taylar Stagner / Grist

Name: Michael Severin Bro

Age: 32

Nations: Out

At home: Ilulissat, a small town on the west coast of Greenland. His family calls him Mikaali.

What he wants people to know: Bro believes indigenous and LGBTQ+ communities are particularly vulnerable in Greenland.

“We have been struggling within society and we need to be included in decision-making,” he said. “I refer to myself as Sipineq, which is our word in Inuit language that defines everything about queerness, or all letters of the LGBTQIA+.”

Advocating for both issues is complicated. “It’s like wearing two hats,” he said.

More: As climate change warms the Arctic four times faster than global temperatures, Bro said Greenland’s Inuik are facing problems with seal hunting.

A head shot of a young person in a blue suit on a green and yellow striped background
Taylar Stagner / Grist

Name: Gervais NdIhokubwayo

Age: 30

Nations: Batwa

At home: Bujumbura, Burundi.

What he wants you to know: Batwa children need more support for their education, including infrastructure and school supplies.

The Batwa are one of the oldest indigenous cultures in Africa. In Burundi they get little support from the government. The Batwa in Uganda experience health inequalities due to climate change.

More: The focus on youth at this year’s forum was exciting.

“Compared to last year, there is a noticeable progress in prioritizing youth perspectives, promoting cooperation and advocating for indigenous rights on a global scale,” he said.

A headshot of a young person wearing a beaded headdress against a green and yellow striped background
Taylar Stagner / Grist

Name: Ksenia Bolshakova

Age: 24

Nations: Dolgan

At home: Popigai in Siberia, Russia.

What she wants people to know:

Her community in Siberia has problems accessing fresh drinking water due to colonization and climate change. Bolshakova would like to seek help to find a salt station near her village that converts seawater into fresh water.

“There is no funding for this,” she said through a translator. “This challenge is very expensive and therefore the problem has not been solved.”

She is writing a book about language revival, and the effects of climate change on her homeland.

More: When she was still in Russia, she took part in a protest against the war in Ukraine. She subsequently felt threatened and left the country, believing it would be unsafe for her to return. She currently lives in New Hampshire.

A headshot of a young person with painted arms and face in a dance-like motion on a green and yellow striped background
Courtesy of Jakirah Telfer / Grist

Name: Jakirah Telfer

Age: 21

Nations: Kaurna

At home: Aldelade on the coast of South Australia.

What she wants people to know: She feels responsible for correcting climate change caused by colonialism, but also powerless if Australia does not listen to Aboriginal people. During a panel discussion at the UNPFII, she began to cry in frustration as she was reminded of her grandmother who was part of the Stolen Generation, a dark chapter in Australia’s colonial history where Aboriginal children were taken from their parents to live in colonial society to be recorded. .

“I kind of had to reflect because I hated myself for crying. I think one thing the UN is missing is emotion and vulnerability,” she said, “I hated myself for crying, but I also felt so cherished and safe in that space with so many other indigenous peoples. I just feel like youth brings that passion.”

More: She reflects on her relationship with the country as a language.

“When we listen to the country, the country will listen to us. It is a language. Climate change creates a language barrier.”

A head shot of a young person in a dark blue and red jacket on a green and yellow striped background
Taylar Stagner / Grist

Name: Nilla- Juhán Valkeapää


Nations: Sámi

At home: Helsinki, Finland.

What he wants people to know: Finland is forcing the Sami parliament to redo an election and include about 70 non-Sami residents of the homeland, a move that worries Valkeapää. The Sámi believe this is an infringement on their self-determination.

If the Sami parliament is treated with so little respect, then Valkeapää feels particularly invisible because of his youth.

“People are like ‘youth is the future, listen to the youth,’ but when it comes to actually listening to us, they’re like, ‘no, let the adults do this stuff,'” he said.

He is proud to be Sami in Finland, so this recent violation of the Sami election process makes him nervous about the future. Especially after a recent one UN report outlined that Finland still needs to do more to address the historical removal of the Sámi from their lands and suppression of their language.

More: Green energy projects have threatened the Sami homeland in recent years, including an illegal wind farm Norway.

A headshot of a young person in a black jacket and wearing beaded earrings on a green and yellow striped background
Taylar Stagner / Grist

Name: Major Andrade Cerda

Age: 29

Nations: Kichwa

At home: Puyo, Ecuador.

What she wants you to know: She is an activist who wants to better protect the Amazon rainforest, a place that is very important to the Kichwa. Although she believes there is progress in getting more young people involved in the United Nations, she still sees obstacles, especially with people for whom English is a second or third language.

“I recognize my privilege to be able to learn English, as they do [member states] want to help, they will help with the language barrier,” she said.

More: Cerda is a member of Yuturi Warmi, the first indigenous women ranger to protect the Ecuadorian rainforest and she is also a community organizer for Escuela Runa Yachay.

A headshot of three young people standing together with arms around shoulders on a green and yellow striped background
Taylar Stagner / Grist

Name: Morgan brings a lot

Age: 29

Nations: Cheyenne River Sioux

At home: Eagle Butte, South Dakota.

What they want you to know: Bring Plenty is two-spirit, an umbrella term that encompasses a variety of Indigenous gender identities. An activist since they were 12, they are critical of the push for electric cars as a way to stop using fossil fuels, as few consider the burden mining places on tribal lands.

“People say ‘go green,’ but there are a lot of fake solutions,” they said. “Like there are electric cars, but you have to mine lithium.”

As an example, they point to the lithium mine in the Black Hills of South Dakota, a sacred space for the Lakota, Northern Cheyenne, Omaha and many other tribes,

“[It] go into the water and come into indigenous communities,” they said. “There’s health care there,” they said.

More: Brings Plenty wanted to make sure their colleagues also get credit for their work at the UN – Annalee Yellowhammer (20) and Maya Runnels (22) from the Standing Rock Sioux tribe.

“We are a team. We are a group effort,” they said.

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