Security-Banned Indigenous Youth Return to Permanent Forum

Gale Courey Toensing
5/11/12

Members of the Global Indigenous Youth Caucus returned to the United Nations Permanent Forum on Indigenous Issues on May 10, after having their credentials seized by security guards two days earlier and being banned from the annual Indigenous Peoples meeting.

Global Indigenous Youth Caucus (GIYC) members participated in a peaceful protest outside the U.N. building on Tuesday, May 8, demanding “full and effective participation” in the events of the UNPFII that is being held through May 18. They were protesting an announcement by UNPFII organizers that there wouldn’t be enough room for all of the approximately 1,800 registered delegates to attend the sessions, that secondary passes would be required and that only one secondary pass per organization would be allowed, meaning, for example, that only one person from an organization with 10 delegates would be allowed into the sessions, despite the thousands of dollars spent on travel and accommodations for the entire group.

The young protesters stood silently holding handmade signs saying “full and effective participation” and ‘We have the right to participate” when U.N. security guards approached them asking, “Who’s the leader? Who’s the leader?” One of the youth responded, “We’re all leaders.” “All right but you cannot be doing this,” the guard said. The youth continued to stand in place.

Glenn Morris, the head of the delegation from the American Indian Movement of Colorado and associate professor in the Department of Political Science at the University of Colorado, Denver, said it wasn’t clear what regulations were being violated at the time. “The security police take it upon themselves to implement security rules for the U.N,” Morris said, “so they initially just told our young people, ‘You can’t have these signs.’ So the young people relinquished their signs and they thought that it was over. Then someone else from security said they wanted the young people’s credentials and then there was a sweep and anyone in the area even if they weren’t part of the protest was taken up.” Fifteen young people and two people in Morris’s delegation who were bystanders had their credentials confiscated. One of the delegates, Tupac Enrique (Nahuatl-Xicano), the coordinator and founding member of Tonatierra, had his credentials ripped from around his neck. Without the U.N credentials no one could enter the U.N. buildings.

“There was no hearing, no meeting, no due process of any kind, no notice of why they were being expelled. They didn’t call me as head of the delegations to come in and discuss it, they just summarily evicted them,” Morris said.

One young woman chastised the U.N. on a YouTube video. “This is the venue where we’re supposed to fight on an international level for our collective rights, but it’s the same venue in which they’re violated,” she said.

After two days of negotiations involving the UNPFII secretariat, the security police, Chief Edward John, Morris, and others, the youth got their credentials back on May 9 and returned to the UNPFII the next day. “It's official – those of us in Global Youth Caucus who were removed from U.N. are being let back in at 8 a.m. tomorrow!” Jessica Danforth, founder and executive director of the Native Youth Sexual Health Network, wrote on her Facebook page on the evening of May 9. “After threatening to ban us for life, they also now did away with the secondary passes. Ancestors heard us and we WILL be heard in the United Nations!”

Morris sent an e-mail to the lists of delegates Thursday morning, thanking them for their support. He said people from all over the U.S. and from around the world sent hundreds of e-mails and letters of support for the young people to the U.N. “They got the message,” Morris wrote. “Initially, they wanted to ban the youth delegation for the entire remainder of the process, or even to ban them for up to 10 years from the U.N. Then, they suggested that they wanted a letter of apology. Colorado AIM rejected both suggestions, saying that if anyone needed to apologize it was the U.N. police. We also said that anything short of full restoration would be unsatisfactory, and that we would lead a walkout of the U.N. meeting. We were fully prepared to walkout [Friday] morning if the young people were not restored. We were asked to mentor our young people, a request that we already have complied with, and will continue to model, as we have from before we arrived in New York.”

Maori Dancers Open UNPFII

In a phone interview with Indian Country Today Media Network, Morris said that the security situation at this year’s UNPFII “just seems to be a little over the top. They disrupted a Maori gathering. They were gathered in a circle and the security walked right into the circle and told them they couldn’t stay there,” he said. One of the guards put his hands on a Maori woman and was told by an Indigenous man to take his hands off her. “He told the guards they’d be finished in a couple of minutes, but the security completely disrupted the circle,” Morris aid.

In another incident, Morris said that a group of Sami people were told they couldn’t enter the building because of the way they were dressed in their traditional clothing. “They had to go back to the hotel and change into western clothes and then they were allowed in,” Morris said. “It just seems like a very rigid and authoritarian atmosphere,” Morris said. Morris said he doesn’t know why the security is different this year, but it may impact attendance at the UNPFII “People are sufficiently upset with the way the young people were treated and by the entire process this year,” Morris said.

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