AFTON — James Walkingstick, a second-year student at Harvard from Afton, attended the United Nations (UN) Permanent Forum on Indigenous Issues the week of April 22 in New York, one of the first from the area to ever attend the international forum where representatives from around the world spoke on important issues to indigenous people.
The forum was founded in 2002 as a way for the UN to look at global concerns for indigenous people.
Since then it has been working effectively, according to Walkingstick.
“One of our biggest moves here has been the declaration on the rights of indigenous people, which has been implemented even in the U.S., which is a really big effect that happened just under a decade ago,” he said. “We are still working to do different things. This year is on indigenous languages and their preservation, so our focus this time around is on that.
“What really drew me in was that a group of indigenous people from across the globe would be here and I would have a place if I came. I contacted an organization actually out of Switzerland. You can’t go as an individual; you have to represent a non-governmental organization, so I picked one that’s represented at the UN quite often and was one of four delegates chosen to attend the forum,” Walkingstick said.
The forum at the UN does go hand in hand with what he is studying at Harvard, which is social anthropology, in the hopes of attending law school afterwards.
“Working on human rights when it comes to indigenous people is really my ‘bread and butter,’ so to say, so having this kind of opportunity is just excelling me forward at 10 times the speed I was going,” he said.
The forum lasts two weeks, but most representatives usually only attend for one.
Walkingstick spoke about the preservation of indigenous languages, representing the Global Indigenous Youth Caucus (GIYC), a group of indigenous students from around the world that come together and organize different ideas.
“I had two days to prepare my statement,” he said. “It’s a giant crowd, over 1,500 delegates, approximately, from around the world. Just looking at the giant podium is daunting in and of itself, let alone talking at that podium,” Walkingstick said.
“My dad has been in Afton for a long time, but he grew up in Tahlequah. He never really graduated high school, but he works pretty hard with the government to help indigenous people with different issues, so to see me going to Harvard and now speaking at the UN on some of those issues has made him pretty happy.”