US Human Rights Network Blog

US Human Rights Network Blog



Report: UN Permanent Forum on Indigenous Issues (UNPFII)

May 9, 2019

From April 22 to May 3, 2019, USHRN members Tai Pelli (Taíno), Sachem Hawk Storm (Schaghticoke), Niria Alicia Garcia Torres (Xicana-Purepecha), Enedina Banks (Potawatomi) and Joshua Cooper, participated in the 18th session of the United Nations Permanent Forum on Indigenous Issues (UNPFII) alongside USHRN International Mechanisms Director, Roberto Borrero (Taíno).

Pre-Forum Training

Ahead of the Forum, Tai Pelli and Sachem Hawk Storm participated in Tribal Link Foundation’s 15th annual intensive 3-day intensive training program entitled Project Access Global Capacity Building Training Workshop for Indigenous Peoples. Project Access is a human rights-based training session that prepares its fellows to better engage the UNPFII and other international mechanisms. Roberto Borrero, USHRN’s International Mechanisms Director served as this year’s lead trainer.

Also, fellow members, Niria Alicia Garcia Torres, and Enedina Banks took part in the Global Leadership School of Indigenous Women, a 2-week training sponsored by the International Indigenous Women’s Forum (FIMI) in partnership with Columbia University and the Secretariat of the UNPFII. The two programs held a joint “meet and greet” session on April 19 to connect the advocates prior to the Forum session. Following their respective training programs, all of the members advocated directly at the UNPFII, including drafting interventions to be presented from the floor, participated in side events and in other activities.

Global Leadership School of Indigenous Women 2019 cohort

Project Access 2019 training session

Media Zone Talk

“Nobody’s going to give you your rights if you don’t know what they are” - Sachem Hawk Storm

On April 25, the USHRN held a UNPFII Media Zone talk at the Forum on the rise of nationalism and populism and their impacts on Indigenous Peoples. USHRN Members Tai Pelli, Sachem Hawk Storm, and Joshua Cooper were panelists while Roberto Borrero moderated the discussion.

The panelists discussed the rise of right-wing nationalism in the United States manifested in the Trump Administration’s policies and violations of human rights, including the government shutdown, the insatiable appetite for natural resources, the criminalization of protestors and human rights defenders, the uneven distribution of aid and rebuilding following Hurricanes Irma and Maria in Puerto Rico, and the rise of hate crimes based on race and faith.

The members agreed that human rights defenders must use the international system to raise the visibility of human rights concerns and issues linked to the rise of right-wing nationalism, including the upcoming Human Rights Council’s Universal Periodic Review. The panel affirmed “We cannot allow the rise of nationalism, hate crimes, nor the Trump Administration’s dehumanizing rhetoric and policies to become normalized. We must continue to provide and enhance human rights education on the grassroots level in order to empower oppressed and marginalized communities.”  

Watch the Media Zone Talk here.

USHRN Media Event


Side Event: Violence against Indigenous Women in the World of Work

On April 30, the Network co-sponsored a UNPFII side event titled, “Violence Against Indigenous Women in the World of Work,” in partnership with the Center for Women’s Global Leadership at Rutgers University, the Continental Network of Indigenous Women of the Americas (North Region), and Feminist Alliance for Rights. The event speakers were Ms. Tarcila Rivera Zea (CHIRAPAQ/UNPFII Member) and Melissa Upreti (UN WGDAW), while Anya Victoria Delgado (CWGL/FAR) moderated the discussion.

The event brought into focus issues of discrimination and gender-based violence faced by Indigenous Women in the world of work. It shared information about a forthcoming opportunity to mobilize in support of a new convention from the International Labor Organization to end violence and harassment in the world of work by engaging in a civil society-led initiative that has been launched with the aim of building bridges among different movements, including those advocating for women’s rights and labor rights: the 16 Days Campaign to End Gender-based violence in the world of work.



North American Regional Dialogue

On May 2, the Permanent Forum conducted a North American Regional Dialogue session, with members of the Forum and representatives of the governments of the U.S., Canada, and Mexico. During the session, USHRN International Mechanisms Director Roberto Borrero raised a concern on behalf of Tai Pelli and Sachem Hawk Storm who were unable to attend the dialogue session, which took place during the second week of the Forum. In response to the agenda item, the USHRN members emphasized the need to include traditional tribal authorities and state-recognized Tribes that are not recognized by the U.S. federal government, in order for those entities to have equal access along with other Indigenous Peoples representative institutions at the United Nations.

On September 8, 2017, the UN General Assembly adopted resolution A/RES/71/321 entitled “Enhancing the Participation of Indigenous Peoples’ Representatives and Institutions in Meetings of Relevant United Nations Bodies on Issues Affecting Them.” This resolution is a result of a process that began with a commitment made by UN Member States (Countries) during the 2014 World Conference on Indigenous Peoples to consider the issue of participation of Indigenous Peoples at the United Nations. The process continued during the this year’s Permanent Forum as María Fernanda Espinosa Garcés (Ecuador), the President of the General Assembly, called for an informal hearing on this subject, which took place at UN Headquarters on April 25, 2019. The hearing provided further opportunity for Indigenous Peoples to express their views and make proposals to enable their enhanced participation at United Nations.


Biographies of USHRN Members Attending the UNPFII



Enedina Banks is a Language Preservationist for the Citizen Potawatomi Nation (CPN). She has been an advocate and activist for Indigenous Women’s health issues for over a decade. Mrs. Banks has spoken on behalf of these causes at numerous conferences such as the National Indian and Native American Coalition WIC Conference. Mrs. Banks has presented on the importance of breastfeeding as a very natural and key part of a traditional upbringing. The Huffington Post has published and shared her story further ensuring her hope of empowering women and educating the world about motherhood in her culture. She currently uses her passion for preserving and teaching Native culture in her position as a language instructor for the CPN in Shawnee, Oklahoma where she particularly enjoys teaching the Potawatomi language to children in the tribal daycare.


Joshua Cooper is the Director of the Hawai'i Institute for Human Rights and co-chair of the US Human Rights Network’s UPR Task Force. Cooper is an academic in political science and journalism, non-violent social movements, ecological justice in Oceania and Indigenous Peoples' rights. He lectures at a number of universities and educational institutions worldwide including the University of Hawaii, the International Training Center for Teaching Peace and Human Rights in Geneva, Galway University in Ireland and the University of the District of Columbia in Washington D.C.. He also performs a number of leadership and supervisory roles, including as an Asia Pacific Leadership Program Fellow at the East-West Center, Area Coordinator for Amnesty International USA, Senior Advisor to the Unrepresented Nations and Peoples Organization in the Hague, Board member of Peace Action, Board member of the Human Rights Task Force for the United National Association of the USA, and former Chair of the AIUSA Indigenous Peoples Task Force.



Tai Pelli is a Liaison Officer for the United Confederation of Taino People (UCTP), an indigenous leadership initiative. Tai Pelli is an Indigenous Peoples human rights, environmental, and treaty rights advocate at international, national and local levels. As a representative of the UCTP, she is a member of the Board of Directors of the International Indian Treaty Council, the first Indigenous Peoples organization to receive General Consultative Status by UN ECOSOC in 1977. Tai is a writer, speaker, and researcher who promotes the UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples globally and is outspoken about food sovereignty, environmental violence and health impacts in the Caribbean, particularly in the archipelago of Borikén (Puerto Rico). Tai is also a co-founder of the Caribbean Amerindian Development Organization (CADO).



Niria Alicia Garcia Torres is Community Organizer and Youth Program Coordinator with Greenaction for Health and Environmental Justice in California. Niria Alicia’s work focuses on Indigenous Peoples and farmworker communities around issues including climate justice and oil/gas drilling. She is a campaign coordinator of Run4Salmon, an initiative led by the Winnemem Wintu Tribe to reinstate the ancestral Salmon of the McCloud River. She was also a member of the USHRN Delegation to the 2019 UN Commission on the Status of Women.  



Sachem Hawk Storm is the chief of the Schaghticoke First Nations, a not-for-profit organization whose mission is to preserve, promote and enrich the Schaghticoke peoples’ heritage; provide a safe learning environment for Schaghticoke descendants in their search for direction; and whenever possible, support those seeking harmony and a greater understanding of our collective responsibility as human beings. The word “Schaghticoke” means “the Mingling of Waters,” and signifies the merging of what remained of the Algonquin Nations in the Eastern Woodlands in 1676. Like so many of his people, Sachem Hawk Storm was taken from his parents and raised in a family unfamiliar with his heritage. Emancipated at 15, his life’s journey has been one of reclamation, re-indigenization, and reconnection to the land. Since 2012, he has actively advocated for the implementation of the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples. Under Sachem Hawk Storm's leadership, Schaghticoke First Nations is in the formative stages reacquiring land in the Schaghticoke ancestral territory to establish a Conservation and Cultural Center.