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Cheryl’s Journey: Advocating for Youth at the United Nations

The twenty-third session of the UN Permanent Forum on Indigenous Issues took place from 15-26 April 2024, at the United Nations headquarters in New York. 

The theme: 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.

In the spring of 2024, Cheryl Alexander, Knowledge Keeper at The Link, embarked on a transformative journey to New York City to attend the United Nations forum on Indigenous Issues. What began as a whirlwind visit became a profound experience of self-discovery and advocacy. Cheryl attended as delegate on behalf of the Native Women’s Association of Canada’s (NWAC) Board of Directors.

Cheryl has years of experience working with youth and families in Manitoba, particularly in advocating for children’s rights. From her early days at the Manitoba Advocate for Children and Youth, she understood the importance of empowering young individuals and ensuring they know their rights. The foundation of her work rested on the principles outlined in the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child, and she was eager to witness firsthand how these principles would be recognized on a global scale.

Stepping into the historic halls of the UN headquarters, Cheryl felt both awe and responsibility. “Meeting influential figures like former minister Bob Rae, former politician who is the current Canadian Ambassador to the United Nations, and Dr. Wilton Little Child, Cree Chief, lawyer and a member of Parliament. was inspiring,” Cheryl reflects, “their dedication to advocating for marginalized communities left a deep impression on me.”

Throughout sessions on Indigenous rights and youth empowerment, Cheryl connected with fellow advocates like Cindy Woodhouse, National Chief of the Assembly of First Nations, and Tyler George, the youngest and first two-spirit councillor elected to Ochapowace First Nation leadership, whose passion reinforced her commitment.

Among the diverse and bustling cityscape, Cheryl found herself drawn to the quieter moments. “You don’t get to see the stars at night in New York City.” she noted, a stark contrast to the openness of her home in Winnipeg.

Cheryl’s journey wasn’t just professional; it was deeply personal. “Witnessing the global discourse on Indigenous rights, particularly through the voices of Indigenous youth, resonated profoundly with me,” Cheryl shared.

As she returned to Winnipeg, Cheryl was invigorated, eager to implement innovative approaches to youth empowerment and community development. “This journey reaffirmed my commitment to amplifying Indigenous voices,” Cheryl concludes, “it’s about nurturing meaningful change, one step at a time.”

Learn more: UNPFII Twenty-third Session: 15-26 April 2024 | Division for Inclusive Social Development (DISD)