Navajo President Russell Begaye and Navajo Nation ambassador Peterson Zah advocate for indigenous participation at United Nations

Navajo Ambassodor Pterson Zah and Navajo Nation President Russell Begaye ask for future representation for the Navajo Nation during a United Nations consultation in New York Dec. 14. Submitted photo

Navajo Ambassodor Pterson Zah and Navajo Nation President Russell Begaye ask for future representation for the Navajo Nation during a United Nations consultation in New York Dec. 14. Submitted photo

NEW YORK — Navajo Nation President Russell Begaye and Navajo Nation Ambassador Dr. Peterson Zah advocated for the participation of Indigenous Peoples in the United Nations at a consultation held Dec. 14 at UN headquarters in New York.

The purpose of the consultation was to formulate and clarify elements that would enable the participation of Indigenous Governing Institutions at the UN.

The day’s discussion focused on two areas: venue for enhanced indigenous people’s participation and modalities for participation. 

In preparation for the UN Consultation, Begaye met with the United States delegation to convey what the Navajo Nation seeks in participation.

The president said the Navajo Nation is requesting a seat at the UN to participate in any discussion that impacts the Nation. The Nation will continue to pursue input through the UN on issues that impact water rights, natural resources and legal jurisdiction, among many other areas, Begaye said.

“We can no longer be an isolated nation within the U.S.,” Begaye said. “We need to have our voices heard on a global level to affect change through international law that impacts indigenous peoples all over the world.”

Many indigenous representatives advocated for their participation in all General Assembly (GA) meetings as well as meetings of the Human Rights Council, the Economic and Social Council, UN Programs and Treaty monitoring bodies.

“Currently, tribal sovereign governments who want to participate in the U.N. must do so through non-governmental organizations or through civil society organizations, which is viewed as an affront to tribal sovereignty by the Navajo Nation,” Zah said. “One cannot equate a nongovernmental organization with a legitimate government duly elected by the very people it represents.”

Advisor to the president of the GA, James Anaya told the gathered members and advisors that indigenous voices need to be heard at the UN level.

“This discussion addresses the effectiveness of participation,” he said. “We hope a presentation will be finalized at the GA.”

In considering the Modalities of Indigenous People’s Participation, many pushed for the right to speak at all formal meetings of the GA, closed meetings of the GA affecting indigenous peoples, conferences convened by the GA and all subsidiary bodies. 

Discussion on the modality of participation also focused on indigenous people’s ability to make written statements and representation in all the aforementioned meetings and conferences.

Zah told UN Advisors that the Navajo Nation has been involved proactively with the United Nations over the past two decades and has contributed to the process of helping the representatives.

 “The Navajo Nation made it clear that it believes that having sovereign tribal governments participate as sovereign governments in the UN on a permanent and regular basis is paramount,” he said.

The second day of consultation will address mechanisms of recognition selection of indigenous entities eligible for enhanced participation and the criteria for accreditation.


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TSloan 2 years, 7 months ago

I am glad to see the Navajo Nation Government take an interest in the United Nations at this level. As a member of the United Nations through my NGO Southwest Native Cultures I have been advocating for State level status for Indigenous Peoples Governments/Tribes at the U.S. Dept. of State & U.N. for two years. I had advised the U.N. two years ago to create an online consultative process to help enhance Indigenous Peoples participation. This online consultative process was initiated this year. I am hoping that the General Assembly will take on the status determination this year for State level recognition of Indigenous Governments/tribes. I will continue to advocate for this change as much as I can this year & onward till it happens.

Terry A Sloan Director Southwest Native Cultures