Standing Rock Youth Council Delivers Recommendations at the 23rd Session of the UNPFII

 ‘Enhancing Indigenous Peoples’ Right to Self-determination in the Context of the UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples: Emphasizing the Voices of Indigenous Youth’


The importance of engaging young people at the United Nations cannot be understated because one day they will be the leaders advancing the Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples

LENAPEHOKING — The energy and buzz in the air is electric on the first day of the United Nations Permanent Forum on Indigenous Issues, the second largest nongovernmental gathering hosted by the international organization. The area around the Vienna Café in first basement south roars with conversation in colonial and Indigenous languages from across the globe.

Morgan Brings Plenty navigates around half a dozen groups of people. She is in a ribbon skirt and one of many attendees wearing their traditional clothing or regalia.

The space was the opposite of quiet and private but that didn’t keep Brings Plenty from talking vulnerably about her deepest loss. Two years ago Brings Plenty lost her mother, Joy Braun, who was a lifelong environmental activist. Tears were falling down Brings Plenty’s face as she talked about her mother’s legacy and how she continues that work today.

“She told me to always carry on even after she goes,” Brings Plenty said. “She told me that, ‘When I go, it’s your time.’”

This is her first time at the United Nations headquarters in New York, a place she never dreamed she would be.

Brings Plenty was wearing her mother’s signature black beret with a beaded green turtle, a choice she made to honor her mother. She came with two other young people from the Indigenous Environmental Network.

Brings Plenty, Cheyenne River Sioux, and AnnaLee Yellow Hammer, Standing Rock Sioux, came to deliver an intervention about shutting down the Dakota Access pipeline, a years-long legal battle that came to international infamy during the NoDAPL movement in Standing Rock, North Dakota, in 2016. An intervention is when speeches are given during the forum, often including a call to action.

Yellow Hammer was 12 when she participated in a prayer run from her homelands in what is now known as North Dakota to Washington, D.C., to petition the federal government to shutdown the controversial pipeline.

Eight years later, Brings Plenty, 29, and Yellow Hammer, 20, are still bringing attention to the impacts of the pipeline on their communities and the impending lawsuits against environmental organizations for protesting it.

“We are also here to warn the global community about the rising threat of abusive lawsuits known as a strategic lawsuit against public participation,” Brings Plenty said during the intervention. “The lawsuit is seeking $300 million in damages from GreenPeace and is set to go to trial in the summer of 2024 in North Dakota. The lawsuit against GreenPeace is also an attack on the Indigenous movement and our fight for self-determination to protect Mother Earth, our waters, sacred and cultural sites and our youth and future generations. These colonist lawsuits are trying to send a message and warning to anyone who might consider speaking out and to be quiet. Any of you could be next.”

There are more than 100 youth delegations at the 23rd session of the United Nations Permanent Forum on Indigenous Issues, as this year’s theme centers Indigenous youth. This forum has seen the largest and most diverse cohort of Indigenous youth, according to the Global Indigenous Youth Caucus. From the very beginning, involvement of young people has always been part of the forum and their participation is important because one day they will be sitting as chair, filling the seats of conference room four, and ultimately, continuing the generational fight to defend the rights of Indigenous peoples across the globe.

The sacrifices, hard work and advocacy to create and pass the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples is many. There were six Indigenous leaders who held a hunger strike to push member states to pass the historic resolution. Others left their families and communities to do full-time advocacy work at the United Nations as well as sit-ins, Ghazali Ohorella, an international Indigenous rights attorney, said.

“There’s a lot of blood, sweat, and tears in there (UNDRIP),” Ohorella said. “So we’ve got to protect it with our lives. How do you protect it with your lives, is to not only use it, but breathe life into it. So that is one of the reasons why it’s super important for Indigenous youth to be walking side by side with those that have been there before.

Many youth attending expressed that there has to be vigilance on protecting and advancing Indigenous rights globally. It’s not hyperbolic to say that in a single day, with one motion, a call for a vote, for the work done on the declaration — where the second article states that Indigenous people are equal to everyone else — to go away. An article that had to be included because as far back as 1977, member states were saying that Indigenous people didn’t have a right to self-determination or subject to international laws because they weren’t peoples, according to Kenneth Deer, who worked to help get the forum created and to pass UNDRIP.

“If we don’t ensure the participation of our future generations, then all of that work will be lost,” said Rochelle Diver, UN environmental treaties coordinator for the International Indian Treaty Council. “Not only is this an opportunity for us, it’s also a responsibility for us to come here and ensure our future generations are protected in any way that we can.”

Youth historically a forum focus

The forum members took feedback from last year and used that to craft the focus. The theme for this year is, “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.”

UN Permanent Forum Member Geoff Roth said moving “the idea of self-determination beyond just North America into other areas” inspired this year’s theme. They wanted to get the youth involved in it.

“I just have to say I have been really impressed so far with the youth and the way they’ve participated,” Roth said.

This isn’t the first time the forum has included youth in its yearly theme. In fact, the second theme in 2003 was simply, “Indigenous children and youth.” It was chosen to, “focus attention on the survival of Indigenous peoples.”

“There’s always been an emphasis on youth. I think it was one of the early items too,” Kenneth Deer, an active participant in the UN Working Group on Indigenous Populations since 1987, told ICT. “The development of a youth caucus was important to have. They have a body themselves that would be able to function and participate in that way.”

Global Indigenous Youth Caucus and UN Permanent Forum relationship

Mai Thin Yu Mon has been part of the Global Youth Indigenous Caucus for nine years. The 34-year-old is from the Chin people of Myanmar and had been working on land rights for a few years before joining the caucus in 2015.

This story is published as part of the Global Indigenous Affairs Desk, an Indigenous-led collaboration between Grist, High Country News, ICT, Mongabay, Native News Online, and APTN.

More than 20 years ago, the United Nations Permanent Forum on Indigenous Issues, or UNPFII, held its annual meeting with a focus on youth, and educating and nurturing them. This year, the forum’s 24th gathering, the emphasis was again on youth — but this time on listening to them. 

Click here to meet the other six young leaders who spoke at this year’s forum

Name: Morgan Brings Plenty

Age: 29

Peoples: Cheyenne River Sioux 

Home: Eagle Butte, South Dakota

What they want peolpe to know: Brings Plenty is two-spirit, an umbrella term that encompasses an array of Indigenous gender identities. An activist since they were 12, they are critical of the push for electric cars as a way to stop using fossil fuels, since few people think about the burden that puts on tribal lands through mining.

“People say ‘go green,’ but there are a lot of false solutions,” they said. “Like there’s electric cars, but you have to mine lithium.” 

As an example, they point to the potential for lithium mines in the Black Hills of South Dakota, a sacred space for the Lakota, Northern Cheyenne, Omaha, and many other tribes. Brings Plenty worries about the gold and uranium mines as well.

“[It] goes into the water and gets into Indigenous communities,” they said. “There are health concerns there,” they said. 

More: Brings Plenty wanted to make sure their colleagues also got credit for their work at the U.N. —  Annalee Yellowhammer, 20, and Maya Runnels, 22, from the Standing Rock Sioux tribe.

“We are a team. We are a group effort,” they said.

We, the Standing Rock Youth Council, members of the Standing Rock sovereign Lakota/Nakota/Dakota Indigenous nation, are here to draw attention to the ongoing movement to shut down the Dakota Access Pipeline (DAPL) in the United States. In October 2016, members of the U.N. Permanent Forum on Indigenous Issues were invited to visit Standing Rock and reported back on what they saw and heard there from Elders, Tribal Leaders, and Water Protectors. This Forum also released several statements expressing concern about the process approving the pipeline. 

Since then, the pipeline has been built but the Indigenous-led effort to shut it down continues. A United States federal judge ordered the U.S. Army Corps to conduct a full Environmental Impact Statement, and a decision on whether or not to shut down the pipeline is likely to be made in 2024. These actions by the government of the United States and the state government of North Dakota are violating the rights of self determination of the Standing Rock Lakota/Nakota/DakotaTribal nation,  its youth, and the rights of future generations.

The rights of the Lakota/Nakota/Dakota peoples are recognized and affirmed in our treaties, agreements, in various US court decisions, in the US Constitution and in international human rights instruments. Despite such recognition, we believe our rights are being violated by decisions made with respect to the fracked oil pipeline traversing our unceded lands, waters and territories.

We are also here to warn the global community about the rising threat of abusive lawsuits known as a Strategic Lawsuit Against Public Participation (SLAPP). Energy Transfer, the corporation behind DAPL, is suing Greenpeace, an environmental NGO in a SLAPP lawsuit related to the peaceful protests at Standing Rock between May 2016 to May 2017. The lawsuit is seeking $300 million in damages from Greenpeace and is set to go to trial in the summer of 2024 in North Dakota. 

The lawsuit against Greenpeace is also an attack on the Indigenous movement in our fight for self-determination to protect Mother Earth, our waters, sacred and cultural sites and our youth and future generations. These colonialist lawsuits are trying to send a warning to anyone who might consider speaking out and to be quiet – any of you could be next. 

This kind of lawsuit is a direct attack on the principles of Free, Prior and Informed Consent and our right to ask questions, to lift our voices, to resist encroachment on our territories and to say “No!” It threatens to undermine allied movements that are pushing for climate justice and Indigenous sovereignty.


  • The Forum urges the United States that the U.S. Army Corps halt its current flawed process and demand that the U.S. recognize its obligations to Tribal Nations as sovereign nations, consistent with Free Prior and Informed Consent as required by the U.N. Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous People.
  • The Forum further urges the United States to comply with its international obligations and respect and observe the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples in its government-to-government relationship with the Standing Rock Tribe and all Indigenous tribes and Nations throughout the United States.
  • The Forum should join with the U.N. Working Group on Business and Human Rights and the U.N. Human Rights Council and release a statement opposing the abusive practice of SLAPP lawsuits. Indigenous People are being silenced and punished for protecting their sovereignty. SLAPP lawsuits are negatively impacting the Standing Rock Sioux Nation, Cheyenne River Sioux Nation, and Allies. The UN has recognized that SLAPPs “are often used to intimidate reporters and rights advocates with the threat of endless legal action and costs.”


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