Hector Callejas

Re-examining Indigenous Agency in the United Nations

While most scholarship on the transnational indigenous movement represents the United Nations (UN) as a crucial source of indigenous agency within the movement, the scholarship has overlooked the problematic relationship between indigenous communities and the UN within the world-systems context. In order to address this gap in the scholarship, this ethnography will re-examine the meaning of “indigenous agency” at the UN Permanent Forum on Indigenous Issues (UNPFII), which is the UN’s annual hallmark event for transnational indigenous organizing at the international level of the movement. In particular, why do indigenous activists participate in the UNPFII? How does the UN shape indigenous activism in the UNPFII? To what extent can indigenous activists successfully navigate the UN in order to achieve their political goals in the UNPFII without changing their desired outcomes for their local communities? In order to answer these questions, I will conduct in-depth ethnographic fieldwork at the 15th annual session of the UNPFII at the UN Headquarters in New York City (May 9-20, 2016). This ethnography is part of a broader dissertation project on the relationship between indigenous communities and the international community within the transnational indigenous movement.