I come from the most eastern point of Aotearoa – Hikurangi maunga, Waiapu awa, Ngati Porou iwi. I come from a rural community, educated entirely in Kura Kaupapa Maori Te Aho Matua. I studied both my undergraduate and postgraduate degrees at The University of Waikato, where I pursued Maori and Indigenous Studies, and International Languages and Cultures; which has all essentially led me to the United Nations in Chile. I’m now 2 months into a 6 month internship, working in the Resident Coordinators’ Office (RCO) supporting indigenous and youth engagement, and it goes without saying that I’m extremely grateful and proud to be exploring this level of global intermediary. Personally, cultural connections is what draws me to travel, and South America and Aotearoa hold a special connection as it’s mentioned in ancient Maori history, that our Polynesian ancestors retrieved the Kumara from the land of the ‘Great Cliffs of the Sun’, which are the Andes mountains, or Parinuitera. In a diplomatic sense, Chile holds a special place for me, as one phase of my own diplomatic exploration was in Chile a few years back. My first visit was in 2019 where I was a part of Te Hononga-a-Kiwa; we spent about 10 days connecting with several indigenous business leaders and students in both urban and rural areas. The purpose was to strengthen Maori and Mapuche relationships, but also to share indigenous ideas on cultural and economic development; the connections made in my first visit to Chile with Te Hononga-a-Kiwa, was a foundational experience for myself, as I gradually move into the world of international diplomacy, and understanding where, if, and how indigenous play a role in it all.
So far, my experience at the United Nations has been a rollercoaster of learning, adapting, guessing, language hiccups, misunderstandings, cultural exchange, long working days, and exciting working days; it has been massive. The United Nations is a massive organisation so it is quite easy to get lost in the many circling ideas and things going around, there has been a time where I’ve wondered whether I am contributing to anything at all, but then I quickly remember that I’m contributing to what will hopefully create a ripple effect of Maori and indigenous people leading international and intercultural cooperation. In these first 2 months my day to day task have been writing proposals about youth initiatives, proposals on indigenous engagement, contacting UN agencies, and joining online webinars that are broadcasted across UN Country Teams. The everyday work culture is conducted in Spanish but as you would expect at an international organisation, there are multiple languages spoken from left to right – it’s very impressive. I have been taking regular Spanish classes because I’m fluent in my head but not in practice; but I’m glad I still qualify at least as bilingual like my colleagues, with Te Reo Maori as my first language.
I’ve had a peek into how this part of the UN plan to reach the 17 Sustainable Development Goals, to which I realised that indigenous people are impacted heavily, but also hold the solutions to inform the development. Indigenous people provide so much value to solutions, because we represent communities affected by the issues of the SDGs, but we also represent the solutions; indigenous people are climate activist, youth leaders, tribal leaders, LGBTQ+, minority groups, educators, healers, farmers, gardeners, conservationalist, the list goes on. Therefore, my main focus is to think about my community and those I represent, so that hand on heart they will all play a part at The United Nations.
Nā Kaneihana Dewes
With support from the Latin America CAPE (based at VUW), UN Santiago Office and the NZ Embassy in Chile a fully funded internship placement with the UN Resident Coordinator Office based in Santiago has been provided. The internship is for a period of 6-months from 1 December 2022 – 31 May 2023 and is an indigenous focussed internship with an emphasis on indigenous youth engagement.