Who can say they spent the morning in Europe and the evening in New York discussing the Issues of Indigenous People at the Headquarters of the United Nations? The standard answer would be the glamorous jet-setting diplomat, yet I am here to give you the surprising alternative answer: an ELSA member.
As a delegate for the 17th session of the United Nations’ Permanent Forum on Indigenous Issues (UNPFII), I was able to attend and experience it first-hand with two other wonderful delegates, Anastasiya from ELSA Ukraine and Jennifer from ELSA UK. With examinations and dissertation deadlines looming over the heads of students in Europe, attending the UNFPII allowed me to refocus myself on my future legal career and motivate me to work towards my goal.
No one would believe that my application was thrown together last minute, where I was scrambling for things to say in my motivation letter in order to stand out amongst all applicants. Thirty minutes before sending it off, I decided that the best way to win the Organising Committee over would be to talk about my passion in the field, where as a Law and Anthropology postgraduate student, it is my mission to balance the power relations in the world and to ensure that marginalised people get their own representation without any agencies taking advantage of their vulnerable situations. By mentioning my desire to witness this in person and to gain experience for the respective field (experience is the bane of all law students’ existence), I was able to secure one of the coveted spots.
Nothing beats the feeling of seeing the grandeur of the UN Conference Room when you first walked in. I stood there, just taking in the atmosphere and observing individuals reacting in the room. ‘First time comer?’ one participant asked, to which I nodded in accordance. ‘You’ll enjoy it and want to come back to see more for yourself.’ A statement that I now can completely agree with, after having attended a week full of plenaries on indigenous issues. Not only did I learn about the formalities of the plenaries themselves, but to hear about the people talk about their lives and how they struggle is infectious, assuring me that this is what I want to do – to be a part of the equality movement and to fight for dignity for each and every individual.
This experience was everything I hoped for, if not more. To see everyone assembled for one cause is something I have never seen before. Politics was never meant to be unattainable for most people, as most of the world live in democratic societies. Yet through this experience, I have learned that some people, without the right representation, will never benefit in such a system due to their unique position and their different self-governing systems. I was able to link my substantive knowledge with actual examples given by different indigenous groups, and with the formative insight on the plenaries themselves, I believe I had come out of this experience a more wholesome person, where I will be able to build on this experience and advance my legal career.
Special thanks to everyone who had supported me and encouraged me to take on this delegation, telling me that ELSA Delegations are once-in-a-lifetime experiences, which now I can finally join the arsenal of advocates for delegations. I still remember the phone call I made to my mother when I had to explain that this journey is completely self-funded and to convince her to let me travel to New York (the ‘most dangerous city you can be in the world’, as she described it), where amidst the worrying tone, I could hear a sense of pride in her voice, as I was able to accomplish something that is not the usual part of any student’s education. I can say that I have been a part of a delegation in something I am passionate about and at the same time happily debunk my mother’s claim that New York is as dangerous as she remembers it being 20 years ago. Without ELSA and this delegation, this would not be possible, and now I come out of this knowing that this is something I want to do in the future.
Samantha Lee is a postgraduate student at the London School of Economics. She previously completed an LLB at the University of Kent. She served as Secretary General of ELSA LSE SU for the 2017-2018 term.