New York, NY – Fledgling organization Model United Nations: Indigenous (MUN:I), started by Sturgis Charter Public School senior Nathan Balk King (Sicangu Lakota), successfully launched this week with a Native American Delegation at the National High School Model United Nations Conference (NHSMUN) in New York City. The group of 13 outstanding Native American students hailed from across the United States and represented the first-ever such delegation in the Conference’s 45-year history.
NHSMUN is the largest and most important high school Model United Nations conference, with over 5000 students from 74 countries in attendance (www.NHSMUN.nyc). King attended the NHSMUN Conference in 2018 with the MUN Club from Sturgis Charter Public High School West, in Hyannis, MA, and noted how “It was amazing to meet students from all over the world, to hear so many languages spoken around me, but about two days into the conference, I noticed that there were no other Native American youth there.” In response, Nathan decided to create MUN:Indigenous.
His goal is to facilitate Native youth training in diplomacy and human rights through participation at the NHSMUN Conference, as well as the creation of Native MUN clubs at high schools across the country.
King started the project in the spring of 2018 and spent his summer working on it as a non-profit startup. He was chosen to present a workshop on MUN:Indigenous at the United National Indian Tribal Youth Conference (UNITY) in San Diego in July, and built the website and Facebook page to prepare for the conference. It was through a post on Facebook tagged “NHSMUN” that his project was discovered by Chris Talamo, the Executive Director of the International Model United Nations Association (IMUNA), the organizers of the NHSMUN Conference, who reached out to King to offer his support. IMUNA then offered a full endorsement of MUN:Indigenous, and helped with planning logistics for NHSMUN.
In support of King’s efforts, Talamo said, “Because of the various costs involved, Model UN, the world's most popular debate activity, is largely dominated by students from wealthy, privileged schools. Many schools in lower-income communities may only be able to afford short conferences in their area, or they may not have a MUN program at all. This dramatically skews the voices that are heard at the world's leading MUN conferences. When only the world's most privileged kids are discussing the issues that affect some of the world's most marginalized, including indigenous peoples, those living in extreme poverty, international refugees, and labor rights, the simulation is inherently skewed. There are no authentic voices that can relate to the challenges experienced by the people they are trying to help.”
(for full letter of endorsement, click here. )
King used Facebook to promote his project and invite students to apply to be delegates. He chose a group of 12, representing a number of tribal nations and regions across the United States. Delegates all pitched in to raise the approximately $1000 each needed for expenses to participate, and King is now working to raise the remaining funds needed to begin building a sustainable non-profit. (Go to www.MUNIndigenous.com and click on the “Donate Now” button to contribute).
The Provincetown Community Compact, and Executive Director Jay Critchley, also offered critical support, and are serving as the project’s 501c3 fiscal sponsor (www.thecompact.org).
After a year of work and this past week’s success, King said, “NHSMUN included the UN Permanent Forum on Indigenous Issues (UNPFII) at NHSMUN for the first time in their 45-year history. MUN:I was the first-ever group to represent the voices of Indian Country at NHSMUN, and I am especially proud that we had four delegates in the UNPFII simulation. Our delegation not only learned about human rights diplomacy, but also had the opportunity to represent indigenous peoples to a global youth community. We were honored to represent our communities and tribes at the largest Model UN gathering in the world.”
King is an enrolled member of the Rosebud Sioux Tribe (Sicangu Lakota) who currently lives in Provincetown, MA, with his mother, Provincetown Select Board Member Lise Balk King. Nathan was born in Rapid City, SD and vacationed in Provincetown, where his grandmother lives full time. He moved to the East Coast with his mother in 2009.
“It was an amazing experience working with other bright and dedicated Native American youth, and to be able to give them this opportunity to learn and practice new skills. Many of them had not heard of Model United Nations before MUN:I, and have told me about how meaningful an adventure NHSMUN was and how excited they are for next year. A few of our delegates intend to start MUN clubs at their high schools.
After a year of developing my MUN:Indigenous idea, it feels incredibly gratifying to know that my actions helped other Native American students in an impactful way. I was also pleased to see the delegates become friends and bond over the experience, most of whom had only met during our weekly Skype sessions.”
After the NHSMUN Conference, Delegate Zaden Salabye (Navajo), a senior at the Greyhill’s Academy High School in Phoenix Arizona, said, “Playing the role of an ambassador from a given country makes you realize just how diverse and unique the world really is. This program is something very special, I’m confident when I say the future is bright for us. For my native friends I HIGHLY recommend pursuing this program through the MUN:I organization directed and founded by a young entrepreneur and bright mind Nathan Balk King, it’s purpose is to bring all types of indigenous kids together to attend MUN. I personally feel that MUN:I is the best way to experience MUN with a chance to represent indigenous people in front of a prestigious community.”
Delegate Ariayna Yellowbank (Ho-Chunk/Cheyenne/Arapaho), a Junior at the Watonga High School in Watonga Oklahoma, explained, “I am participating in MUN:I to expand my horizons on knowledge about the United Nations. I also want to learn more on how to protect human right and learn about global affairs and almost everything else NHSMUN has to offer. I think it is important as indigenous people to have a voice and have a seat at the table. I want to be a leader and gain more leadership qualities while attending not only for myself, but so I can execute these leadership qualities back home and put them into action. I would also like to set an example for native youth everywhere to let them know they can travel and do big things and to learn how to better their communities and tribes.”
The International Model United Nations Association, a longstanding partner of the UN, provides students with a forum to hone skills in diplomacy, negotiation, critical thinking, compromise, public speaking, writing, and research. This opportunity allows Native youth to practice and take interest in human rights, including advocating for the rights of Indigenous people around the globe.