By Emma Bott
This past week, Concordia hosted National Model United Nation’s (NMUN) international conference in Banff. The theme of the conference was issues surrounding Aboriginal people and the environment. Because of this, it is relevant to note that Banff is on Treaty 7 land. The conference took place at the Banff Centre, which is located on Sleeping Buffalo Mountain (also known as Tunnel Mountain). Concordia not only was the host institution, but also had delegates participating in the committees representing Bolivia and Senegal. We also provided volunteers and staff with Concordia alumna, Kelsea Gillespie, serving as Secretary-General. For those who aren’t familiar with this terminology, the Secretary-General is the individual ruling the event.
The NMUN conference brings students from all over the world together: Canada, the United States, Germany, Philippines, Japan, Italy and China. There are two days of cultural tours followed by four days of committee. During those four days, there are simulations of four UN Committees: General Assembly (GA), Economic and Social Committee (ECOSOC), United Nations Environment Assembly (UNEA) and the Security Council (SC). As I mentioned previously, one of the main themes of the conference this year was the environment. The conference reflected this emphasis by taking delegates and staff on a tour of some of the sites of the Banff national park. The order of the stops varied depending on the bus, but I will take you through the stops in the order my group went through.
First, we went on hike to Johnston canyon, in which were able to hike to the lower and upper falls. The sights looked like something out of a winter wonderland! Luckily, the temperature was warm. Lake Minnewanka was the next stop. This lake has many stories regarding why it was not used by the original people of the land. Some say they feared a monster that lived in the lake, while others say that it was holy and should not be contaminated. Either way, the lake is both beautiful and eerie. There is definitely a sense of something otherworldly about it. On the road to our next stop, we learned the history of the name of Sleeping Buffalo mountain. It was originally named Sleeping Buffalo due to it literally being shaped like a sleeping buffalo. It was renamed Tunnel Mountain when the railroad was built. For a time, the railroad company believed that building a tunnel through the mountain was the best route. It was continually put off due to lack of resources. Maps showed an “x” where the planned tunnel would be. It wasn’t until later that they decided it would be easier to go around the north side of the mountain and then meet back up with the river; the name Tunnel Mountain just stuck. We were able to take the gondola up Sulfur Mountain. The sights were amazing and many participants were able to see a family of mountain goats. The bus drove by the Banff Springs Hotel, a prime vacation spot for those who can afford it. The last stop on the tour was the Beau Falls. It turned out there was a phone booth by the falls that had suffered the wrath of an angry bear! Following that discovery, the next morning, we were given a presentation on grizzly bears, which contained information on why they’re endangered and what the Banff National Park is doing for them. The challenges facing the grizzly bear population are food availability, landscape, railway, humans, and canines. One of the most fascinating ways the national park is helping grizzly bears and other animals survive the landscape is by creating both overpasses and underpasses on the highway for animals to use. They actually look like they’re part of the scenery. Additionally, food sources from near the railway are being cleared away from tracks.
The second theme of the conference was Aboriginal issues. Stephanie Harpe gave a presentation about the problem of missing and murdered indigenous people, specifically women. She talked about the legacy of the reservation schools, and discussed the deep level of trauma within the communities. She raised the point of how reconciliation has, for the most part, been giving indigenous people money but not always healing and counselling them. Afterwards, we went through a blanket exercise that described the history of the paths taken by the indigenous people of Canada. At first, the blankets were all connected and the people could move freely. Then we restricted certain areas and the blankets were no longer connected. People died off from diseases and residential schools and the new borders separated people; many of them lost their status and left. We were able to see how, in recent years, some ground has been made, but obviously not enough. After this exercise, participants were given the option to vocalise any realisations and thoughts. Lewis Cardinal then led a cleansing smudging exercise.
Opening Ceremonies took place on the Tuesday evening. Before the opening ceremonies, there was a panel discussing the protection of rights of Indigenous Peoples, with focus on the impact of the United Nations Declaration of Indigenous Peoples. The panel was moderated by Lewis Cardinal and included Dr. Dwayne Donald, Dr. Jim Miller and Rachel Holmes. We were able to watch traditional dances and hear drums and singing. We then proceeded into the opening ceremony, where Lee Crowchild addressed the audience and provided some enlightening words on the issues. We heard members of the Concordia family speak as well–Dr. Tim Loreman, Dr. Manfred Zeuch, Ian Lee, and Kelsea Gillespie, and Rector Jario Jose Campos da Costa from one of our partnership universities in Brazil. NMUN Executive Director, Michael Eato, also addressed the audience. The keynote speaker was the Honourable Paul Roche. Mr. Roche highlighted the issues of the world today such as nuclear disarmament, the environment, and the need for reform of the Security Council.
Committee sessions began on Tuesday evening and ran through until each committee had two topics of research and had decided upon which topic to discuss. The General Assembly’s topics were the Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous People: A Decade in Review, and Civilian Capacity in the Aftermath of Conflict. The GA went with the second topic. The United Nations Environment Assembly’s topics were the Protection of the Environment in Areas Affected by Armed Conflict, and Sustainable Consumption and Production. UNEA went with the first topic. The Security Council’s topics were Children and Armed Conflict and Situation in Cyprus. The SC went with the first topic. The Economic and Social Council topics were Sustainable Development Goals and Indigenous Peoples, and Promoting Rule of Law to Facilitate Economic and Social Development. ECOSOC went with the second topic. Delegates worked on policy in the spirit of cooperation–they went through many rounds of edits filled with late nights and working during lunch and dinner. I was honoured to work as the Assistant Director of the Economic and Social council; I was able to chair formal sessions and learned so much more that I ever thought was possible. I was very proud of the delegates in ECOSOC as they worked hard to get through both topics.
The closing ceremonies took place on Friday afternoon. The two keynote speakers were Danika Littlechild and Paul Lacerte. Danika Littlechild discussed her work as an indigenous person at the UN and the work being done at the UN for rights of indigenous people. Paul Lacerte provided more insight into the conditions of indigenous people. Michael Eaton and Kelsea Gillespie, once again, addressed the audience. They reflected upon the past week as well as the progress moving forward. Dr. Chaldeans Mensah, a political science professor from Macewen and a member of the NMUN board, also spoke to the audience. The mood was one that held reflection of the past and promise of the future.
What Model UN really means is so much more than just giving speeches and working on papers. It is about the connections and the learning. Every individual at this conference earned something. You grow and you connect. From all of the Model UNs I have attended over the years, I have made so many connections around the world. Concordia should be proud to be a sponsor of this conference.