A FOURTEEN-YEAR-OLD Salvationist from the USA gave a speech at the United Nations in New York on Thursday 15 November. Kayla Calvo was asked by the UN to represent and speak on behalf of young people from around the world on the topic of 'Fulfilling the Rights of Indigenous Children: Successes and Challenges'. The address was part of a day of celebration for the Convention on the Rights of the Child.
As a descendant of indigenous peoples from Costa Rica, Kayla brought personal insight to the proceedings. The invitation allowed her to research and find that, in addition to the difficulties that all children face, there is a need for the UN to look more deeply at the unique needs of indigenous children.
Kayla is no stranger to public speaking, having represented The Salvation Army at the UN's 55th Session on the Commission on the Status of Women in 2011. She attended the opening session of the General Assembly while representatives from different countries gave their views on the condition of the 'girl child'.
The transcript of her speech is given here.
Fulfilling the Rights of Indigenous Children: Successes and Challenges
Good morning everyone. My name is Kayla Calvo and I am fourteen years old. I am the daughter of Kathleen Susan Bentley and Joaquin Jose Calvo Mora. My mother was born in the United States of America and my father is Costa Rican. My father is a descendent of the Huetare Indians from Costa Rica which makes me a descendent too. I am very proud of my races and cultures, but I am especially proud of my indigenous Huetaren roots. I consider myself both an American and a Costa Rican citizen. I love who I am and where I come from. I take great pride in knowing that I have a rich heritage.
As you are aware, today we are celebrating the 22nd year of the adoption of the Convention on the Rights of the Child. Today we will be focusing on the Indigenous child.
Indigenous people are those who have been living in a place for a long time or as many people would say, "since the dawn of time" because it's true in a way. They have been in that place for so many centuries within their own groups on their own land.
Because I live in the USA I think of Native Americans when I consider who the indigenous people are in this country. As far back as we know they are the original people of this land. Or at least the oldest surviving people in the land. They express themselves in ancient ways and values. They stay with each other, they believe they are their own family, nation, country and they are whole with each other because they always stay together. They learn their native language and practice their ways. It is who they are and in our quickly changing world they struggle to maintain these ways. By right, they should be able to keep their ways and customs. Yet it is a challenge for them to pass these ways down to their children, and at the same time give them skills to survive in a world that constantly tries to draw them out from what they know and hold sacred.
I would like to talk to you about a group of Indigenous people called the Navajo Indians. I asked my Uncle, who lived and taught school on a Navajo Reservation in Tohatchi, New Mexico, some questions about the Navajo Indians and their ways. He shared that the children live together with their mother and their mother's oldest brother, their uncle, in the house. They are taught by their mother up to age 5 until they go to a public school.
In their first year of school they learn language skills both in English and Navajo, but since they were taught their native language mixed with English they often have trouble developing language skills in both languages which causes them to be unprepared for the school year. This results in them falling behind those children who do not have to manage two languages. This is a struggle for the child who needs to learn both languages and language skills because they aren't fluent in either language. This causes the learning process for the whole first year to become slower paced, sometimes causing a delay in finishing required work. This can become disheartening to the child who is already struggling.
Most of the teachers are very patient, yet some teachers treat some of the children as if they were special needs students. Not the kind of special needs that are mentally blocked, but those who lag behind and have a hard time adjusting and learning at the same pace as the rest of the class. This results in many of the Navajo children dropping out of school later on because they don't fit in.
Another challenge that exists for Navajo children is the ability to retain some aspects of their culture. My Uncle told me that most of the Navajo students followed the Navajo tradition while a growing number does not follow the tradition. Schools teach Navajo history and language, which is a positive step toward keeping the tradition and language alive.
I learned that because the Navajo teach their children to stay with the land, the children don't always see a need to get a college degree. Most believe that they don't need a degree to work the land. A struggle many educators have is keeping the children focused on their studies. Although most Navajo parents want their children to succeed, they don't always encourage them to strive for a higher education because they don't believe that a degree is necessary to do well in life. Rather they believe that the children should stay with their family and help their family. So, if a child does get a degree, it is expected that they come back home to help their people. It's important to contribute to their own tribe and to their own community. Their world is the tribe and the tribe is their nation.
I would like to share with you about the Yupik Indians from Tooksook Bay in Alaska. My other Uncle lives in Alaska and has worked with the Yupik people for over 10 years. He explained that when the Yupik children go to school they have classes only in Yupik up until 3rd grade. The school system works to maintain the Yupik culture and ways by making the native language their first in their early years. In 4th grade the schools introduce English and then when they get to higher grades they learn more English, but they still learn in their native language as well. My cousin attends a Yupik school. He is in 4th grade so he's learning in English now. When he was born he was given his Yupik name and has learned the language. This is an important step in preserving the customs and ways of this indigenous group. I feel that it's a success in regard to fulfilling the rights of indigenous children.
Because the Yupik hunt and fish to maintain their living, there is a temptation for the young men to drop out of school. They are needed to help their families and community. The school system helps by altering the schedule during hunting and fishing seasons in order to keep with tradition and prevent drop out. Parents want their children to go to school and succeed. They are proud of their children when they go off to college and secure a degree. But, they expect their child to come back and use their education for their family and community.
I would like to talk about the Huetare Indians. The Huetare are an indigenous people from Costa Rica. In my research I found that we were known for being the most powerful and organized of the indigenous groups and we had an effective government. My ancestors maintained communication between the different tribes. This changed once the Conquestadors from Spain came and changed our ways. The language was lost as the Spanish forced the Huetaren to learn Spanish and speaking the native language was disallowed. The Huetaren people forgot our traditions and ways because they were taught the Spanish ways and weren't allowed to practice our ways. With the passing of the years most Huetarens lost their customs. The huetaren culture changed as they inter-married with the Spanish. I am a product of that change. Today, only 500 Huetarens continue to live within the traditional community and maintain the original culture. It's sad to think that such a vibrant, strong and organized people have been reduced to such a small number simply because there was a lack of respect and appreciation for their culture and ways.
This is why we must help the indigenous children keep their customs. It's important to allow the children to learn their ancient ways from their family and community. In fact, we are responsible to encourage them to continue living as their convictions dictate. We live in a world where we are encouraged to respect the differences in each other. We are challenged to accept and embrace diversity on every level. Yet, we are guilty of not always being open to allowing people from indigenous groups to celebrate themselves because we have deemed them old fashioned or out of touch with modern times.
If these children are the minority and we are the majority, it is our duty to protect them and keep them from fading away and from losing their identity. They have a right to protect and preserve their identity without interference from those who have decided their fate before considering the damage that their interference may cause. Especially from those of us who have deemed them less important than the rest.
The indigenous peoples of our lands, those lands represented in the adopted Convention on the Rights of Children, are in need of our protection. Not only their physical protection, but a protection of ideals and ways is needed. And in order to keep true to the words of this Convention we are obligated to do whatever we can to assist these groups of people in maintaining their dignity and pride in a way of life that is theirs and that has contributed even to our lives through time.
We are responsible to protect and keep the Indigenous ways strong and alive so that Indigenous children can learn and be proud of their heritage and where and who they came from.
I am a 14 year old girl who is a student. I'm not a lawyer, an author, a CEO, or a even a Chief. I am simply a child. Although I'm young, I have a voice. I can be a voice. A voice for the remaining Huetares, the Yupiks, and the Navajos. A voice for all of the children. A voice for the indigenous children who can't be here today to tell you how they feel and what they need and what they hold dear. Children who love who they are, but can't seem to find a voice or are not allowed to speak because some people are not willing to hear what they have to say. I am here to speak on their behalf. Won't you listen?