University of Waikato student Kyla Campbell has just returned from a life-changing trip to New York, where she presented at the United Nations Permanent Forum on Indigenous Issues. She was one of twelve young Kiwis chosen to accompany Northland GP and former Kiwibank New Zealander of the Year Dr Lance O’Sullivan, selected from a pool of more than 300 applicants.
When Kyla’s friend suggested she apply just four weeks before the conference, Kyla didn’t rate her chances of being chosen among the high-quality applicants she had seen. O’Sullivan had only planned on taking two people, but he was so overwhelmed by the high calibre of applicants he ended up taking twelve.
“It was a real honour to be accepted,” says the Bachelor of Social Sciences student. “I spoke about my goal of becoming a teacher but ultimately getting into politics, particularly to advance the interests of Māori.”
Four weeks later, Kyla flew to New York with eleven other speakers, excited to present about Indigenous issues at the United Nations. The group chose the name He Kuaka Mārangaranga, recognising the Kuaka, a seabird often heralded for its dynamic multiple-leader leadership model. Their four issues of discussion were constitutional transformation, environment, Māori knowledge and health and wellbeing.
“The conference was all about Indigenous people’s rights to land and resources. The forum had quite a dark tone, but we wanted to talk positively and inspire other Indigenous cultures to move past their grievances and look to the future,” she says.
For Kyla, the highlight of the trip was working with the other speakers from New Zealand and around the world.
“All of us had different skills to bring to the table and they all really shone in the presentation. At first we were nervous, but once we got there, the fear disappeared and we all just wanted to do the best job we could.”
Kyla left the forum with a new perspective, inspired by the people she met throughout the conference.
“My biggest takeaway from the trip was that the future is bright. Looking back at all the people who applied, you can see how many young Māori want to make a difference. The twelve of us want to pursue our dreams, but also bring the other 300 applicants with us,” she says.
Kyla says the forum has opened so many doors for her, and she has been invited to speak at Education Convention Summits in Auckland and Christchurch this week.