Support the Arts Internship Office

Internship Spotlight: Alexandria Gates

I chose to study environment at McGill in order to better understand how climate change and environmental processes impact people and their livelihoods. Over time, I developed an interest in how climate change impacts Indigenous peoples in particular. Indigenous peoples, particularly indigenous women, are disproportionately impacted by climate change, but they are also the guardians of traditional knowledge that can provide solutions and strategies to adapting to changes in the environment. After attending a compelling lecture in my geography class about adaptations to climate change in Madagascar, I found myself wanting to learn more about environmental changes in Africa and how climate change is impacting the people there. I knew I wanted an experience that could take this interest outside of the classroom. I began searching for internships based in Africa, and came across several on the Arts Internship website. After reading the descriptions, I knew that the Indigenous Peoples of Africa Coordinating Committee (IPACC) would be a great fit for me.

IPACC is a non-profit organization based in Cape Town, South Africa. It is a network consisting of over 150 Indigenous organizations throughout Africa. IPACC supports Indigenous peoples to attend conferences, trainings and workshops, and aids in the facilitation of pivotal projects, such as GIS-mapping in remote areas. They promote Indigenous peoples’ human rights and gender equality and Indigenous peoples’ participation in environmental conservation and climate justice, all while sustaining a transparent and democratic network. IPACC’s work is pivotal to promoting the engagement of African Indigenous peoples at the international level, particularly within the UN.

My duties as an intern were vast. Within the office of the Secretariat, I created budgets, edited publications, and helped to write donor reports. I corresponded with IPACC members and embassies in order to register Indigenous delegates for UN meetings and ensure they received visas on time. I also supported the Director by attending UN meetings in Germany and Poland. At the UN, I took meeting minutes, organized side events with the delegates and assisted the delegates when possible. I also had financial responsibilities and handled the budget and per diems for the delegates while in Poland.

I was present at the first-ever convening of the International Indigenous Peoples Forum on World Heritage, alongside delegates from many countries including Botswana, Democratic Republic of Congo, Tahiti, and Canada. This forum gives Indigenous peoples a space to voice their opinions and concerns about world heritage inscriptions and enables the sharing of best practices between Indigenous peoples throughout the globe. In addition, I had been working with the delegates for weeks prior to the conference to prepare for an IPACC run event. I designed the advertisement flyers, helped create the presentations, and handled the logistics of the event. Seeing the event come to fruition and be extremely successful was a huge highlight for me. I proved myself to be capable and had made an impact with the work I had done both in the office in preparation and on the ground in Krakow.

I was also able to speak to Indigenous peoples from Botswana, DRC, Niger and South Africa about how the environment in their region was shifting, and how this impacted their community. I was warmly welcomed by the entire delegation and truly felt like part of a team working to achieve something great

I am receiving credit for this internship. With the support of Dr. Jon Unruh, I will be writing a thesis with the working title The Implications of Engaging Indigenous Peoples in Responding to Climate Change. I was able to gather observational data and read IPACC publications to help me narrow down my topic of research.

This internship has shown a light into the world of the United Nations and how Indigenous peoples struggle to be heard at important conventions such as the UNFCCC and the World Heritage Forum. IPACC is a unique organization that works to strengthen the voice of Indigenous peoples at the grassroots, national, and international level and helps Indigenous delegates surmount political barriers to participation. I want to continue to support this dialogue encouraging increased Indigenous participation and am currently considering a career in law to help achieve this goal. My internship experience helped me to narrow down my interests and realize how strong my passion for climate justice really is.

I could not have embarked on this amazing journey without the generosity and funding of Carol an Lloyd Darlington. They enabled me to pursue my passion and I am extremely grateful for their commitment to supporting students like me through the Arts Internship Award.