The University of Massachusetts Amherst

Honors Sophomore Receives Leadership Award for Creating Indigenous Organization

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Nathan Balk King '23 received a Tikkun Olam Leadership Award. The scholarship celebrates the Hebrew concept of tikkun olam, or "repairing the world." King's $36,000 award was granted by the Diller Family Foundation, which supports Jewish teen leadership to create and inspire future generations of strong leaders in the global community.

An enrolled member of the Rosebud Sioux Tribe, King created Model United Nations: Indigenous (MUNI) as a way to empower indigenous communities by giving Native American high school students valuable public policy and human rights advocacy tools. Prior to UMass, he attended the National High School Model United Nations (NHSMUN) conference, where he was the only Native American student delegate. Leading MUNI, King recruited twelve indigenous delegates from across the country and raised enough funding to send them to the 2019 NHSMUN conference, which hosted over 5,000 students from seventy-four countries.

“Usually schools that have more money are going to be the ones to make the trip,” King said. “It’s a flaw in the conference that marginalized people aren’t able to attend when often times they’re the people being discussed.”

Without the inclusion of Model United Nations: Indigenous, the NHSMUN would have lacked the voice of the indigenous people they aim to protect. King’s goal is to fix the fundamental flaws of underrepresentation and lack of education that effect many Native Americans.

King’s activism with MUNI was endorsed by the International Model United Nations Association and prompted the inclusion of the UN Permanent Forum on Indigenous Issues at NHSMUN for the first time in the conference's forty-five-year history. Model UN: Indigenous is officially registered as a non-government organization with the United Nations Department of Social and Economic Affairs, which allows MUNI to apply for credentials for UN events, such as the annual UN Permanent Forum on Indigenous Issues.

“I want to make Model UN more widespread and common in Native country,” King said. “I want to make it a norm for Native participation.”

Native participation proved to be an asset during the Permanent Forum on Indigenous Issues at NHSMUN in 2019. In a discussion over Native American land rights, many of the proposed solutions in the group had already been tried and failed. The inclusion of MUNI students gave a first-hand point of view on why these proposals would not work, providing an enriching learning experience for the group.

During this summer, MUNI is hosting free, virtual sessions to teach high schoolers and rising college freshman Model UN basics, such as debating and conducting research. The summer sessions will end with a virtual MUNI conference simulation.

Majoring in physics, King hopes to earn his PhD and work in the astrophysics field. He also has plans to create another STEM-based educational organization for Native Americans beyond MUNI.