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Pequot lobbying brings UN children's conference to southern Connecticut

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MASHANTUCKET, Conn. - After years of international lobbying by the Mashantucket Pequot Tribal Nation, the United Nations Environmental Programme is preparing to hold its fourth biennial children's conference on the environment this summer in southeastern Connecticut.

The gathering, partly sponsored by the Mashantucket Pequots, will bring thousands of youths to New London for four days from July 19 to 23. As many as 100 countries are expected to participate. Formally called the 2004 Tunza International Children's Conference, it is inviting schools and community groups with environmental programs to nominate delegates. Registration is open through February.

Tribal delegates are especially welcome, said the Pequot Times, the Pequot monthly newspaper, in announcing the event. A limited number of scholarships are available, said Arthur Henick, public relations director for the Mashantucket Pequot Tribal Nation.

A local group sponsored by the Mashantuckets has worked to bring this conference to the area since the year 2000. The New London site was in the running for the 2002 conference, and the tribe invited UN representatives to visit facilities. UNEP chose Vancouver, British Columbia, instead, but promised to come to Connecticut in 2004.

The Mashantuckets provided seed money for the event, said Henick. He said their ultimate contribution would be in the "low-to-mid six figures."

The Conference was initiated as a recommendation of the Rio Earth Summit in 1992 and has met four times already, twice in England and once each in Kenya and Canada. This year's conference will be the first session within the United States. It is also the first year it will be called the Tunza conference, from the word in the East African Kiswahili language meaning "to care

with affection."

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The meeting, also called ICC04, is the largest UN event bringing children together to discuss the environment and their role as stewards. It is organized by the International Coalition for Children and

the Environment.

"It will be a meaningful event which will help the children see the importance of protecting the environment and how they, in their local communities, can work toward ensuring that the earth is preserved for future generations," said Barbara Morgan, executive director of the conference.

Each day will focus on a specific theme. The topic for day two is "indigenous peoples and their environmental ways." Day one will deal with "Extinction and biodiversity," day three with "Oceans, Rivers and Waterways and day four with "Energy - Save it. Renew it, Recycle it."

Together with the American Sail Training Association, the conference will also present a Tall Ships Festival, bringing together one of the largest fleets of windjammers in recent years. The multi-masted ships, survivors from the ocean-going age of sail, will parade through New London harbor on the Thames River on the morning of July 22. The Festival will also feature an Environmental Exposition.

The maritime tradition of the region began long before European contact as Pequot canoes regularly crossed Long Island Sound. It continued through the whaling years and down to the present, with the nation's major nuclear submarine base and the Coast Guard Academy, which maintains a tall ship, the USS Eagle, for training.

Details on the conference and on registration are available on its Web site, or from the International Coalition for Children and the Environment, 305 State St., New London, CT 06320. Registration will cost $350 per delegate or adult chaperone.