It’s no coincidence that Indigenous people make up 5% of the global population, yet protect 80% of global biodiversity.
For centuries and even millennia, Indigenous people have been stewards of the land, air, and water, forging reciprocal relationships with plants, animals, and other organisms, developing vast repositories of knowledge and wisdom that rival modern science.
They’ve also resisted being fully absorbed into the global economic framework that reduces everything in the natural world to the status of a commodity with a price tag.
Still, their ability to be caretakers and guardians of the planet has been systematically undermined.
In the “Natural Climate Solutions – Perspectives of Indigenous Peoples” webinar hosted by environmental nonprofit Conservation International (CI) on Sept. 21, Indigenous activists and conservation experts will discuss this dynamic and look at how the world can better empower Indigenous communities to lead on nature-based solutions that are necessary to fighting climate change and ecologically decline.
“We have to stop looking at the natural world as capital,” Minnie Degawan, director of CI’s Indigenous Peoples Program, told Global Citizen. “Indigenous people have always looked at the natural world as something that’s part and parcel of their being — we do not separate people from nature.”
Degawan will be participating in the event alongside Shyla Raghav, CI vice president of climate change; Hindou Ibrahim, who sits on CI’s board of directors and is a member of Chad’s Mbororo nomadic pastoralist community; Graeme Reeve, the current co-chair of the IIPFCC and member of the Assembly of First Nations in Canada; Beverly Longid, the global coordinator of the Indigenous Peoples Movement for Self-Determination and Liberation (IPMSDL) and Igorot, belonging to the Bontok-Kankanaeys of Sagada and Alba, Bontoc, Mountain Province, Philippines.
The panel will highlight various types of nature-based solutions being enacted around the world and discuss how well they incorporate Indigenous voices and values.
In this era of accelerating climate change, ecosystem loss, and the sixth mass extinction, the perspectives of Indigenous people are more valuable than ever, Ibrahim, who is also the founder of the Association of Indigenous Women of Chad, told Global Citizen.
“Indigenous people are the guardians of our environment,” she said. “We have traditional knowledge from thousands of years that help our people live in harmony with nature.
“If we harm nature, nature will harm us back,” she added. “If we protect nature, nature will protect us back.”
Despite the clear success of Indigenous people in protecting the planet, they’re rarely given control over and financing for environmental projects. Instead, Indigenous concerns and wisdoms are often flipped into slogans that go nowhere, according to Degawan.
“It’s very easy to do a slogan of Indigenous rights recognition and acknowledgement of traditional knowledge,” she said. “It’s important to recognize that communities need some tools and funding to be able to take on the stewarding of the land that they have done for so long.”
In the past few decades, conservation efforts have often failed to include Indigenous communities, which has denied them cultural agency. When a section of land is designated for conservation, rules for what humans can do on that land are then drawn up. Unless Indigenous people are consulted, these rules tend to prevent Indigenous cultural practices like managed burns and limited hunts that were developed in harmony with the environment.
The same pattern applies to restoration projects. Oftentimes, restoration projects are carried out without first consulting Indigenous communities who intimately know the land. What follows is often a form of restoration that includes planting fast-growing plants and trees that aren’t always compatible with Indigenous plant species.
Degawan said that Indigenous and community conserved areas, known as ICCAs, are a better model. ICCAs give management of natural resources back to Indigenous communities who have the historical knowledge and cultural incentives to restore and take care of ecosystems.
Ibrahim said that empowering Indigenous communities also means elevating women. She pioneered a 3D mapping project in Chad that has aided in the protection of natural resources. When filling out the map’s details, she generally had to rely on women who knew the land through their daily collection of water, medicine, and food. Ibrahim said that women have valuable contributions to make in all fields.
“Empowering women is one way of getting us out of the crises that we are having,” she said. “Women are more than half of the population, but we still need to argue every day to be included. It’s so unjust.”
You can register for CI’s “Natural Climate Solutions – Perspectives of Indigenous Peoples" webinar here.