At 23 years old, Mitzy Violeta Cortés Guzmán is part of a network that drives environmental action and seeks to change the narrative around the climate crisis from the perspective of Indigenous peoples. 

The winner of the 2022 Global Citizen Prize: Citizen Award Mexico, Mitzy is Mixtec, from San Sebastián Tecomaxtlahuaca, Oaxaca, and she grew up surrounded by nature. Her community had intimate contact with the river, the lagoon, and the mountains, which informed her early life lessons about the vital importance of protecting the land. 

Raised in a community without hierarchies and with a deep respect for nature, Mitzy understood, after her start in the university system, that formal academic spaces rarely consider the wisdom of Indigenous peoples as part of the solution to the climate crisis. 

So she raised her voice — to resist and also to prove the inherited knowledge of her people was not only valid, but also a crucial “living solution” to protect the earth. 

Mitzy's activism was born out of living through and witnessing inequalities, oppression, and violence toward Indigenous communities, especially women, their language, and the land. 

After exploring various diverse youth meeting spaces, she found a home with Red Futuros Indígenas (Indigenous Futures Network), a union of voices, forces, and collective solutions.

Red Futuros Indígenas is a network of resistance that, through workshops, meetings, and communication campaigns, has among its main objectives the dissemination of narratives about ancestral knowledge, language, and practices; the defense of water and territory; resistance to extractivism; and the sharing of ancestral food recipes.  

Global Citizen Prize: Citizen Award Mexico winner Mitzy Cortés
Image: Fernando Poiré

"We do not propose to go back to the past,” reads the organization’s manifesto. “We do not romanticize precariousness. We do not deny anyone's existence. We do not apologize. We call for taking responsibility to stop this extermination machine. We know that the climate crisis is a consequence of the systems of structural inequality that govern the world today.

It concludes: "There is enough water, food, and land for all people and living things to exist with dignity in this territory called Mexico, in this common home called Earth. We can regenerate the life systems to which our future is linked. But the change must be at the root. Because after every crisis we do not want to return to normality, we want to return to the earth. In times of climate crisis, the future is a territory to defend."

Mitzy wants to make sure that more people get involved in protecting the earth and that the fight against the climate crisis is focused on combating its structural causes, from an intersectional perspective.

“We believe that the healing of the land is the defense of life and territory,” she told Global Citizen. “In the face of this emergency, we see the need to name the crisis from our languages and cosmic worldviews, to dialogue with our communities, but also to make visible the responsibility that we all have to sow other futures and to name those who are responsible for the crisis.”

This year’s Global Citizen Prize is being recognized across three categories: to Defend the Planet, Defeat Poverty, and Demand Equity, with a focus on climate change, empowering adolescent girls, and breaking down systemic barriers that keep people trapped in poverty. 

As a Global Citizen Prize: Citizen Award winner, Mitzy will receive a year-long program of support from Global Citizen, as well as a donation to Red Futuros Indígenas.

We spoke to her about her activism, the many obstacles climate activists in Latin America face, and what she hopes to achieve.

Mitzy was part of the COP26 to denounce what was happening in her territory.
Image: Gibran Mena Aguilar

Global Citizen: How was the idea of the Red Futuros Indígenas born?

Mitzy Cortés: We are a network made up of more than 20 collectives belonging to different Indigenous peoples of Mexico. Our collectives are focused on the defense of the territory, understanding this in an integral way, with actions ranging from the recovery of language, knowledge, traditional medicine, community communication and resistance processes against megaprojects, mining, energy projects, and monoculture. 

Within our processes, we find the need to articulate ourselves in a network of narrative resistances to position that the defense of the territory is a living alternative to the climate crisis that today affects the entire planet. 

In times of ecocide and genocide, we argue that the future is a territory to defend where other stories have to be told — stories that denounce the violence against Indigenous peoples, feminized bodies, and nature, but also sow hope that other worlds are possible. 

How long have you been working with the organization, and what is your collective vision?

We have been working together for a little more than a year and have carried out communication campaigns in five areas: energy, cities, defense of territory, water, and food. [This is] in addition to joint actions with youth fighting for climate justice, such as Fridays For Future MAPA, Legaia, and other Indigenous peoples in resistance. 

Our intention is to hack the narrative of the climate crisis and show that it is a symptom of a larger disease and that it is we, the people, who fight against this disease by preserving our languages, building collectively, and defending the territory against extractivism. 

Can you give us some examples of moments or projects that you have taken forward with a positive result?

Among youth and members of the network, we formed the Defensoras de la Tierra initiative to attend the United Nations Conference on Climate Change [COP26 in Glasgow] to denounce what was happening in our territory and to weave ourselves with other struggles that seek a profound change of meaning where money is no longer put above life. We were 10 women defenders and other youth collectives, who worked together to create and implement the initiative.

In addition, while in Glasgow, we were part of the CURA DA TERRA Global Indigenous Women's Gathering.

The campaign, from which the network emerged, is based on five areas: “La fiesta es resistencia”, “Raíz Rompe Cemento”, “Agua es mi territorio”, “Recetario de resistencias”, “Energía para quién”.

What’s the main goal of Red Futuros Indígenas?

We believe that the healing of the land is the defense of life and territory. In the face of this emergency, we see the need to name the crisis from our languages and cosmic worldviews, to dialogue with our communities, but also to make visible the responsibility that we all have to sow other futures and to name those who are responsible for the crisis. 

What are some of the projects you are currently working on?

At the moment we are working internally to strengthen some communication and security actions for the members of the network, in addition to amplifying some processes when requested, for example in the fight against mining companies and megaprojects. I am also now part of the communal property authorities in my community, which is in charge of taking care of common goods such as water or the forest, for example.

How is the organization structured?

Decisions are made in an assembly, where each collective can participate and have a vote in all decisions. We start from the fact that we are a collective movement that seeks to strengthen the processes of territorial defense and its conversation with the current climate crisis. 

In terms of security, Latin America is a dangerous region for activism. Have you encountered challenges or moments when you have found yourself in danger? And how have you managed to organize to continue your work despite these obstacles? 

We consider ourselves defenders of the territory who fight [alongside] different organizations or with our communities. Most of us are in our communities where the organization is what has helped us to overcome different problems. However, with the arrival of extractive projects in our towns, violence, division, and the violation of the human rights of community members are increasing. Faced with this situation, we fight against the State, companies, and organized crime in communities where there is little media attention and where defenders can be murdered or intimidated without no justice or protection. 

There are several cases of women who have suffered intimidation, who have had to leave their homes because they are the ones who denounce [extractive projects] and fight for the respect of community decisions. But we have learned that we can also build our own communication networks and regional articulations to be able to have more immediate responses and have a greater echo. Among organizations, we [speak up] to denounce [these projects] and let them know that we are not alone. 

What challenges are you still facing on your journey and what do you need to succeed?

In recent years, violence against Indigenous peoples in Mexico has increased in order to appropriate our territories, our knowledge, and try to put an end to our organization, because they don’t want to find any type of resistance. 

The colonization of our peoples continues to this day, despite the fact that we are the ones who conserve 80% of the planet's biodiversity. We need our stories to be heard from our own voices, to talk about the consequences of violence and dispossession in our territories, to respect our free self-determination, to decide about our territories, to stop plundering and exterminating us. 

We need to be recognized as living solutions to the climate crisis. We need them to understand that different spaces could exist, other ways of relating with nature. There are still ways of coexisting with people from logics that do not put some people above others. 

On May 22, all eight Global Citizen Prize winners — including Mitzy and her fellow Citizen Award winners from around the world, as well as this year’s Global Citizen Prize: Cisco Youth Leadership Award winner, Nidhi Pant — will be celebrated at an awards ceremony and intimate gala dinner event taking place at New York City’s Gotham Hall. 

The event will recognize the winners’ extraordinary work, with an exclusive stream of the Global Citizen Prize event airing on YouTube on June 2, at 12 p.m. ET.

You can also find out more about how you can join Mitzy in taking action to defend the planet here.

Global Citizen Asks

Defend the Planet

How Global Citizen Prize Winner Mitzy Cortés Fights for Climate Action Through Indigenous Solutions

By Erica Sánchez