4 Indigenous Leaders Share Why the World Must Care About Forests
"My message to all those who don’t live close to a forest is that we exist."
Today people around the world are celebrating World Environment Day — the United Nations’ flagship day for encouraging worldwide awareness and action for the environment.
Over the years, World Environment Day has grown to be one of the largest global platforms for public outreach celebrated by over a million people in over 100 countries around the world. Pretty amazing.
In the words of the platform, it is the 'People’s Day’ for doing something positive for the environment. The main goal of World Environment Day is to harness individual actions and transform them into a collective power that has a legacy of real and lasting impact on the planet.
This serves as a powerful moment where people across the world come together to show their care and love for the environment. This collective action to protect our planet is more important now than ever before.
The theme of World Environment Day this year is “Connecting People and Nature.”
To celebrate, we teamed up with If Not Us Then Who, an amazing organization that communicates firsthand the unique personal stories of an inconspicuous yet vital people, as they battle to protect their lives, their cultures and our forests.
Here are some powerful stories from indigenous youth explaining what their local forests mean to them, what a typical day in their local forest looks like, and what their message to young people who do not live near forests is.
Here is what they had to say:
Our Connection with the Forest
By Mark Rivas, Miskitu people, Nicaragua
Our forests are sacred sites for us, the place where the spirits of nature and the spirit of our ancestors live. It is the place where everything that we need is, from animals to hunt to edible plants.
The forest offers us peace, it connects us with the spirits and with nature, it is the best place to reflect and dream. It gives us protection and feeds us. It is like our older sibling. The forest disconnects us from a world of inequalities, a moment in our forests teaches us who we are and that we are all equal.
Spending a day in our forest is like spending a day in paradise where nothing matters more than oneself and our connection with nature. It teaches us that we are important and that we exist.
Without our forests, we would lose more than trees, plants, animals, we would lose our spiritual connection, we would lose our peace, our protection, our identity.
My message to all those who don’t live close to a forest is that we exist, peoples who depend on forests and who coexist with nature; technology and scientific advances are not essential for us, our forests are, and we believe that from our forests, our planet breathes and we all receive oxygen. We call them to join our constant fight to care for and defend our sacred sites, our lung, our forests.
What is the Forest for you?
By Yuam Pravia, Miskitu People, Honduras
My local forest is a space of connection with nature and the perfect creation that God has created in our surroundings. Equally it represents peace, reflection, relaxation and wisdom from beyond.
Spending time in the forest for me is an indescribable moment, for it allows you to comprehend the freedom that nature itself gives us, enjoy pure air, enjoy the singing of the birds, of the breeze and the whole great complement, the addition, that mother earth offers us, knowing that being in the forest purifies our body.
My message to young people who do not live near to any forest would be that the forest is life, the forest is our lung. I consider that we must learn to love it and value it, each time that we can connect ourselves with the natural beauty that the forests offer us, that the creator has gifted us since it is part of our living.
IF WE LOVE OURSELVES, LET’S LOVE OUR FORESTS TOO...FOR THEY ARE OUR EVERYTHING.
Burhanudin from Sinjay, South Sulawesi, Indonesia
What does your local forest mean to you?
“I think customary forest is the greatest asset that absolutely must be maintained for sustainable survival. In addition to being a buffer zone, forest also keeps the source of the spring and neutralizes the impacts of climate change.”
What is your message to young people who do not live near forests?
“Help coastal forest communities in maintaining their ecosystems. Without the forest, the city and everyone will lose their future. I hope everyone is aware of the importance of keeping the forest.”
Describe a typical day spent in your local forest
“When traveling to the middle of the forest, I sometimes go with friends and always do something to preserve the forest by planting trees. I also often set up tents for camping while enjoying the beautiful scenery full of freshness. Also, I think forests are very beneficial, either directly or indirectly such as beauty, clean air, coolness of the environment and other benefits. Forests are also the home of various wildlife, from the forest there are also fresh springs needed for rice fields and as a source of life for future generations.”
Read more of Burhanudin’s articles here.
Larry Salomon Pedro (Asangpas Kíamak), Mayangna, Nicaragua
What does your local forest mean to you?
The forest, the earth, the rivers and forest animals, they are our heritage, our inheritance from our ancestors, therefore we have the obligation to maintain them alive forever. These natural elements are the principal source of community life. Thanks to the earth and its derived resources, we live and give life in this world. The forest is my home, where I have spent the greater part of my life, my forest knows me and I know it, we are good friends, I know where to walk, the birds, the animals of every kind that exist there, present wherever I go, I walk through its interior and nothing happens to me, rather it is a space of health. My forest has no price, because it is not just material, but it has the spiritual, cultural and anthropological part which is not defined by any monetary value.
I take this opportunity to cite a definition from my people about the concept of territoriality:
“Territoriality: the SUMU SAUNI is a great living being, over which our ancestors have walked, leaving their footprints that we can see until today. Our territory is that on which the animals walk, it is the air in which the birds fly, it is the waters where the fish swim, it is the earth in which the plants grow, it is the sites from where we obtain our food and medicine. It is also the places where we have our riches and where those beings that only the Mayangna understand and see exist.” (Life Plan Awastingni, 2009)
How do you pass time in your local forest, describe a typical day in your forest?
Come rain, come sun, I must spend my days in the forest, neither the sun nor the rains do me damage, they fascinate me because the forest protects me, it does not permit them to affect me directly. I spend my days collecting my daily food, I find my medicines for healing there, I don’t have any other place that makes my life happy, my paradise is my forest, I find the food with which I was brought up, every morning and evening I bathe in the where I navigate unfalteringly. I see the fish swim, I see the birds fly through the air, I enjoy the fresh nights, while those great cities need air conditioning, I do not, that which my forest generates is enough.
What is your message to young people who do not live near to any forest?
The contemporary era of this planet has lost environmental consciousness, it is believed that human development is industrialization, infrastructure and technology. It is certain that those aspects have satisfied some necessities of humanity, such as housing, communication and medicine, however it must be understood that everything which we have or which is seen in the industrially developed cities, has its origin in natural resources (the environment), therefore the little which we have today we must preserve, care for and exploit with great caution, thinking of the generations to come, the global climate and native people who depend from these forests. It is necessary to live with nature to be able to understand how much it costs to lose the environment, so it is necessary to make oneself aware, to develop a more committed environmental education for the planet and humanity. To be in solidarity with peoples who live in forests is to collaborate with the environment and global humanity.
In solidarity, watch “The Reunion”, a short film about indigenous youth in Peru journeying into their local forest to connect with their ancestral past, here.