Respecting rights and indigenous peoples were underlined as key to sustainably managing our landscapes throughout the Global Landscapes Forum. Over 600 attendees from 150 countries discussed incorporating and strengthening indigenous peoples as stewards of the environment, through the lenses of finance, land tenure, journalism, research, activism, traditions and much more. These messages were watched by thousands online and reached 14 million users on social media; the reach of this lessons spread much further than Bonn, the location of the conference.
Throughout the event, indigenous peoples were present, engaged, respected and listened to. Sadly, a rarely followed concept and reality.
As an eager partner of the event, the UN Environment Programme supported and amplified the need to include Indigenous peoples and address rights in environmental governance. Not only did we speak at the event, but we also supported giving marginalised peoples a stage.
Why are indigenous rights important?
Indigenous fights are your fights; when they are listened to, this translates into support to those in cities fighting to be listened to; indigenous peoples fight against deforestation, degradation and climate change, issues that affect us all; moreover, our politics and economies impact indigenous worlds. Their issues and fights affect us, even if we do not recognize it.
There is an erroneous pattern of viewing activist fights in the Amazon or first peoples’ reserves as separate from the rest of us. Indigenous leaders emphasize that we should not leave the defence of nature to indigenous people—it is everyone’s duty. Tragically, many of us only hear of these causes when leaders are martyred. Our distance from these fights is evidenced in the hidden perils and struggles of these people. Global Witness records 200 environmental defenders to have been killed in 2017, however, during one event (supported by UN Environment) Geovaldis Gonzalez Jimenez, an indigenous peasant leader from Colombia stated that,
“There have been 135 murders in his region, the last one happened a day before the Global Landscape Forum began, when a local leader was killed in front of a nine-year-old boy.”
Indigenous people care for over a quarter of the world’s land surface. This intersects with 40 per cent of protected terrestrial landscapes which includes 80 per cent of all the world’s biodiversity. However, this care is vulnerable, undermined and at times dangerous.
They face a lack of control and voice over their traditional lands, resulting in wide-scale displacement and disruption of their lives, livelihoods and environments. Diel Mochire Mwenge has seen the displacement of over 1 million Pygmes in the Congo during his lifetime, whilst Gladson Dungdung from India fears the threat of eviction of over 7 million people from their native forests.
“Indigenous people are not just victims.”
Joan Carling, Co-Convenor of Indigenous Peoples Major Group for Sustainable Development
Lands managed by indigenous peoples with secure rights have lower deforestation rates, higher biodiversity levels and higher carbon storage than lands in government-protected areas, as recognized by Vicky Tauli-Corpuz, United Nations Special Rapporteur on the rights of indigenous peoples.
However, indigenous peoples do not just face problems—they also hold solutions. They possess knowledge useful to restoring ecosystems and retain practices that have worked alongside thriving ecosystems for years. Key to securing their rights is inclusion; incorporating them in decision-making and governance allows for the usage of their much ignored and sometimes maligned skills and expertise.
Indigenous peoples are deeply connected to their natural resources; they are not separate from them but a part of them. Land, ocean, biodiversity and air hold their religion, their knowledge, their rituals and their identity. Integral to the success and necessity of indigenous rights is a traditional understanding and implementation of the principle that not only are we responsible for our environment, but we are the environment.
“Making forests disappear leads to the disappearance of us.”
Diel Mochire Mwenge, Initiative Program for the Development of the Pygme in the Democratic Republic of the Congo
When you protect Indigenous communities, you protect their—and in the larger scheme, our—environment.
We all need to make engaging with indigenous peoples fights and securing their rights a priority if we are to successfully battle the large environmental problems facing us all.
For more information, please contact: Angela/Kariuki[at]un.org I Niamh.Brannigan[at]un.org I Paula.Waibochi[at]un.org