Today, 9 August, is the International Day of the World’s Indigenous Peoples. This year's theme is “Indigenous Peoples' Migration and Movement.” We spoke to thirty-four-year old Hindou Oumarou Ibrahim, an indigenous woman from the Mbororo pastoralist community of Chad, to ask whether she believes there is a future for nomadic communities?
With a background in indigenous peoples' rights and environmental protection, Ibrahim was recently nominated a National Geographic Emerging Explorer. She is the coordinator of the Peul Indigenous Women and Peoples Association of Chad and co-chairs the International Indigenous Peoples Forum on Climate Change. She is actively involved in many other initiatives to protect the rights of indigenous peoples to move and migrate.
Q What is your message to young indigenous peoples from nomadic communities about the future: is it realistic that migration can be a part of modern society?
A: I am passionate about this topic and will be speaking at the Global Landscape Forum, hosted by the United Nations in Nairobi on 29 August. As nomadic people, we move a lot. This movement is our way of protecting the environment, allowing natural resources to regenerate between migration periods and seasons. We interact with the animals, birds, water and seasons – moving constantly. Our people have rich traditional knowledge about ecosystem function and how to balance limited natural resources. As for young people, they must protect indigenous rights to interact with land, resources and territory while protecting collective land rights and customary laws.
Q: How does climate change impact indigenous communities like yours?
A: We know that climate change is making our natural resources pool shrink. Our adaptation strategy is to migrate to areas where resources are more abundant. We must be more tolerant of human migration and nomadic communities who rely on the land for their livelihoods. Developed countries take the view that human migration for any reason – environmental, political, economic – must be stopped. Instead, we must put in place proper regulations and recognize the needs of migrating communities – whether it is because they are fleeing climate disasters or migrating with their livestock.
Q: In many countries, nomadic communities are encouraged to settle so that they get easier access to education or health care. Is this a solution you accept?
A: In Kenya, Chad and many other countries, we are forced to settle, but our natural resources are diminishing and moving. In some sedentary places, animals are crowded: they contract diseases and destroy our ecosystem’s balance. This causes conflict. We must integrate movement and migration into development plans: we need moving schools, moving hospitals and moving energy, for example through solar energy. These solutions do exist. We have a different way of living: we have the gift of traditional knowledge to predict the weather, to adapt to seasons or to use traditional medicines. These lessons help us survive and save our resources. We must focus on preserving this gift, learning and sharing it with others, to help our next generation adapt to climate change and other threats we may face.
Q: Do you think settling is an inevitable part of development?
A: What is the meaning of development? Is it globalization or is it related to the wellbeing of people? For us, development is not about tall buildings with twenty floors, televisions showing the same films or Coca-Cola. Development is about access to basic rights like education and health, mixed with our traditional medicines and knowledge. As young indigenous peoples, we should not have to choose between development and our migratory heritage. All of us young people what a cellphone. We have the right to go to the city and get a job. But those people who work in urban centers are not putting milk on the breakfast table or keeping the land in balance. Today we have inequality: urban areas have access to energy, hospitals and schools: we should have these resources in rural areas too.
Q: What needs to be done to help you preserve your indigenous way of life?
A: If we can’t have access to and protect our natural resources and environment, we don’t have an identity and we don’t have pride. The international community must adopt regulations so that indigenous communities can access natural resources and share them. We must clearly define and recognize migration corridors, linked to water and resting points, to prevent conflict. We must recognize migratory patterns and the right to move, as environmental rights. We must be more tolerant of migration, and manage it properly. Developed countries must also take immediate action to curb climate change and harmful emissions, because these have an impact on our indigenous migratory lifestyles. This is our way of life, and we must fight to sustain it.