Urgent Climate Action Requires Defending the Defenders: Indigenous Peoples at Risk

Greta Thunberg and Guardians of the Forest. Photo: @GuardianesBos

Photo: Greta Thunberg and Guardians of the Forest, @GuardianesBos.

As millions of children, youth, and their parents or mentors bravely take the streets around the world (in 150 countries!) this Friday, September 20, to strike for the climate; we at Awasqa have been thinking how it’s usually those who are most at risk who often place themselves in the line of fire to push for change. In this case it’s the youth who don’t want to lose hope, who see whole families displaced around them, and who are demanding that action can’t wait: it should have started decades ago. For indigenous people, their demands for change began hundreds of years ago, as they have fought, pleaded, and lost lives to keep ravaging development at bay: a model that back then was imposed as “civilization” and today as “economic growth.” Indigenous peoples are still here, where they have always been. Although today they represent only 8% of the global population, indigenous people they protect more than 80% of the planet’s biodiversity, according to the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations. For them, there is no other method of survival than to defend water, land, and territory. However, the level of aggression, harassment, evictions, dispossession, and assassinations suffered by environmentalists who defend indigenous communities is far superior to the incidence of repression that the entire social movement that fights for their rights suffers in general. Protecting Pachamama has become a high-risk activity. This is widely documented by Vicky Tauli-Corpuz, who is the United Nations Special Rapporteur on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples. The processes of criminalization of social protest undertaken by national states have critically diminished basic human rights, under the pretext of the impulse to development and the Western idea of progress. To quote UN’s report: “According to Front Line Defenders, 67 percent of the 312 human rights defenders murdered in 2017 were defending their lands, the environment, or indigenous rights, nearly always in the context of private sector projects. Around 80 percent of killings took place in just four countries: Brazil, Colombia, Mexico, and the Philippines.” In Abya Yala or the Americas, various indigenous nations have embarked on a path of legal, local, national, and international claims about their right to defend water, land, and territory.
SEE UN REPORT: “They should have known better”: Governments and corporations around the world are making it increasingly difficult—and deadly—for Indigenous Peoples and local communities to protect lands and forests. UN Special Rapporteur on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples. https://www.theyshouldhaveknownbetter.com/
The persistence of the resilient indigenous peoples of Colombia, who have resisted not only the more than 500 years of colonization, but also the more than 60 years of internal warfare, are today fighting for the historical reconstruction of the resistance of the people, because they know that memory is the refuge where the hope of the people lies. In the middle of a new wave of murders against leaders and community members.
FOR COLOMBIA, SEE ONIC’S REPORT: “Tiempos de vida y muerte”: Memorias y Luchas de los Pueblos Indígenas de Colombia, Organización Nacional Indígena de Colombia, http://memoria.onic.org.co/
A multiplicity of expressions of the indigenous people of Mexico, who struggle to be recognized as subjects of law in the national legal sphere, who try to keep the 68 languages of the first nations that still survive to be maintained and grow. They suffer the harshness of the war imposed by drug trafficking groups and development mega projects. Today they raise their hands, ask for the floor and claim their right to reply, to propose new outings, other projects, another idea of development and progress. They are also putting their share of dead indigenous leaders at the hands of those who want to appropriate the indigenous land.
FOR MEXICO, SEE REPORT: “Derecho de Réplica: Hablan los Pueblos” https://hablanlospueblos.org/
Or in Brazil, the tip of the iceberg of the climate crisis, where murders, harassment, and harassment have increased exponentially in the last two years. It is accompanied by the settlement of deforestation mafias of loggers, ranchers and extractivist, supported by the current government. In this country, which is the guardian of the lungs of the Pachamama, during August, there was a level of predation, intentional fires and deforestation higher than in the last ten years. The indigenous community police, Forest Guardians, are insufficient and are frequently threatened by those who prey on the Amazon.
FOR BRAZIL, SEE HRW REPORT: “Brazil: Criminal Networks Target Rainforest Defenders” by Human Rights Watch, https://www.hrw.org/news/2019/09/17/brazil-criminal-networks-target-rainforest-defenders
The level of aggression and threat suffered by the people has been such that the Xingu peoples in the Amazon, who had traditionally been at war over land disputes, have decided to hold a summit of 130 leaders of 14 indigenous people to agree on an alliance of defense of the Amazon. Similarly, the criminalization of protest in the United States, particularly against indigenous people, continues to grow and has been documented by  Sioux Tribe of Standing Rock, in North Dakota, who are fighting extractivism and irresponsible policies of development that place water and sacred places at risk. Thus, the mobilization of the Global Strike against the Climate Crisis, today is not only for the future of youth, the viability of life in indigenous communities, or the defense of species. It is an act of social self-defense against extractivism and developmentalism that aims to make profits from natural resources that provide sustenance for life on the planet. The fight is for planetary viability. And in that way, the young defenders of the land, the natives, the communities that fight for their right to live, should not be criminalized, persecuted, threatened or killed. In our global duty, we need to take care and defend the defenders.