COP15 – The Gift of Indigenous People

Today, José Ignacio and myself participated in a side event organized by TEBTEBBA, where indigenous people voiced their experiences in the midst of the current global climate change crisis. The speakers came from very different geographical areas: the Philippines, Alaska, Norway, Pacific Islands, Peru and Kenya. Nevertheless, their experiences are very similar and there is a feeling that they belong together, even if they come from different contexts and have different backgrounds. They are in pain, because they are amongst the first to suffer cruelly from a crisis they have not caused. They are also in pain because they are not listened to, although they have traditional knowledge on offer about how to live in our natural environments and how to respect them so as to keep them available for the future. Their cultural diversities that all reflect a deep connectedness to the earth and the land are a gift to us all.

It was a refreshing breach of style in what I have seen up until now, that several of them started their intervention with a greeting in their own native language, a greeting with the spiritual value of a blessing for nature and an emphasis on what Christians understand to be the sacramental role of human beings in nature. These very blessings and greetings, this capacity to continue to trust what they have to give to us all, show resilience, cultural and religious strength. This opens a door to other approaches to the climate change crisis than the political and economic perspectives that receive most, if not nearly all, attention in Bella Center. To the indigenous people, the earth really is a home, and not just a consumption product. They take care of their life giving relationships to the many animals, trees and forests, to the environment in general.

The historical experience of indigenous people – and that we heard in all their narratives and voices, however different their backgrounds and geographical contexts may be – is precisely a holistic, ecosystem based approach to life, in which biodiversity, ecosystem resilience and the intimate interaction between human beings and the ecosystem are crucial. Depriving ourselves from these rich and strong traditions by not respecting the human rights of the indigenous people represents, in the context of today’s climate change crisis, a terrible loss.


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