Whether they call it “the lungs of the earth,” or the “heart of the planet” – Indigenous warriors from South America are calling for a global pact to protect 80 per cent of the Amazon rainforest by 2025.
“Without the Amazon, there is no life. We all need the forest to live in a dignified way,” explained Uyunkar Domingo Peas Nampichkai, a delegate with the Confederation of Indigenous Nationalities of the Ecuadorian Amazon.
The Amazon rainforest spans nine countries and is home to more than 500 Indigenous nations.
According to data released by the National Institute for Space Research, approximately 11,600 sq km of rainforest were destroyed between August 2021 and July 2022.
Dueling statistics presented during COP15, the United Nations environmental meeting in Montreal, indicated an estimated 45 per cent of intact Amazon rainforest is found in Indigenous territories.
This is why Nampichkai – a member of the Achuar tribe and territories coordinator for the Amazon Sacred Headwaters Initiative – feels Indigenous people are de facto leaders in Amazon conservation.
“We have to put history behind us. We have to put aside our personal interests. We have to work together – Indigenous, non-Indigenous, young and old, women, scientists, governments, business people, wisdom keepers – we have to come together to chart a course forward for all humanity. For all life,” Nampichkai added.
It’s an important contradiction highlighted during the COP15 summit: the world’s most biodiverse areas are found in poorer countries in the South, but most of the wealth needed to protect them comes from organizations in the North.
Fed up with stalling in high-level discussions, several developing countries – including seven from South and Latin America – staged a walkout on Wednesday morning.
The so-called “like-minded group on biodiversity and development” said they feel the UN is not prepared to provide the financial resources needed to enact real change.
“When COP15 agrees on an ambitious [global biodiversity framework], we will bear a higher burden than others in implementing it,” reads a statement issued by the group.
“In line with the principle of equity, [COP15] should ensure the provision of predictable, measurable, new, additional, and adequate financial resources from developed countries to developing ones.”
“Action is missing,” Nampichkai added via a translator during a “Land Bank” press conference held at the COP15 Wednesday afternoon.
“We call on governments to comply with existing legal frameworks that already exist for protecting nature and protecting our rights.”
‘Continuing our fight’: Brazil’s Amazonian warriors ready for change
While some countries, like Ecuador, have managed to stave off development by natural resource corporations, others, like Brazil, have had less luck.
Brazil, however, is home to over 60 per cent of the Amazon rainforest.
The country’s outgoing president, Jair Bolsonaro, was a strong proponent of development who openly denied scientific data pointing to climate change.
“During the last few years [of Bolsonaro’s leadership] we faced a lot of pressure from companies in the global north invading our territories – for mining, producing commodities – and this resulted in lots of violence and lots of death among our people,” explained Jozileia Daniza Jagso, an anthropologist and self-proclaimed “Amazonian warrior” from the Kaingang nation.
Destruction in the Amazon spiked to unprecedented levels in 2019, during the first year of the Bolsonaro regime.
By 2022 – Bolsonaro’s third, and final, year in office – the Indigenous Missionary Council (CIMI) reported 176 murders of Indigenous peoples in Brazil.
The CIMI report makes a direct link between these deaths and a series of government measures that “favoured the exploitation and private appropriation of Indigenous lands.”
So, speaking on Wednesday afternoon, Jagso took the opportunity to set the agenda for Brazil’s president-elect Luiz Lula da Silva, who is expected to take office on Jan 1.
“[Indigenous people] make up four per cent of the worldwide population, yet we protect 80 per cent of the biodiversity of the planet,” Jagso explained. “The Brazilian government needs to understand that demarcating our lands interferes directly with the protection of biodiversity and the fight against climate change.
“To give over the titles to Indigenous territory is to guarantee life for our people and biodiversity.”
Allies step up in support of ‘Land Back’
Protecting the Amazon forest has been a grassroots initiative for years – getting a solid boost in 2019, when wildfires raged through portions in Brazil.
But in 2022, celebrities are jumping on the Amazon conservation bandwagon.
This week, the non-profit collective “Circle of Wisdom” released a three-minute video featuring calls to action from celebrities like Ziggy Marley, Rosario Dawson, Ricky Martin, Fran Drescher, and Barbra Streisand.
During Wednesday’s “Land Back” press conference, Indigenous delegates from across Canada reiterated the need for Indigenous leadership in climate change and conservation initiatives.
“For centuries, Indigenous peoples have been squeezed into smaller, and smaller pieces of land – and yet, those pieces of land are still being taken and stolen from us,” explained Katsi’tsakwas Ellen Gabriel of Kanehsatake Mohawk Territory, who acted as spokesperson during the 1990 siege of Kanehsatake – more commonly known as the “Oka Crisis. What ‘Land Back’ means to us is the freedom. It’s democracy. It’s our voices being heard.”
“We know that our very existence relies on the biodiversity on our territories,” added Sleydo’ Molly Wickham, spokesperson for Gidimt’en checkpoint on Wet’suwet’en territory. “We have the jurisdiction on biodiversity. We have the jurisdiction to control our lands, and to manage them according to our laws.
“Our inherent connection to our land and culture is still healing,” according to Vanessa Gray, a representative of Indigenous Climate action hailing from Aamjiwnaang First Nation – a community flanked by the refineries of Ontario’s “chemical valley.”
“If the land is not respected, our culture and traditions are at risk.”