“We have always adapted. Our homes are designed to the environment. Where we live, no Kuna house has
been destroyed by an earthquake or a hurricane because we know how to build to our territory.” Onel Masardule, of Panama, spoke passionately about the need for indigenous people to have an integral role in international discussions about climate change
As the United Nations convened its Permanent Forum on Indigenous Issues earlier this year, more than 120 representatives from indigenous and traditional peoples, from Norway to the Amazon, gathered for collaborative action to ensure that their voices are heard when it comes to the complex challenge of climate change.
“Because we are concerned about climate change, like everyone is concerned, we want to share our knowledge with the world,” said Ecuador’s Johnson Cerda, representing the Quichua Community of Santa Elena, a co-organizer of the event along with Conservation International (CI) and the U.N. Development Program’s Equator Initiative. The Indigenous People and Climate Change workshop brought together indigenous and traditional peoples with representatives from governments, funding agencies, and other nongovernmental organizations.
“Indigenous peoples are very concerned about the lack of information they have that would enable them to be more engaged in the political discussions about climate change. There is definitely a movement, and will continue to be a movement for increased participation,” said Kristen Walker-Painemella, Vice President and Executive Director of CI’s Indigenous and Traditional Peoples Initiative.
Several indigenous leaders spoke during the workshop, including Norway’s Olav Mathis Eira, vice-president of the Saami Council. He described how climate change impacts indigenous people in Europe’s four northernmost countries, where reindeer herding is an important livelihood and traditional way of life.
“My neighbor lost 70 reindeer two years ago. They just died and we couldn’t tell why. It turned out it was death by a parasite that usually dies during a cold winter, but it has survived with warmer weather,” Mathis Eira said. “Also, the ice is unstable. We need thick ice, but with mild winters it is not that easy anymore. It makes it a problem to tell younger herders where to cross rivers.”
ACT: Help CI prevent the loss of forests and mitigate the threat of climate change.
CI and our partners are working with indigenous and traditional peoples to ensure they are equal partners in the development of climate change actions that impact their lands. Governments, businesses, and other organizations are also participating in this important effort.
“The UN Convention on Climate Change must incorporate principles on engagement of indigenous peoples on climate issues. This should include training and information sharing, as well as self-determination in environmental matters and recognition of indigenous peoples’ knowledge,” Walker-Painemella said. “CI will continue a strong effort to ensure indigenous and traditional peoples’ voices are heard as we all confront global climate change.”
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