'Keep the Oil in the Ground!': Indigenous Voices Lead Largest Climate March Ever
September 28, 2014
Amazon Watch & Al Jazeera America & Origin Magazine
Amazonian indigenous spokespeople and social movement leaders joined the Indigenous Bloc in leading more than 400,000 others at the People's Climate March. Amazon Watch joined front-line indigenous communities and representatives in demanding that humanity keep the oil in the ground as a fundamental solution to climate chaos. From the Arctic to the Amazon, leadership of indigenous peoples in climate solutions was on full display.
Indigenous Voices Lead Largest Climate March
Momentum Building As Indigenous Representatives Call to Keep the Oil in the Ground at the People's Climate March in New York
"The protection of nature, forests, and ecosystems is the responsibility of everyone. What happens will ultimately affect us all. We are standing up for our lives, yours, the entire world and for the lives of future generations!"
-- Patricia Gualinga, Kichwa leader from the Ecuadorian Amazon
NEW YORK (September 26, 2014) -- This past week a small group made big waves in New York City. Amazonian indigenous spokespeople and social movement leaders joined the Indigenous Bloc in leading more than 400,000 others at the People's Climate March. Amazon Watch joined front-line indigenous communities and representatives in demanding that humanity keep the oil in the ground as a fundamental solution to climate chaos. From the Arctic to the Amazon, leadership of indigenous peoples in climate solutions was on full display.
Beyond the historic march, Amazon Watch's indigenous partners were advocating for their rights before numerous audiences both through live events and press interviews. They spoke out at the World Conference on Indigenous Peoples, offering their perspective -- a counter-reality to government's pretty words. Additionally, they presented at the People's Climate Justice Summit, which ran parallel to the UN Climate Summit.
While it was a busy week with many opportunities for our partner's to express their voice and concerns about oil drilling in the Amazon, we also launched a video featuring young, Kichwa leader Nina Gualinga, which went viral appearing on Upworthy and reaching more than 100,000 global viewers each day.
This week has been an exhilarating opportunity for indigenous leaders to share their voice and for all of us to express a united call to action. Real leadership on climate action is coming from people on the streets.
At the same time, this is not enough. Global policy-makers have spoken about the urgency of climate change, but tangible commitments have yet to be made, especially by top global polluters like China and the U.S. But the opportunity is now. The people have spoken. World leaders must listen.
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Indigenous Groups Call for
Drilling Limits to Fight Climate Change
Kaelyn Forde / Al Jazeera America
(September 22, 2014) -- Patricia Gualinga stood on Pier 25 next to the Hudson River, her face painted in fine geometric designs, her long black hair hanging past her waist, looking out at the shadows cast by the skyscrapers of lower Manhattan over the water. An indigenous Kichwa woman from the Sarayaku community deep in the Ecuadorean Amazon, Gualinga traveled more than 3,000 miles to push the world's leaders to take an active stance on climate change.
Hundreds of indigenous leaders from communities around the globe have converged on New York for the first high-level World Conference on Indigenous Peoples, being held Monday and Tuesday during the United Nations General Assembly.
Gualinga said she went both to represent Saryaku and to share the community's victory; through a decades-long court battle in the Costa Rica-based Inter-American Court of Human Rights, the approximately 1,200 residents of Sarayaku succeeded in 2012 in blocking oil exploration in there. Now Gualinga and her community want to help other groups prevent similar drilling initiatives in a bid to prevent climate change.
"We have a proposal that's based on scientists' reports that say that 50 percent of known petroleum reserves around the world need to stay underground to avoid raising the earth's temperature even more," she said, referring to a figure from the International Energy Agency's 2012 World Energy Investment Outlook. "So what are we waiting for? You can begin with us. We have been resisting for years, we don't want petroleum exploration, and we don't want more contamination of our lands."
The Paris-based International Energy Agency, an autonomous organization that advises states on oil policies, had gone further in its estimate, stating, "No more than one-third of proven reserves of fossil fuels can be consumed prior to 2050 if the world is to achieve the 2°C goal" of mitigating global warming.
Gualinga said indigenous communities like hers are uniquely poised to help the world achieve that goal.
"You don't have to look for where you are going to begin. We are already here fighting to preserve the jungle. We are present, we have been present, and we want to support the world and humanity. We in Sarayaku are betting on life, not death," she said.
But she acknowledged it is an uphill battle. A plan unveiled at the 2010 General Assembly, called the Yasuni ITT initiative, proposed that Ecuador would leave 846 million barrels of oil in the ground in a UN-declared biosphere in the Ecuadorean Amazon if foreign governments helped pay to protect the Amazon. But the proposal failed, with Ecuador saying it did not receive sufficient support from rich countries. Drilling permits have since been issued, and extraction could begin as soon as 2016.
Gualinga shared her story with indigenous peoples from across the United States and Canada during a water ceremony on Saturday organized by the Minnesota-based Indigenous Environmental Network. She had taken a small ceramic bowl, made out of clay in Sarayaku and painted by women in the community using their hair, to share with the local indigenous people from the Lenape Nation who received them on the banks of the Hudson.
Dozens of delegations -- from as far as Hawaii, Arizona, Nebraska and Alberta in Canada -- introduced themselves in their native languages, and some sang native songs. Like Gualinga, each arrived with a gift from their communities and a story of how they had put themselves on the front lines of the battle against climate change, from resisting the Keystone XL pipeline to demanding industry clean up contaminated water.
Indigenous leaders also showed up with water from their home communities for the ceremony. The water was combined, blessed, drunk by participants and then poured into the Hudson River.
Dallas Goldtooth, an organizer with the Indigenous Environmental Network of Dakota and Dine heritage, said that any solution to climate change must begin with indigenous people.
"The communities that we work with have subsistence lifestyles. They live off the land. We are the first ones affected by dirty energy, and so we are the first ones affected by climate change and the first ones first to suffer because of that," he said.
"One of the main things that we, the indigenous community, are calling for is system change, not climate change. There needs to be an entire re-evaluation of our relationship to Mother Earth. As indigenous people, we have a time-tested relationship with Mother Earth, so we are just hoping that the other world will catch on to that and reassess how it sees itself in relation to the water, the four-leggeds, the winged, all aspects of life," Goldtooth added.
Chief Caleen Sisk traveled from Northern California to represent her Winnemem Wintu tribe at the UN on Monday. She said she is hopeful but realistic about what can be accomplished without rethinking the capitalistic economic model that has led to climate change.
"At the UN, I think that the more indigenous people can be seen and maybe be heard -- although sometimes, in my experience, they only want to look at us -- the better. But my biggest hope is that the states will open up their eyes and ears and start listening and hearing. Because right now, we are on a path to self-destruction," she said.
Some indigenous groups have boycotted the conference for putting too much power in the hands of states over the indigenous groups.
"This is, in theory, a higher-level gathering because it is happening during the General Assembly, so theoretically you are going to get higher-level government officials and heads of state participating, and that's the hope," said Andrew Miller, advocacy director of Amazon Watch, a nonprofit advocacy group.
UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon, General Assembly President Sam Kutesa and UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Zeid Ra'ad al-Hussein were among those expected to deliver opening remarks at the conference.
"At the same time, there has been some criticism of this conference, and there are some indigenous groups that are boycotting for number of reasons. But mainly they are boycotting because they feel that the member states determine the limits of what is going to happen and what is not going to happen," Miller said.
"It remains to be seen what the states are going to do with the declaration that comes out of the conference," he added. "Needless to say, recognizing the limits of the UN, it is still an important space for indigenous people and their rights, among many other spaces, to be pushing within."
Gualinga said she is hopeful that sharing her community's story of success in doing what scientists say is necessary to combat climate change around the world will inspire other communities to take big steps as well.
"We believe that the petroleum is there to balance the earth. And it needs to be where it is. It doesn't have to be removed. Our people believe that petroleum is the blood of our ancestors deep in the earth, and the earth is our mother. So you are taking the blood from the mother and you are creating a total imbalance. Petroleum is powerful, but when it's outside of the ground, it produces a lot of ambition, a lot of contamination, a lot of death."
Patricia Gualinga Interview
Andrew Miller / Origin Magazine
(September 9, 2014) -- Andrew Miller: What is critical about this moment in time?
Patricia Gualinga: Indigenous communities already feel the impacts of climate change. Our elder wisdom-keepers warned us but weren't listened to. They predicted problems if we continued preying on Mother Nature, causing impacts so great they won't only affect nature but also humankind. We are out of time. Now is the moment for us to bet on life, as our existence depends on it.
AM: How did you become an activist?
PG: I didn't choose activism; it chose me. I started fighting to defend the rights of my people from Sarayaku.
AM: What do you want people who aren't close to your work to know or understand?
PG: The protection of nature, forests, ecosystems, and beings is the responsibility of everyone. What happens will ultimately affect us all. "Beings" are the spiritual guardians of forests. They protect all living nature -- animals, fish, lakes, streams. These beings are sensitive. With pollution, they die off or flee. This creates an Amazon different from what it once was, affecting humanity's energy.
AM: Can you describe the work you're doing to protect the earth?
PG: Within our indigenous territory, we will never allow oil drilling, mining, or any destructive activity. We want our own sustainable development model as indigenous peoples, in which we ourselves decide the best options based on our worldview.
AM: What is the greatest challenge you face?
PG: Getting our government and citizens to understand and respect our long-term worldview. The ongoing violation of indigenous peoples' rights is sad. Construction of an alternative model is increasingly complicated given lack of understanding and persecution.
AM: If you had the opportunity to motivate a community of people who are passionate about consciousness and spirituality, what would you say?
PG: Spirituality is extremely important to us. It offers strength to confront adversities. Spirituality, hand in hand with activism, promotes an irrepressible force. Nature, humanity, and spirituality together in community generate an energy that is unbeatable.
AM: What are you working on right now?
PG: As a community leader, I am vigilant that the government and corporations don't lay traps for us. In September, I'll be in New York for events at the UN general assembly, where governments discuss issues of transcendental importance for indigenous peoples. Often in these meetings, there is no progress. Our participation helps encourage some advancement.
Cultural diversity is a gift for all of humanity. Many don't see this; they just promote extraction of natural resources for the benefit of a few.
AM: What can readers do to get involved?
PG: Make a personal decision to care for the planet. Pay attention to those of us who fight back against the invasion of corporations and political persecution. Write letters when we send calls for solidarity. Join the fight to protect the Amazon, which regulates the global climate and is vital to maintaining Earth's fragile balance. Visit AmazonWatch.org to take action now.
And on September 21, join us in New York City to pressure governments around the world to take action on climate change. Participate in the People's Climate March, which will be the biggest global climate action in history. More information is available at PeoplesClimate.org.
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