At UN climate summit COP26, indigenous voices call for more than empty talk


Ron Turney, a water protector from the White Earth Nation tribe, diligently photographed what he said shows the effects of drilling fluid spills and an aquifer rupture in northern Minnesota, where a Canadian energy company completed the replacement of an oil pipeline in September.

The Line 3 replacement project, first announced by Enbridge in 2014, had been fiercely opposed by Native American tribes, environmental activists and celebrities – who recently urged President Joe Biden to withdraw his permits – arguing that the pipeline would only worsen climate change and threaten the waters. where the Ojibwa harvest wild rice. Already, he said, he’s seen chemicals and mud soil what should be pristine wetlands and water.

“It’s really frustrating to watch a river die here before your eyes,” said Turney, a member of the Indigenous Environmental Network, a coalition of grassroots groups and environmental justice activists.

The release of drilling fluid chemicals continues near the Mississippi River in northern Minnesota.Ron Turney

He plans to bring his concerns to the international stage during a panel at the two-week United Nations Climate Change Conference, also known as COP26, which begins Sunday in Glasgow, Scotland. After last year’s annual conference was canceled due to the Covid-19 pandemic, the 2021 event attracts heads of state and world leaders, such as Biden and members of his administration, including John Kerry, the country’s first climate envoy, and Home Secretary Deb Haaland, the first Native American to hold the post.

The issue will be whether the nearly 200 countries can agree on reducing greenhouse gas emissions that contribute to rapid global warming and catastrophic climate-related disasters, with the aim of achieving the “Net zero” by mid-century. But while the issues being debated by diplomats will have consequences for the entire planet, the less heard voices of indigenous peoples, who have historically been excluded from conversations about the management of their ancestral lands, plan to make their presence known through the media. groups like indigenous peoples. Caucus and Cultural Survival, an Indigenous-led non-governmental organization, and panels like the one Turney participates in.

Some groups had expressed difficulty this year traveling to Scotland amid Covid travel restrictions. A third of the small island states and territories in the Pacific region, where rising sea levels threaten their very existence, are said to be planning not to send heads of government, The Guardian reported last week. .

“It’s frustrating to jump through hoops, and they give us lip service and some recognition,” Turney said of the conference, “but we want real policy change that recognizes and truly respects our beliefs. “

Tom Goldtooth, executive director of the Indigenous Environmental Network, said in an email from Glasgow ahead of COP26 that indigenous groups will make a point of saying that the emission reduction targets that have been touted by governments don’t make no sense if the dependence on coal and other fossil fuels is not abandoned.

Tom Goldtooth speaks outside the White House during the “People vs. Fossil Fuels” action week.Ron Turney

“We will demand that the rights of indigenous peoples be fully recognized,” said Goldtooth, who is of Diné and Dakota descent.

The struggle of indigenous peoples, who are often at the forefront of the climate crisis, exemplified by deforestation in the Amazon rainforest and wildfires ravaging tribal lands in the western United States, will be highlighted at COP26 . Indigenous leaders and ‘traditional knowledge holders’ whose practices may be useful in mitigating and adapting to the effects of climate change will be featured at selected events and panels that are typically attended by climate activists, academic researchers and others. celebrities.

The indigenous perspective cannot be diminished, the groups say, with the UN stressing that while some 370 million people identify as indigenous, or nearly 5 percent of the world’s population, they occupy and oversee a significant portion of the land, about 20 percent. .

In 2007, the UN adopted the Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples, a non-binding resolution, which recognizes their human rights and fundamental freedoms. But advocates and academics warn that these groups around the world who are finding their own solutions to the climate crisis cannot do so in a vacuum, especially when many of them lack the power or financial influence to to defend oneself.

“There are opportunities for indigenous peoples to be recognized at COP26 – if only states and stakeholders are willing to listen to them and act on them,” said Kristen Carpenter, professor and director of the Human Rights Law program. American Indians at the University of Colorado.

Native American activists and environmental organizations say they are counting on the U.S. delegation to ensure that native communities are at the forefront.

This month, when Kerry addressed a conference of the National Congress of American Indian, the country’s oldest and largest tribal organization, he painted a dire picture for Indigenous communities: the effects of change climate threatens land and livelihoods.

“Indigenous ways of life that have been maintained across the world for thousands of years are also at the forefront,” he said.

“Your resilience is essential to the world,” said Kerry, adding that the survival of Earth is “inextricably linked with having the leadership of indigenous peoples in our voice”.

“If countries do not join us, leaving out those who manage much of the land, it is no longer just a moral issue.”

said Professor Kyle Whyte

This recognition, while important, must be backed up with action, said Kyle Whyte, a University of Michigan professor of environment and sustainability and a member of the White House Advisory Council on Environmental Justice. He is the co-author of a report published Thursday in the journal Science which found that centuries of forced migration of indigenous peoples by European and American settlers have left them on marginal lands more at risk from climate change.

He said the hands of tribal nations and indigenous organizations are tied not to take drastic action or oppose projects on their territories, often being rejected by government agencies and energy companies.

Following the completion of the Line 3 Replacement Project, winding more than 300 miles through Minnesota and crossing tribal reservations and treaty lands, Native American activists and sympathizers marched through Washington this month demanding that Biden takes a more aggressive stance against fossil fuel projects.

As the protests grew tense and led to dozens of arrests and an attempted occupation of the Bureau of Indian Affairs, calls from protesters escalated to amplify the voices of indigenous leaders.

It’s an example of indigenous people getting fed up – and a warning to the “current generation of privileged people who haven’t learned their lessons,” said Whyte, a member of the Citizen Potawatomi Nation.

“If the countries do not join us, leaving out the people who manage much of the land, it is no longer just a moral question,” he added. “It will have a devastating effect on how quickly the rest of the world achieves sustainability.”

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