Indigenous Peoples: The First Guardians of the Earth; Our Strength and Our Future!
Though unrecognized by most of the global population, indigenous people have lived in harmony with nature for centuries. Their indigenous knowledge and practices have helped them sustainably manage and use their land and resources. Additionally, they are the best environmental stewards because biodiversity thrives when we respect, uphold, and protect indigenous rights.
Today, the Asia Pacific Network of Environment Defenders (APNED) stands united with indigenous peoples in their struggle for the right to self-determination, assert their fundamental human rights, gain further legal and global recognition, and push for an enabling environment to continue their work and the survival of their cultures.
Indigenous peoples comprise only 5% of the world’s population, currently at 476 million. But they account for 15% of the world’s most impoverished communities despite managing and protecting 20% of our land and 80% of our remaining biodiversity. Almost 70.5% of indigenous populations are in Asia and the Pacific region, wherein we can find 17 out of 36 biodiversity hotspots and 7 megadiverse countries. Thus, the area is one of the epicenters of attacks linked to environmental protection.
Environmental human rights defenders (EHRDs) are individuals, groups, and organizations upholding our rights to a clean, healthy, and sustainable environment and promoting a more just and inclusive society for all, often at significant personal risk. Indigenous communities are a prime example of EHRDs that challenge the prevailing profit-oriented development framework. They are at the frontlines in defending our ecological frontiers and ensuring their biodiversity survives against the continuous corporate capture of our natural resources, shrinking civic spaces, and violence from repressive regimes. In 2021, Global Witness monitored over 200 EHRDs deaths, and 40% of these brave defenders were indigenous people.
The struggle and movement to uphold our rights for a just, clean, and healthy environment is prevalent in Asia and the Pacific. Particularly in South Asia, in India, numerous Adivasi community organizations, leaders, and members are fighting against large-scale projects that conflict with the government’s national and global commitments to decarbonize and protect the environment. The Ratnagiri Refinery Project and the Deucha Pachami Coal Mine are examples where indigenous groups struggle to assert their right to land, livelihood, and a clean environment against prominent local and international mining and oil magnates. The communities and citizens involved have faced stiff repression, violence, attacks, discrimination, and harassment because of their movement.
The continuous disregard for indigenous people’s rights and their critical role in protecting the environment does not coincide with combatting the climate crisis and our goals for advancing a just and equitable society. But, Indigenous peoples’ knowledge and practices can help us achieve this. They have a wealth of knowledge and practices in living sustainably and harmoniously with nature. They can teach us how to use natural resources more efficiently, minimize our damage, reduce waste, and adapt to climate change. Additionally, a transformation of the profit-oriented nature from the capitalistic development framework is needed to uphold human rights further.
We stand in solidarity with indigenous peoples globally. We call on governments to protect them. Moreover, we continue the calls for accountability for the countless human rights violations and their unjust killings.
Together, we can ensure the preservation of their indigenous knowledge and practices and strengthen their roles as environmental stewards by:
- Learning about the history and cultures of Indigenous peoples in our communities;
- Protecting and supporting Indigenous Peoples-led organizations and initiatives;
- Advocating for policies that protect Indigenous rights and;
- Speaking out against discrimination and violence and holding corporations and governments accountable for their repressive actions against Indigenous peoples
- Giving an enabling environment for indigenous people as EHRDs through legal recognition, strengthening protection mechanisms, and appreciating their environmental work.
Let us all stand with indigenous peoples and communities and their struggle to assert their fundamental rights! We must work together to ensure genuine development that respects all people’s rights.