‘False solutions’ on climate change bring indigenous delegation to Washington

Jerry Reynolds, Today correspondent
5/22/09

WASHINGTON – On the eve of the United Nations Permanent Forum on Indigenous Issues annual session in New York City, a delegation of 18 indigenous leaders from both hemispheres stopped in Washington to tell Congress and President Barack Obama there will be no solution to global warming and climate change if indigenous communities are not directly involved now.

They presented congressional members and Obama administration staff with “hands-on” examples of climate change and best practices against it, said Robby Romero, an Apache musician, U.N. Ambassador of Youth for the Environment, and the delegation’s English-language spokesman. He decried what he called the “false solutions” on climate change offered by the World Bank, the United Nations, corporations, conservationist organizations and – if an energy bill nearing passage by the end of May isn’t amended to serve worldwide Native community interests – Congress.

“In the name of the environment, the whole movement, the ‘green’ movement, is being hijacked,” Romero said. “It’s traditional indigenous knowledge and wisdom, together with science and technology that will lead us into a time of healing.”

Romero said the delegation can’t fault its reception on Capitol Hill, especially in the offices of Rep. Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif. As Speaker of the House, Pelosi wields a singular influence there. “We’re actually getting a very positive response in regard to the dialogue at least. It’s the action we want to see,” Romero said.

The delegation, some members speaking through a translator with Amazon Watch, seemed unanimous in the view that Congress has an indigenous-specific amendment at hand by the end of May, readily drawn from the U.N. Declaration on Indigenous Rights.

Among other things, as Romero described it and according to a briefing paper distributed by Save America’s Forests in Washington, an amendment to the fast-moving Waxman-Markey bill must demand credible evidence from indigenous communities – not merely from governments that often don’t know them from the wind – of negotiated free, prior and informed consent to development plans before resource-piracy is foisted on them by international funding authorizations and industry-biased carbon-emission controls.

“We have kept our forests. ... time immemorial, kept our forests,” said Mary Simat, of the Masai in Kenya, chairwoman of the Indigenous Peoples of Africa Coordinating Committee. “Now we are wondering why they have funded the governments, and not contacted the indigenous communities. We are usually marginalized peoples. But they want to use our resources, which have been very well-kept. ... Indigenous peoples have not been included in these discussion tables. We want to make sure they don’t dictate on us.”

Simat added that indigenous peoples are not opposed to new ideas on managing the environment, but to the non-involvement of Native communities and their resource-stewardship models, practices and traditions. They depend on their environment.

She said a U.S. commitment to indigenous and forest-dependent communities in climate-change legislation would make resource stewardship and multilateral negotiations much easier for all Native communities everywhere.

But Marcos Terena, spokesman for the Terena in Brazil, said through the translator, “He’s come here to say. ... we can’t depend on the Obama administration to do anything. ... There’s a myth that Obama will solve everything. It’s not true. In South America, the indigenous peoples are watching Obama from a spiritual view.”

The delegation included indigenous leaders and spokespeople from Africa, Bolivia, Brazil, Canada, Ecuador, the Haudenosaunee (Iroquois) Confederacy, New Guinea, Panama, and the (American) Southwest. Among them was Moi Enomenga, longtime spokesman for the Waorani (formerly Haorani) of Ecuador, threatened by mining and logging interests. He made the case for protecting still-uncontacted peoples, considered family by the Waorani.

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