Goldman Prize awarded to environmental activists
SAN FRANCISCO - A Shipibo activist who helped create a protected area for Amazonian people living in voluntary isolation and an Ojibway leader who has worked with her community to save 2 million acres of the Boreal Forest in Manitoba, Canada, were among six people awarded the 2007 Goldman Environmental Prize in San Francisco April 23.
The $125,000 award, now in its 18th year, is given to people from all over the world who have made a difference with their environmental work.
Shipibo activist Julio Cusurichi Palacios and Ojibway representative Sophia Rabliauskas both emphasized traditional indigenous respect for the land in their acceptance speeches, as well as the need for all people to work together to save the planet.
''The world doesn't have the authority to subject [un-contacted] peoples to a different way of life. We all have the right to live in peace in the Amazon territories,'' Palacios said, noting that the increasing presence of multinational oil and gas companies was adding to the problem of illegal logging in the Madre de Dios region of Peru where many isolated peoples live. These people are vulnerable not only to cultural change but to physical disease brought by outside contact, he said.
In 2002, with the Federation of Natives of Madre de Dios and its Tributaries, Palacios
convinced the Peruvian government to create a national reserve in the region that would protect the Nahuas, the Masco-Piros and other isolated peoples of the southern Peruvian Amazon. FENAMAD has also negotiated directly with local illegal loggers in an effort to stop destructive logging, and set up community guards in the absence of government protection.
In Manitoba, Canada, Rabliauskas, along with other members of the 1,200 people in her Poplar River community, worked for eight years to create a land management plan with traditional ecological knowledge that includes hunting, trapping and fishing activities as well as sustainable tourism. The plan, submitted to the Canadian government, secured ''interim protected status'' for their territory, a precedent-setting event in Canada, where indigenous land is considered public and often leased to industry without First Nations approval.
''Like many First Nations in Canada, we have endured many hardships that the government has imposed on our people,'' Rabliauskas said, ''but we are slowly taking back the rights of our people, the right to live on our historic territory, the right to practice our way of life.
''We are rich, not in the monetary sense, but in the sense that we still have the beautiful land that the Creator gave us. And this is something we can pass on to our children and grandchildren, and that is the greatest gift we can give them.
''Our land management plan could be used as a template for other First Nations who are hoping to do the same thing,'' Rabliauskas told Indian Country Today, adding she hoped the media attention from the award would convince the Canadian government to finally grant permanent protected status for their territory.
Other award winners included Hammerskjoeld Simwinga from Zambia, who created an innovative sustainable development program to halt wild elephant poaching in his poverty-stricken region, and Mongolian livestock herder Ts. Munkhbayar, who has worked with government and grass-roots organizations to stop unregulated mining near local waterways. Willie Corduff, an Irish farmer, won the award for leading a fight against a pipeline planned by Shell Oil in his community; and Orri Vigfusson of Iceland was honored for brokering international fishing rights buyouts that ended destructive commercial salmon fishing in this region.
''We are all children of our Mother Earth,'' said Munkhbayar. ''Let's love and care about our mother.''
After the main awards, several young speakers addressed a gathering of their peers, including 17-year-old Quechuan activist and actress Q'Orianka Kilcher, who played Pocahontas in the film ''The New World.''
''Sometimes it takes only one grain of sand to tip the scale in a different direction,'' Kilcher said. ''We all are ordinary people, with the power of a grain of sand, and we all have a very unique gift that we can contribute to making a positive difference in this world.''