Indigenous Peoples from around the world, including Maori from New Zealand and Gwich’in from the far north in Alaska, came to the World Peoples Conference on Climate Change and the Rights of Mother Earth to share their wisdom and set new ground rules to ensure the protection of Mother Earth and the survival of the planet.
During the opening ceremony with Bolivian President Evo Morales, Faith Gemmill, executive director of Red OIL (Resisting Environmental Destruction on Indigenous Lands) in Alaska described the genocidal policies aimed at Indigenous Peoples and what must happened now to rescue Mother Earth.
“We the Indigenous People of the north have survived colonial policies intended to terminate us, assimilate us, and displace us from our Mother the Earth,” said Gemmill, Pit River/ Wintu and Neets’aii Gwich’in Athabascan.
“Despite this, we are still here! We remain firm in our commitment to our Mother Earth. We remain firm in our commitment to our inalienable sovereign rights. We hold fast to the love the Creator has given to us. These laws embody the spirit of our people and dictate our relationship to Mother Earth. The Imperial can not sell what the Creator has given us.”
Gemmill said she was speaking with the permission of the Indigenous Peoples of the north. She told of a prophecy that warns that humanity must stop the corporate interests from stealing the life of “Pachamama,” the Quechan word for Mother Earth. She said humankind has a choice, between two paths, one is the path of life and the other is the path of destruction. Speaking to tens of thousands gathered from around the world, she said the people who can save Mother Earth were present. “We can not fail,” she said.
President Morales called the alternative climate summit following the failed United Nations Climate Change conference in Copenhagen, COP15, in 2009. Morales, in his opening address in Bolivia, urged individual lifestyle changes, with flagrant consumerism relying on disposable
products and plastics to be replaced with new standards of living in harmony with the earth. Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez was among the dignitaries and participants from 150 countries. Although originally 5,000 to 10,000 people were expected, ultimately there were 30,000 at the gathering held April 20–22 in Cochabama, Bolivia.
Indigenous Peoples opened the conference with prayers and a blessing. The intense work within 17 working groups culminated in the final Peoples Accord and the Universal Declaration on the Rights of Mother Earth, with declarations from the 17 working groups.
Among the most important aspects of the People’s Accord is a project for a 50 percent reduction in greenhouse gas emissions by developing countries for the 2010-2017 period, the Declaration on the Rights of Mother Earth, a proposal for a global referendum on climate change, and recommendations for the creation of an International Climate and Justice Tribunal.
The Peoples Accord holds governments responsible for their climate debt and states that the unbridled consumption in the United States has led to an alarming increase in greenhouse gas emissions.
“We inform the world that, despite their obligation to reduce emissions, developed countries have increased their emissions by 11.2 percent in the period from 1990 to 2007. During that same period, due to unbridled consumption, the United States of America has increased its greenhouse gas emissions by 16.8 percent, reaching an average of 20 to 23 tons of CO2 per-person. This represents 9 times more than that of the average inhabitant of the ‘Third World,’ and 20 times more than that of the average inhabitant of Sub-Saharan Africa,” the Peoples Accord states.
Although the government of the United States did not send an official representative, Native Americans from the United States organized their own delegations. In Bolivia, Tom Goldtooth, Dakota/Navajo, director of the Indigenous Environmental Network, focused on protection of forests and ensuring that predatory carbon trading practices would be eliminated, including REDD (Reduced Emissions from Deforestation and Forest Degradation).
“REDD is a predatory program that pretends to save forests and the climate, while backhandedly selling forests out from under our Indigenous People. REDD will encourage continuing pollution and global warming, while displacing those of us least responsible for the crisis, who have been stewards of the forests since time immemorial,” Goldtooth said.
The final Peoples Accord also exposed the carbon market, describing it as a “lucrative business, commodifying our Mother Earth. It is therefore not an alternative for tackle climate change, as it loots and ravages the land, water, and even life itself.”
Elouise Brown, coordinator of the Dooda (NO) Desert Rock on the Navajo Nation shared the struggle of the Navajos opposing the planned coal-fired power plant Desert Rock. Desert Rock power plant would be the third coal fired power plant in the Four Corners area. Navajos have already been targeted with Cold War uranium mining and hundreds of oil and gas wells there. While elected Navajo officials view the energy development as a means of revenue, for Navajos it has meant disease and death. Radioactive tailings remain strewn across the Navajo Nation from Cold War uranium mining and Navajos continue to resist relocation on Black Mesa in Arizona because of the coal mining of Peabody Coal.
Brown, Navajo from New Mexico, said she came to Bolivia focused on the Rights of Mother Earth. She said the Universal Declaration on the Rights of Mother Earth now opens the door to ensuring those rights in courts, including Native American courts.
“One of the big gaps in United States environmental law is the old question of ‘whether trees have standing to sue’ and ‘who speaks for the trees.’ The Declaration makes it clear, along with Navajo Natural Law, that Mother Earth is a sentient being and that She has standing on her own to protect her rights. She can and will appear in court, including the Navajo Nation court system,” Brown said.
Declaration of the working group on Indigenous Peoples
The Indigenous Peoples working group, one of 17 working groups, states the relationship of Indigenous People to Mother Earth in its final declaration “We Indigenous Peoples are sons and daughters of Mother Earth, or ‘Pachamama’ in Quechua. Mother Earth is a living being in the universe that concentrates energy and life, while giving shelter and life to all without asking anything in return, she is the past, present and future; this is our relationship with Mother Earth. We have lived in coexistence with her for thousands of years, with our wisdom and cosmic spirituality linked to nature,” states the final Declaration from the working group on Indigenous Peoples.
Further, it states the economic models of industrialized countries, focused on acquiring wealth, have led to exploitation and a radical change in the relationship with Mother Earth. The resulting colonization and racist policies have led to destruction.
“As a result, we as Indigenous Peoples are making ourselves visible in these spaces, because as Mother Earth has been hurt and plundered, with negative activities taking place on our lands, territories and natural resources, we have also been hurt. This is why as Indigenous Peoples we will not keep silent, but instead we propose to mobilize all our peoples to arrive at COP16 in Mexico and other spaces well prepared and united to defend our proposals, particularly the ‘living well’ and plurinational state proposals. We, Indigenous Peoples, do not want to live ‘better,’ but instead we believe that everyone must live well. This is a proposal to achieve balance and start to construct a new society.”
Indigenous Peoples, in their key demands, stated that the UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples and ILO Convention 169 be honored. Free, prior and informed consent of Indigenous Peoples was demanded in the implementation of climate change measures.
Further, Indigenous Peoples demanded that genetically-modified and exotic crops not be introduced because these species aggravate the degradation of jungles, forests and soils and contribute to the increase in global warming. Likewise, mega projects of nuclear, bio engineering, hydroelectric and wind-power should not be implemented.
Demanding a review of polluting activities, Indigenous Peoples in the working group also stated that water is a fundamental right and should not be privatized.
“We join in the demand to create a Climate Justice Tribunal that would be able to pass judgment and establish penalties for non-compliance of Accords, and other environmental crimes by developed countries, which are primarily responsible for climate change. This institution must consider the full and effective participation of Indigenous Peoples, and their principles of justice.”
Indigenous Peoples shared wisdom from the earth
Indigenous Peoples from the south shared their struggles of fighting mining corporations and mega-dams that now threaten the Amazon in Brazil and Peru. The peoples from the rainforest are fighting the Belo Monte hydro project, which threatens to devastate a massive portion of the Amazon, divert the flow of the Xingu River and displace 20,000 people from their ancestral lands.
Manny Pino, Acoma Pueblo from New Mexico, one of the chairs of the working group on Indigenous Peoples, explained how Indigenous Peoples around the world have been targeted by governments and corporations.
“It is environmental racism,” said Pino, board president of the Indigenous Environmental Network and sociology professor in Arizona. Pino said nuclear power is not a solution for climate change. Contrary to what the Obama administration is promoting, Pino said nuclear energy is not green energy. Although the Obama administration has proposed $4 billion for new nuclear power plants, Pino said there is no place to put nuclear waste.
“Multi-corporate vultures are only there for one thing, the almighty dollar,” he said. Pino has spent his life exposing the environmental genocide that left a trail of death and disease for Acoma and Laguna Pueblos from Cold War uranium mining in northern New Mexico. Still today, the state of New Mexico has a trail of radioactive waste from the creation of the first nuclear weapons. Pino pointed out that the United States is still the only country to use nuclear weapons.
Pino said the working group on Indigenous Peoples was careful to point out that mega projects, even alternative energy projects such as turbine wind projects, must be held in balance so as not to harm birds and wildlife or disrupt the traditional lifeways of the people.
Brad Garness, executive director of the Alaskan Intertribal Council, said he came to Bolivia in response to an invitation by President Morales. Garness said he brought the message of climate change and what is happening to Alaska, where communities are sinking into the ocean and invasive species are causing extensive damage. Garness said he came seeking solutions.
“In Alaska, we are much like a canary in a mine,” Garness said, adding that the environment is becoming increasingly damaged due to climate change and unpredictable weather patterns. He said the future for the next Seven Generations is unpredictable.
Garness said the changes can be seen in the animals. Walruses are now starving and for the first time walruses are beginning to eat seals. “The animals are suffering,” he said. Garness said melting ice in Alaska creates dangerous travel, adding to the expensive fuel costs since rivers are not always freezing deep enough to travel on. He said the people of Alaska should not be punished for the actions of capitalist nations.
Kay Wallis, Athabascan and Gwich’in elder, was also in the delegation from Alaska. Describing life in her Yukon homeland, Wallis said she appreciated being given the opportunity to speak for the animals and Mother Earth. Wallis’ name, “Arrow Carrier,” means, “I carry messages between people.” Her father is from Fort Yukon in Alaska and her mother from across the border in Canada at Old Crow.
Wallis, broadcast live from Bolivia on the grassroots Internet radio station Earthcycles, told the story of ducks and its implications to survival. She said when the ducks first saw the vapors rising from the highway, the ducks that could not distinguish between the heat waves rising from the pavement, and the heat waves rising from the rivers and ponds, perished. Describing it as survival of the fittest, she said it is unknown what lies within each person that may result in their survival.
In Alaska, where Native people are now fighting new oil drilling, Wallis described the beauty of the caribou calving grounds and how the ground shakes with the migration of the caribou during calving season. “We love the land, and the land loves us, otherwise it would not give us our nutrients.”
Mary Ann Mills, Kenaitze Indian Nation, said the Arctic must remain frozen because it acts as an air conditioner for the earth. The Arctic cools the earth’s temperature. With melting ice and global warming, there are now 31 villages facing immediate threats. There are 200 villages impacted by floods and erosion. Ice is now coming down the rivers and melting that has never melted before.
“We are the first people to be effected,” she said. The sensitive areas of the north are being compromised by emissions and oil drilling. Alaskan Native villages will have to be relocated because of the melting ice, or the people will perish. She also pointed out that the United States does not own the land in Alaska, Alaskan Natives do.
Native Alaskans told the same story as the people arriving by bus from southern Argentina: The glaciers are melting. Indigenous Peoples from the north and south told of their fights against mining companies seeking to rip out from the earth the nickel, copper, silver, gold and coal. In Central and South America, Indigenous activists defending the land have been beaten, murdered and imprisoned in recent years in Mexico, Guatemala, Peru, Colombia, Chile, Ecuador, Brazil and elsewhere.
Western Shoshone grandmother and rights activist Carrie Dann and Timbisha Shoshone Chairman Joe Kennedy arrived in Bolivia from Shoshone territory. The Shoshones came to speak out against Canadian-owned Barrick Gold and its plan to core out sacred Mount Tenabo for open pit gold mine. Located in what is known as northern Nevada, the Shoshones have waged constant battles to protect their homelands from nuclear testing, nuclear waste dumping at Yucca Mountain and the Bureau of Land Management’s cruel roundups of wild horses on Shoshone lands.
The issue of climate was not the only focus at the conference for Indigenous Peoples. Jose Matus, Yaqui ceremonial leader and director of the Indigenous Alliance without Borders in Tucson, Arizona, and Sonora, Mexico, came to speak on the right of mobility and passage indigenous territories. While Indigenous Peoples are increasingly targeted for abuse and imprisonment at borders, Matus came to build solidarity with Indigenous Peoples from the north and south.
Ofelia Rivas, O’odham from the border zone of the United States and Mexico, described how the border wall construction through her ancestral territory has led to the digging up of the graves of O’odham ancestors and halted O’odham ceremonial pilgrimages. Rivas, founder of the O’odham Voice against the Wall, was recently imprisoned in southern Mexico for four days on false charges while supporting the Zapatistas.
In Bolivia, Rivas served as one of the chairs of the working group on Indigenous Peoples. She described the recent beatings of O’odham living in their traditional homelands on the US/Mexico border by the US Border Patrol. Ofelia said the Him’dag, sacred way of life, is disrupted by the constant abuse, border wall and militarization. She described how the US Border Patrol halted and violated the ceremonial deer hunt of the O’odham.
A grassroots delegation of Native Americans include Navajo Michelle Cook, arriving from Maori territory in New Zealand where she is a Fulbright scholar, Mohawk youth Chibon Everstz, arriving from Haudenosaunee territory in what is known as Canada, and Oneida youth Daygots arriving from Oneida territory in New York.
During the intense three days of work, there was also time to pause and enjoy Bolivia. President Morales shared a day with the news media, demonstrating a wholesome way of life of exercise and eating wholesome local traditional foods in the mountain community of Colomi. Morales invited the media to a game of soccer, also called football in some countries, at a new gymnasium. Reflecting his comments in his opening address concerning consumerism and waste, the traditional feast was served on clay plates, not paper plates. Morales played out the soccer game to cheers and the sounds of triumph from a band and fireworks. The food was local food, fish, fava beans, boiled corn and an array of potatoes.
Following the conference, the Bolivian government submitted the People’s Accord to the United Nations body that deals with climate change negotiations in the form of an official contribution to the debates taking place under the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change.
Final conference declaration offers road map to a new world: The final declaration of the World Climate Conference began with this admonition, “Today, our Mother Earth is wounded and the future of humanity is in danger.”
The World Climate Conference final declaration included these key points:
–If global warming increases by more than 2 degrees Celsius, a situation that the “Copenhagen Accord” could lead to, there is a 50 percent probability that the damages caused to our Mother Earth will be completely irreversible. Between 20 percent and 30 percent of species would be in danger of disappearing. Large extensions of forest would be affected, droughts and floods would affect different regions of the planet, deserts would expand, and the melting of the polar ice caps and the glaciers in the Andes and Himalayas would worsen. Many island states would disappear, and Africa would suffer an increase in temperature of more than 3 degrees Celsius. Likewise, the production of food would diminish in the world, causing catastrophic impact on the survival of inhabitants from vast regions in the planet, and the number of people in the world suffering from hunger would increase dramatically, a figure that already exceeds 1.02 billion people.
–The capitalist system has imposed on us a logic of competition, progress and limitless growth. This regime of production and consumption seeks profit without limits, separating human beings from nature and imposing a logic of domination upon nature, transforming everything into commodities: water, earth, the human genome, ancestral cultures, biodiversity, justice, ethics, the rights of peoples, and life itself.
–Under capitalism, Mother Earth is converted into a source of raw materials, and human beings into consumers and a means of production, into people that are seen as valuable only for what they own, and not for what they are.
–Capitalism requires a powerful military industry for its processes of accumulation and imposition of control over territories and natural resources, suppressing the resistance of the peoples. It is an imperialist system of colonization of the planet.
–Developed countries, as the main cause of climate change, in assuming their historical responsibility, must recognize and honor their climate debt in all of its dimensions as the basis for a just, effective, and scientific solution to climate change. In this context, we demand that developed countries:
• Restore to developing countries the atmospheric space that is occupied by their greenhouse gas emissions. This implies the decolonization of the atmosphere through the reduction and absorption of their emissions;
• Assume the costs and technology transfer needs of developing countries arising from the loss of development opportunities due to living in a restricted atmospheric space;
• Assume responsibility for the hundreds of millions of people that will be forced to migrate due to the climate change caused by these countries, and eliminate their restrictive immigration policies, offering migrants a decent life with full human rights guarantees in their countries;
–We deplore attempts by countries to annul the Kyoto Protocol, which is the sole legally binding instrument specific to the reduction of greenhouse gas emissions by developed countries.
–We categorically reject the illegitimate “Copenhagen Accord” that allows developed countries to offer insufficient reductions in greenhouse gases based in voluntary and individual commitments, violating the environmental integrity of Mother Earth and leading us toward an increase in global temperatures of around 4°C.
–The next Conference on Climate Change to be held at the end of 2010 in Mexico should approve an amendment to the Kyoto Protocol for the second commitment period from 2013 to 2017 under which developed countries must agree to significant domestic emissions reductions of at least 50 percent based on 1990 levels, excluding carbon markets or other offset mechanisms that mask the failure of actual reductions in greenhouse gas emissions.
–The United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples must be fully recognized, implemented and integrated in climate change negotiations. The best strategy and action to avoid deforestation and degradation and protect native forests and jungles is to recognize and guarantee collective rights to lands and territories, especially considering that most of the forests are located within the territories of indigenous peoples and nations and other traditional communities.
–We condemn market mechanisms such as REDD (Reducing Emissions from Deforestation and Forest Degradation) and its versions + and + +, which are violating the sovereignty of peoples and their right to prior free and informed consent as well as the sovereignty of national States, the customs of Peoples, and the Rights of Nature.
–Establish an International Tribunal of Conscience to denounce, make visible, document, judge and punish violations of the rights of migrants, refugees and displaced persons within countries of origin, transit and destination, clearly identifying the responsibilities of States, companies and other agents.
–In view of the inefficiency of the current mechanism, a new funding mechanism should be established at the 2010 Climate Change Conference in Mexico, functioning under the authority of the Conference of the Parties (COP) under the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change and held accountable to it, with significant representation of developing countries, to ensure compliance with the funding commitments of Annex 1 countries.
–Considering the lack of political will on the part of developed countries to effectively comply with commitments and obligations assumed under the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change and the Kyoto Protocol, and given the lack of a legal international organism to guard against and sanction climate and environmental crimes that violate the Rights of Mother Earth and humanity, we demand the creation of an International Climate and Environmental Justice Tribunal that has the legal capacity to prevent, judge and penalize States, industries and people that by commission or omission contaminate and provoke climate change.
–To this end, we adopt the attached global plan of action so that in Mexico, the developed countries listed in Annex 1 respect the existing legal framework and reduce their greenhouse gases emissions by 50 percent, and that the different proposals contained in this Accord are
–Finally, we agree to undertake a Second World People’s Conference on Climate Change and the Rights of Mother Earth in 2011 as part of this process of building the Global People’s Movement for Mother Earth and reacting to the outcomes of the Climate Change Conference to be held at the end of this year in Cancun, Mexico.
For more information:
World Peoples Conference on Climate Change and the Rights of Mother Earth
Indigenous Environmental Network
Alaska Inter-tribal Council
O’odham Solidarity Movement