The sacred connection between indigenous communities and the environment is becoming increasingly endangered in the last centuries. The ravage of their resources, through logging or cattle pasture, has led to abusive situations, including their forced displacement.
Indigenous peoples have also been more affected by climate change. According to UNEP, “for many indigenous peoples, climate change is a potential threat to their very existence and a major issue of human rights and equity”. Indeed, their dependence on local ecosystems has posed several challenges to their ways of living.
However, more and more, indigenous communities are recognized as climate change mitigation agents. Their knowledge is valuable in “designing and implementing solutions for sustainable ecosystem management” (UNEP) and has been recognized in the Paris Climate Agreement as vital for building resilience. Certainly, for many years, they have been protectors of the land (indigenous territories hold 80 percent of the world’s biodiversity – FAO) by using resources efficiently and building upon community action (examples include, smart grazing practices, harvesting fruits rather than timber, according to Science Reporter Julia Rosen).
Until the twenty-first century, Indigenous peoples were viewed as victims of the effects of climate change, rather than as agents of environmental conservation- Linda Etchart
Alternative Voices to Economic Development
One of the most prominent alternatives to the Western understanding of economic development is the “Buen Vivir” approach. Set in the Constitution of Ecuador in 2008, it proposes the recovery of nature’s importance, which is now a subject of rights. While criticizing the unsustainable current mode of production and consumption, “Buen Vivir” tries to interconnect the market with society and nature. That is, it conceives these elements as part of an integrated whole (systems thinking).
The priority is no longer to increase the GDP but the quality of life while recognizing our responsibility towards the environment. With this, Indigenous communities are showing that there are other ways of understanding the economy’s health and our relation with the Earth, at the same time distributive justice is implemented.
The indigenous people around the world, before they made a major decision, used to sit around and ask themselves, how does this decision affect our people seven generations ahead – Jane Goodall
Meet some of the most influential Earth Stewards
Writing by Marta Andrés