Today marks International Day of the World's Indigenous Peoples!
This year’s theme is ‘Leaving no one behind: Indigenous peoples and the call for a new social contract.’
When I started my Human Rights degree a few years ago, I stumbled across Berta Cecares’ tragic story during my research. Berta was a Honduran Indigenous Leader and Environmental activist, she championed for the rights of her people, the Lenca community.
Photo of Berta Cáceres. Photograph: Tim Russo/Goldman Environmental Prize
The Lenca tribe are an Indigenous Community from Yamaranguila in Intibucá, Honduras. Like many other Indigenous communities, they have lost a significant component of their culture and language to colonisation. Berta Cecares fought an ongoing land and water battle against the hydroelectric dam corporations. The corporations were trying to build a dam at the Gualcarque River.
The river held significant sacred and spiritual values for the Lenca Indigenous community. The dam construction threatened to desecrate the river flow which was the Lenca community's vital water source to their communal farmlands. Berta and many other members of the Lenca community actively spoke out against the dam construction and protested.
They were constantly met with violence, militarisation and police harassment. Sadly, in 2016, Berta Cecares was murdered in her bedroom, less than a year after receiving the Goldman Award for environmental defenders.
Photo: Berta Cecares’ with Lenca people, COPINH
Photo: Berta Cecares’ with Lenca people, COPINH
Her story inspired me to read more into Indigenous people/communities worldwide and the plights and trauma they have suffered through colonisation and industrialisation. Indigenous people have been marginalised, discriminated against and dispossessed, leaving them vulnerable to abuse and violence by state and corporate interests.
Most of these Indigenous people, particularly women, are also disproportionately affected by climate change. Indigenous people are unable to keep up with the drastic environmental changes.
Like Berta Cecares, Indigenous women are powerful agents of change for environmental justice movements, and are using their voices to call for action and take leadership.
I firmly believe we should recognise Indigenous women’s roles, partnership, and participation in the environment and climate change framework. Women-led environmental resistance movements are effectively stopping or slowing down man-made environmental destruction that threaten Earth.
There is a strong argument that Indigenous people and communities hold deep and powerful environmental knowledge to support crucial climate change mitigation activities. Indigenous women participatory engagement in ecological decision-making could also help build their country’s cornerstone to a healthy environment and improve the environment/climate change framework.
A Pataxo indigenous woman performs in front of police during the Indigenous Peoples Ritual March outside the National Congress in Brasilia, Brazil, April 27, 2017. (AP/Eraldo Peres)
Berta Cáceres was this dynamic and inspirational environmental leader who fought tirelessly for environmental justice. She had the enormous capacity to communicate humanity and defend her people and land rights.
There are amazing Indigenous women and environmental activists just like Berta Cecares worldwide, and we should extend our support, amplify their voices, and join in on their cause to stop the inequalities and injustices.
Their voices should not be drowned out. Lets recognise the achievements and contributions of these fantastic First Nations Women Warriors and Mother Earth protectors. These are my top three Indigenous Women Environment Defenders.
Sonia Guajajara, Indigenous rights and environmental leader
Sonia Guajajara was born in the Amazon Rainforest in the Arariboia Indigenous Land in Maranhão. Sonia is Brazil’s top Indigenous leader and is a passionate advocate for Indigenous and Environmental rights. In the Amazon, women are essential to forest conservation. Sonia’s fearless activism has garnered worldwide attention. “My mission is to make the larger society see the huge potential of Indigenous People to help preserve life,” she recently told Believe Earth.
Nemonte Nenquimo, Indigenous Activist, Ecuador
Nemonte is an Indigenous activist and member of the Waorani people of Pastaza in the Ecuadorian Amazon. She and other members of the Waorani took the Ecuadorian government to court over its plans to sell their territory to oil companies. Their victory in 2019 saved over 500,000 acres of rainforest and created a vital legal precedent for Indigenous rights, a stunning achievement reported worldwide.
“Humans cause climate change on this planet. The jungle does not expect us to save it, and it just expects us to respect it. We, the Indigenous peoples, expect the same thing.”- she recently told United Nations Climate Change.
Mama Aleta Buan, Indonesia’s Timor Island
Mama Aleta is an Indigenous Mollo people on Indonesia’s Timor Island. She is often described as an Indonesian Avatar. Timor Island’s mountainous region is rich in oil, gas, gold, and marble. The abundance of natural resources has served as a curse for the Indigenous Mollo people. Mining corporations were involved in land grabs over the years. Mama Aleta began to organise peaceful protests against these companies. However, this has made her target, and after surviving a failed assassination attempt, she went into hiding in the forest.
Despite the intimidation, she rallied the villagers and grew the resistance movement by cultivating a women-led weaving protest. Public awareness and pressure increased, and eventually, the Indonesian government took notice. By 2010, the mining companies halted their operations and abandoned the area. These extractions of the natural resources in Timor Island had significant consequences to the Indigenous communities and forest devastation.
“For the Indigenous Timor people, the Earth is our body; the land is our flesh, water is our blood, (the) forest is the artery and hair and stone is our backbone. If one of these parts go missing, the Earth will be paralysed.’ – Aleta Baun, Dilmah Conservation.
If you have a moment, please do check out Berta Cecares’ inspirational acceptance speech at the Goldman Prize Ceremony in 2015 and also other Environmental Defenders speeches.
We need to extend our support to Indigenous women leaders and communities and put their voices at the forefront, particularly women fighting relentlessly for environmental justice. If we don’t get some of these priorities straight, the respect for other people, our environment will eventually cease to exist.
Our Cantering Bliss brooch was inspired by my Indigenous Australian heritage and Sedna with Snubbie Brooch from the Inuit Sea Goddess story. We will be creating more Indigenous-inspired brooches in the coming months and would love to hear from you on any specific designs you would like to see. We would welcome your comments below.
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