Orpha Yoshua, an Indigenous Namblong woman from West Papua, Indonesia, tells a story about her community. It has the greatest bird watching in the region, with vast biodiversity. Yoshua’s nation stewards the forest, and in return, it provides rich and diverse sustenance.

But now, the forest is being clear-cut by a company owned by one of Indonesia’s top oligarchs. From the trees, the company extracts palm oil and leaves nothing but dirt and barren land behind.

More than 100 hectares of land has been clear-cut this year alone. “If this company destroys our land, where will we live? How will we live?” Yoshua asked.

Extraction without free and prior consent is a common story for Indigenous Peoples across continents.

On Friday, four Indigenous leaders gathered near the COP15 conference to put Indigenous sovereignty at the centre of discussions about conservation and nature protection.

The panel organized by Greenpeace featured Indigenous Peoples from around the world, including Indonesia, the Democratic Republic of Congo, Brazil and Canada, who demanded Indigenous nations be involved in the management of the lands they claim is rightfully theirs.

Negotiations at COP15 have so far excluded sovereign Indigenous nations, leading to accusations of hypocrisy by nation states that claim to be acting in the best interests of Indigenous Peoples.

“They speak on behalf of us,” Dinamam Tuxá, co-ordinator of the Articulation of the Indigenous Peoples of Brazil (APIB), said at the panel.

Ta’Kaiya Blaney, from Tla A’min Nation on unceded Coast Salish territory in British Columbia, spoke about how she enabled Indigenous voices to be heard. Blaney brought youth from her community who were part of a high-profile protest at the kickoff at COP15, interrupting Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s opening remarks.

Afterwards, Trudeau said the disruption was an example of Canadian freedom, but Blaney says security made them put their hands up. For a day, they worried about losing their accreditation badges.

“[Nation states] want to pick and choose what pieces of Indigenous people they want,” she said at the panel.

Take, for example, conservation that happens when Indigenous nations have stewardship of their lands and what Blaney calls “sacrifice zones” — land sacrificed for development, often with only the promise of a scatter-shot of jobs.

Ronald Brazeau’s traditional Algonquin territory is one of these lands. Mining and logging have devastated the land, causing a massive collapse of moose and caribou populations, Brazeau told Canada’s National Observer.

“I don’t feel like eating rats — years in the future, we might end up eating that,” he said at the panel.

Brazeau calls on the province to partner with his nation by handing over land management following a period of restoration.

The federal government has an open mind when it comes to habitat protection in traditional Algonquin territory in the surrounding area of Val d’or, Que., 530 kilometres northwest of Montreal, Brazeau said. But challenges remain with Quebec.

Ta’Kaiya Blaney speaks about sacrifice zones and false solutions as the privilege of conservation perpetuates First Nation communities remaining on the front lines of climate change. Photo by Matteo Cimellaro / Canada’s National Observer

For example, Algonquin nations want to close roads to protect habitats. Brazeau pointed to research that finds to protect habitat, the level of disturbance to the land should not exceed 35 per cent. In the region, the disturbance level is as high as 85 per cent.

“We got a big f***ing gap — so that’s what we’re asking [the province], we want to bring it back today.”

Brazeau says Algonquins don’t want to stop the industry, per se, but first, “we need to clean up [the province’s] mess.”

Globally, Indigenous Peoples are demanding to be consulted and given the lead role in land management. However, the power of extractive industries to influence governments and bypass Indigenous participation and consent is still very strong. But Indigenous Peoples like Brazeau are tired of the scraps big industry gives them, such as logging, oil, or mining jobs.

“I don’t feel like getting a job cutting; we want something else,” Brazeau said.

At the panel, Tuxá also reiterated a call from other Indigenous groups and activists that the 30 per cent goal is not ambitious enough — 50 per cent of conservation should be the target. Anything below it risks collapse, he said.

Another panel held inside the COP15 conference said the science is conclusive: 50 per cent of nature must be protected to protect life.

By Matteo Cimellaro, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter

Original Published on Dec 12, 2022

This item reprinted with permission from   Canada's National Observer   Ottawa, Ontario
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