January 8, 2011
Excluded, but not Silenced
Indigenous Peoples at COP16
CANCUN, MEXICO—Led by members of international farmers movement La Via Campesina and the Indigenous Peoples Caucus, thousands marched through the searing heat in Cancun, Mexico, in December 2010, to demand real climate solutions. Their message was loud and clear: the communities on the front-lines of the problem—those who face the daily impacts of the climate crisis—are also on the front-lines of the solutions.
"Current models of consumption, production and trade have caused massive environmental destruction," according to a statement by La Via Campesina. "Indigenous peoples and peasant farmers, men and women, are the main victims. [We] need a change in economic and development paradigms. Human beings do not own nature, but rather form part of all that lives."
Since the conclusion of the COP16 United Nations Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) in Cancun in December, 2010, Indigenous peoples from around the world (including Clayton Thomas-Muller of the Pukatawagan First Nation in Northern Manitoba) have been expressing outrage and disgust at the agreements that emerged from the UN talks. Disproportionately suffering the immediate impacts of climate change, Indigenous peoples were silenced and excluded from the negotiations. Exposed in Wikileaks as a climate scandal, the Cancun Agreements were not the result of an informed and open consensus process, but instead the consequence of an on-going US diplomatic offensive of backroom deals, arm-twisting and bribery.
Hector Rodriguez, posing defiantly in front of riot police, was among the thousands of Indigenous peoples, small farmers, women, environmental groups and other activists who took action and made their voices heard throughout the two-week COP 16 conference. "The market will not protect our rights," reads a statement by the Indigenous Environmental Network, which represents front-line Indigenous communities. "Approaches based on carbon offsetting, like Reducing Emissions from Deforestation and Forest Degradation [REDD], will permit polluters to continue poisoning land, water, air, and our bodies [and] will only encourage the buying and selling of our human and environmental rights."
A large and colourful Bolivian contingent was leading the push for the Cochabamba People's Agreement reached during the World People's Conference in Bolivia in 2010. The agreement is held up as a model for representing the vision of everyday people from all corners of the globe who are creating solutions to climate change from the ground up. It also calls for a global framework that respects human rights and the rights of Mother Earth.
COP16 shut the doors on Indigenous peoples and impacted communities while welcoming with open arms profit-driven business, industry, and speculators. Hope, however, lay in the alliances built among Indigenous and social movements from North and South, as seen when Casey Camp-Horinek of the Ponca Nation of Oklahoma, and other Indigenous peoples from the North, were invited to participate in a Mayan ceremony.
Images and text by Allan Lissner, an independent photojournalist based in Toronto.