Listening to our Indigenous Leaders

Dec 7, 2021 · 4 min read

While the Heads of State gathered for the World Leaders Summit (COP26) in Glasgow in November 2021, another group of world leaders, who have long been ignored, gathered for a very different kind of summit.

The Real World Leaders on Climate listening sessions amplified the importance of Indigenous and local communities and highlighted the words and organizations of these Indigenous speakers.

The Indigenous Listening Format was first devised by Flourishing Diversity. These events were made possible with support from the Sustainable Markets Initiative, Isla Foundation, Grounded and Goals House and co-organized by our Co-founder, Lily Cole.

“Flourishing Diversity is an initiative based on the idea and the knowledge that biological and cultural diversity are mutually flourishing. We aim to create situations like this, where we can hear from different voices across the world and amplify them.” — Jessica Sweidan (Co-founder, Flourishing Diversity).

These events created an intentional space for the audience to join in quietly and respectfully and learn about Indigenous knowledge, perspectives, stories and calls to action to provide us with an urgently needed compass for how we can address many of the escalating social and environmental challenges we face.

Though indigenous communities make up less than 5% of the global population, they safeguard 80% of the world’s remaining biodiversity, 50% of the world’s remaining forests, and almost half of the Earth’s terrestrial stored carbon.

Prominent leaders formed part of the audience including;

From left: Tom B.K. Goldtooth, Victoria Tauli-Corpuz, HRH Prince Charles, Sonia Guajajara and Gregorio Diaz Mirabal.

These ‘listeners’ donated the power of their voices, inviting the world to join them in intentionally listening to inspirational people whose wisdom provides vital guidance on how the world can address climate change and the slide towards the sixth great extinction.

“There is something I always say in my activism, we cannot eat coal and we cannot drink oil. And I would really love to learn from the indigenous leaders: what loss and damage really is.” — Vanessa Nakate.

“Whenever I see indigenous peoples, to me, I see nature, and that human connection with the natural world. I think right now we have not found it in our hearts to really have that human connection with nature. I would really like to know what we as youth climate activists can do to support [indigenous peoples], because we feel you, we hear you.” — Elizabeth Wahtuti.

Why we are listening now

“One of the biggest opportunities to catalyse transformative changes from local to global levels is to support Indigenous peoples and local communities to secure their human rights, and particularly their rights to self-determined governance systems, cultures and collective lands and territories. Although there are no panaceas, this is arguably a key missing link in efforts to address the biodiversity and climate crises and ensure a safe, healthy and sustainable planet for all.”ICCA Consortium report (2021).

“The most hope I have right now for our planet is rooted in indigenous wisdom. I think that the same structures that we have used for the last few hundred years, that have gotten us into this crisis, are not necessarily going to get us out and we need to expand our hearts and minds to new possibilities, which indigenous cultures can allow us to do, by offering new frames of reference, new ways of thinking about the fundamental questions: what it is to be a human, what it is to be alive?” — Lily Cole.

Indigenous Leaders heard

These international Indigenous leaders spoke at the Real World Leaders on Climate listening events:

  • Chief Ninawa Huni Kui from the state of Acre in the Amazon in Brazil;
  • Agnes Leina from Kenya;
  • Eriel Tchekwie Deranger from Alberta, Canada;
  • Mindahi Bastida from Mexico;
  • Cristiane Julião Pankararu from the Pernambuco state in Brazil;
  • Tom B.K. Goldtooth from the Navajo Nation in the US;
  • Selina Neirok Leem from the Marshall Islands;
  • Victoria Tauli-Corpuz from the Cordillera Region in the Philippines;
  • Sonia Guajajara from the Araribóia Indigenous Land in Maranhão, Brazil; and
  • Gregorio Diaz Mirabal from the Venezuelan Amazon.
From left: Cristiane Julião Pankararu, Rani the translator, Chief Ninawa Huni Kuin and Mindahi Bastida.

Each speaker represents a community and/or organization that is continuously fighting for Indigenous peoples’ rights, climate action and a movement to protect our biodiversity for generations to come.

The speakers were asked to give their opinions on Farhana Yamin’s question: “What is the one thing you want to see the COP do?”.

Over the coming weeks, we will feature these speakers and share their vital messages from these events.

Follow us on Instagram for updates.

Photo credits: Alice Aedy and Finn Harries from EarthRise Studio.


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