In a city where everybody dresses in black this time of the year, the indigenous communities brought color.
With members decked out in the traditional dresses, indigenous communities were highlighted during the Equator Prize Award Ceremony on Monday, December 7, as part of the activities of the climate change Summit (COP21).
The event, organized by United Nations for Development (UNDP) in a multi-sector partnership, was hosted by actor and activist Alec Baldwin and Helen Clark, administrator of UNDP. The prize recognizes sustainable development solutions for people, nature and resilient communities.
From Colombia, the Wuasikamas from the Inga Nation were recognized for the recovery of 55,062 acres (22,283 hectares) of ancestral territory through an agreement with the government of Colombia that funded the Inga’s effort to expel armed guerrillas, paramilitaries and drug traffickers. Following the expulsion of these groups, the Inga people set aside the majority of their land – 43,243 acres (17,500 hectares) – as a sacred area.
They also developed a financially self-sustaining local governance model, and formed the Court of Indigenous Peoples in reclaiming their ancestral territories and combating drug trafficking.
With the Colombians, 20 other Indigenous Peoples and local community initiatives from 19 developing countries in Latin America, Africa and Asia were chosen from 1,461 nominations from across 126 countries. Each winning group received $10,000 for the protection, restoration and sustainable management of the forests.
The prizes also acknowledge community based adaptation projects, sustainable agriculture and food security; securing rights to communal lands, territories resources and advocacy for environmental and climate justice.
One of the members of the community talked about the communal efforts Ingas have made and also mention the need for peace in Colombia and the willingness they have to keep working for the peace, as direct victims of Colombian conflict.
Between the winners there are projects from Brazil, Afghanistan, Cambodia, China, Indonesia, Iran, Papua New Guinea, Belize, Bolivia, Guyana, Honduras, Congo, Kenya, Madagascar, Tanzania and Uganda.
The emotive ceremony, was full of words of hope straight coming from the communities that made a call for the protection of mother earth and the recognition of the importance of the roll played by the people of the forests in protecting human life.
During the event, Baldwin talked about the role that community-based action plays in meeting global challenges. “What I have come to realize,” said Baldwin, “is that the change we need is not going to come from governments alone. Leadership is needed at all levels. And there is power and creativity and ingenuity and vision and leadership coming from grassroots movements everywhere.”
He also pointed on the fact that Indigenous Peoples and local communities around the world are disproportionately affected by climate change. From natural disasters to resource scarcity, Indigenous Peoples and local communities are particularly vulnerable and this is affecting their prospects of sustainable development.
In the event there were also representatives from New Zealand, Norway and Sweden, all countries that support the communal initiatives. Kumi Naidoo, director of Greenpeace talked about the risks taken and the prosecution that threatens the life of environmental activists, like many indigenous leaders.
The event closed with a speech from Jane Goodall, peace messenger of the United Nations and recognized by her work with chimpanzees. Goodall talked about the need to connect head and hearth, like Native communities do to be able to protect nature.
“We are the guardians of the forests,” the winners repeated during the event. “Protecting the forests is about saving life in the present and in the future, they said as they asked for recognition of their knowledge and the tools they use to protect the forests.
“The earth is crying, nature is bleeding today. Let’s not destroy it, let’s protect it. Other wise, we will destroy ourselves,” they said.