Democrats on the House Natural Resources Committee
Chair Raúl M. Grijalva (D-Ariz.) issued the following statement this morning before departing for the 2021 United Nations Climate Change Conference, also known as COP26.
“The United Nations are, in some ways, repeating the same tragic mistakes that created the climate crisis to begin with,” Grijalva said. “Climate change is the direct result of industrialized nations exploiting our world’s natural resources and violently stealing land from Indigenous and poor peoples. It’s difficult to clean up the mess we created while the global vaccine apartheid and the high cost of travel prevent the full participation of those same Indigenous and poor communities. My own participation in Scotland will be centered on increasing their representation and promoting Indigenous conservation methods, which often have the greatest record of success.”
The need for Indigenous conservation leadership is taking on increased urgency as world governments attempt to prevent climate change from becoming truly catastrophic. A landmark study published in September, led by Dr. Neil Dawson of the University of East Anglia, documented the astonishing success rates of Indigenous land and water conservation strategies across the world and suggested that more environmental policy lessons must be drawn from Indigenous communities.
The study assessed the outcomes of 169 conservation projects ranging from reforestation in Taiwan to watershed restoration and wetlands preservation in Africa.
Grijalva pointed out ahead of his trip to Scotland that Indigenous peoples manage or have rights to about 40 percent of protected lands worldwide, and those lands hold 80 percent of Earth’s biodiversity and about 25 percent of the aboveground stored carbon in tropical forests. Despite this, policies and management structures in many conservation projects overlook Indigenous expertise and legal rights.
The lack of full of Indigenous participation at COP26 is directly tied to the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic and its disproportionate impact on Indigenous peoples and nations in the global south. The director general of the World Health Organization has acknowledged that there is a “shocking imbalance in the global distribution of vaccines” even as international agencies continue to work to address the gap.
The United States has not been immune to these imbalances. Early data from the Centers for Disease Control showed the cumulative incidence of laboratory-confirmed COVID-19 cases among the American Indian/Alaska Native population was 3.5 times that of non-Hispanic whites. Just as seriously, urban Indian organizations that provide healthcare to more than 70% of the United States’ Indigenous population received delayed allotments of the COVID-19 vaccine.