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Indigenous people in the face of climate change

A day of the Bonn climate conference was dedicated to indigenous peoples, with three side events about indigenous issues organized. These events were an opportunity for those who spoke to come back on the results of the Paris Agreement for Indigenous People and to suggest outlines for future action.

The feelings expressed towards the Paris Agreement were mixed. Tunga Bhadra Rai from the Nepal Federation of Indigenous Nationalities (NEFIN), said that she was disappointed that indigenous rights were only included in the preamble of the Agreement. She also pointed to the notion of “non economic loss and damage”, which, she argued, needed to be more clearly defined to be made operational. Eileen Mairena Cunningham, of the Center for Indigenous Peoples’ Autonomy and Development (CADPI) in Nicaragua  stood by her country’s decision not to sign the Agreement, stating that the Agreement is “weak, more could have been done and developed countries are not taking their responsibilities.”


Indigenous people protesting in Paris. Photo from Business Insider.

She praised her country’s national legal framework which allows indigenous people a great autonomy, implying that the Paris Agreement did little for Indigenous People and that national policy could bring about a fair system, with or without international agreements.  From Myanmar said that “there is hope in the Agreement, but we remain very cautious”.

Indigenous groups are now focusing on national adaptation strategies, in which they want their knowledge to be included, and their rights recognised. Flora Bawi Nei Mawi argued that indigenous women could contribute their knowledge to REDD+ and Myanmar’s national strategy, but for this to happen, a “real political will” was needed.

Hindou Oumarou Ibrahim: Projects for climate that don’t respect Indigenous People’s rights & human rights are not good enough, we must say no. The side event also provided concrete examples of how indigenous traditional knowledge could be used for adaptation to climate change. Dr. Mohamed Handaine, a historian and North African regions representative to the Indigenous Peoples of Africa Co-ordinating Committee (IPACC) described the Agadir system, a collective granary managed by indigenous tribes.

In times of plenty, the Agadir serves as a storage place. In times of need, it gives indigenous people the supplies they need. The Agadir works according to intricate and strict rules. Each family has its own storage room, and entry to the Agadir is strictly monitored by a “person of trust” chosen by the tribe. The only ones allowed to enter without restriction are cats and snakes, who have their own little entrance in the form of a window and who protect the grain against mice. More than guaranteeing the necessary supply of food, the Agadir, by storing different types of seeds, is also key in preserving local biodiversity.

The value of traditional indigenous knowledge in the global struggle against climate change is being increasingly recognized. UNESCO, for example, is closely studying indigenous know-how and practices through its Local and Indigenous Knowledge Systems (LINKS) program. Indigenous people now need to make their voices louder. They aim to do so at the national level, but also by increasing their representation and defending their interests at the Green Climate Fund and by enlisting civil society support.

As Hindou Oumarou Ibrahim of the  International Indigenous Peoples’ Forum on Climate Change told Climate Tracker: “Young people can help us by understanding us, spreading our message, writing blogs. We can’t be everywhere and our message has to go well beyond SBI meetings.”

Giselle Bernard

About Giselle Bernard