Eye on the Amazon

Solstice Reflections of Our Work at COP21 and Beyond

As I reflect on our recent work at COP21 in Paris on the Winter Solstice, I am very proud of what we achieved and filled with great hope for our work ahead. The Amazon Watch team did an incredible job of accompanying and supporting a twelve-person delegation of indigenous leaders, women and youth from the Kichwa community of Sarayaku in the Ecuadorian Amazon and two Munduruku leaders from the Tapajós River Basin in the Brazilian Amazon to ensure the voices, concerns and solutions from indigenous peoples from the Amazon were heard by global leaders and media, and they were! Here are some of my takeaways and highlights from COP21 in Paris.

I am encouraged that our call to Keep Fossil Fuels in the Ground and shift to 100% Renewables is now a mandate by global governments and a signal to the fossil fuel industry that their time is up. Was the agreement everything we wanted? Of course not. While the "rights of Indigenous Peoples" is included in the non-binding preamble of the agreement, indigenous rights are not included in the final and legally binding text of the Paris Climate Agreement. So, it is up to us to continue holding governments and corporations accountable to ensure respect for indigenous peoples' rights and territories and to ensure CLIMATE JUSTICE FOR ALL!

I am filled with hope and happiness when I reflect on the Indigenous women's gathering and Treaty signing on the morning of Sunday, December 6. It was a beautiful and historic gathering of Indigenous women of the North and South who came together in prayer, song and circle to read and sign the "Indigenous Women's Treaty of the Americas in Defense of Mother Earth," which was originally signed in September on Lanape Territory, also known as Central Park in the heart of New York City. As a witness at both ceremonies, I have joined indigenous women in calling for prayers on every New Moon and actions on Solstices and Equinoxes. Today, I ask you to join us in action by sharing this video on the Defenders of Mother Earth.

December 6 was a special day! Following the women's gathering, hundreds of people gathered on the banks of the Canal de Villette in Paris to participate in, witness and support the indigenous flotilla, also known as the #Canoes2Paris action coordinated in conjunction with our allies at Indigenous Environmental Network (IEN). What began as a proposal from the Kichwa from Sarayaku to bring a canoe from the Amazon inspired this beautiful action that brought together indigenous people from the North and South. Together they joined in ceremony, then some paddled in canoes and kayaks together while others unfurled banners reading, "La Selva Viviente: Territorios Libres de Petroleo" or "The Living Forest: Territories Free from Oil" and "Defend the Sacred: Protect the Water." Following the action, Indigenous leaders held a press conference on a boat called "Antipode" to share their messages and three specific proposals: The Indigenous Women's Treaty, Sarayaku's Kawsak Sacha proposal to Protect Living Forests, and the Declaration for Health of Mother Earth by Keeping Fossil Fuels in the Ground signed by over 165 communities and organizations across the Americas. This action and press conference resulted in significant media coverage, including this Democracy Now feature.

Equator Prize Press Conference

The press conference began with the words of legendary Kayapo Chief Raoni from the Xingu Basin in the Brazilian Amazon, "We are united in our struggle to defend our land, defend our water, and defend life itself...We appeal to governments to stop pillaging our lands and territories as we are the ones protecting Mother Earth." He then stood and acknowledged all of the indigenous people on stage, thanking them for hearing his call for the Alliance of Mother Earth's Guardians, which was launched in Paris during the first week of COP21.

Felix Santi, President of the Kichwa community of Sarayaku, followed with this statement: "We're here to present our proposal of Kawsak Sacha: The living rainforest, the living Amazon. This proposal respects all living beings and helps achieve a balance of our planet, our Mother Earth. Indigenous peoples live with this wisdom – live in harmony with these living beings, and we're here to protect the lagoons and the water, the trees and the mountains. We ARE the balance, we LIVE the balance and this is our contribution here in Paris."

After a week of presenting the proposal and the call to keep fossil fuels in the ground to countless media outlets and at events inside and outside Le Bourget official COP21 space, including the Roundtable of Chiefs, the Mayor's reception at the Eiffel Tower, the International Rights of Nature Tribunal, and the WECAN "Women Leading Solutions on the Frontlines of Climate Change" Summit, the Sarayaku leaders couldn't give up on their vision...to bring a symbol of their Living Forest to Paris.

At sunrise on the morning of December 8, their vision became reality. Their "Canoe of Life" arrived and navigated the Canal de Villette in Paris. In yet another beautiful act of solidarity, the delegation of Lummi indigenous youth helped the Sarayaku leaders lift the canoe from the water. They then sang and danced around the canoe before helping to lift it on a large truck headed to Le Bourget. A few hours later, the "Canoe of Life" arrived and was featured prominently in the Indigenous Pavilion in the Climate Generations area at COP21 for the remainder of the Summit. It is now being hosted at Paris City Hall until mid-January and will continue to navigate Europe to continue raising awareness and support for Sarayaku's call to protect living forests and the Amazon.

To learn more about the Living Forest and Sarayaku's Canoe of Life,
please WATCH and SHARE this incredible video released by The Guardian on December 10.

I left Paris inspired by the vision and determination of our indigenous brothers and sisters from the Amazon to the Arctic, including Maria Leusa and Rozeninho, Munduruku of the Ipereg Ayu Movement from the Tapajós River Basin in the Brazilian Amazon, who were honored with the 2015 Equator Prize along with 21 global movements that strive for indigenous rights and environmental protection.

"We've come to the COP to bring international visibility and gather support for our struggle for our rights, our lands, and our rivers," asserted Maria Leusa before a packed assembly, alongside legendary Kayapó Chief Raoni. They are asserting their rights and defending their rivers and rainforests from the threats of mega-dams and industrial waterways on the Tapajós River. We are proud to stand with them in defense of their rights and territories and to ensure that climate solutions DO NOT include large hydropower. I hope you will continue to stand with us!

Reflecting on our work leading up to and in Paris in solidarity with Indigenous Peoples and communities on the frontlines of climate change, I am ever hopeful that we are on a path to creating a better world for our future generations, all humanity, and all life on Mother Earth. We created the mandate to keep fossil fuels in the ground. Our governments have agreed. Now, we have to make it happen in 2016 and beyond. It won't be easy, but no one said it would be easy.

As Ena Santi, from Sarayaku says, "We carry our babies on our back. We run through the rainforests at night. We are descendants of the jaguar. We are not afraid of anything!"

In that spirit, let's carry our babies toward a hopeful future full of energy powered by sun!

Happy Solstice and Happy Holidays!

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