Eye on the Amazon

Respect Rights and Traditional Knowledge to Protect Mother Earth

Photo credit: Allison C. Hanes at One Health Productions

Highlights from UNPF 2019

Once a year, the United Nations Headquarters in New York welcomes hundreds of indigenous leaders and representatives from around the world for the UN Permanent Forum on Indigenous Issues (UNPFII). This year the Forum took place between April 22nd and May 3rd and covered the theme, "Traditional knowledge: Generation, transmission and protection."

Given that the territories of indigenous peoples contain the best-protected forests and over 80% of global biodiversity, it is clear that respecting indigenous rights and traditional knowledge is key to the protection of Mother Earth. This message was heard at side-events at the UN and at public events throughout the week.

Amazon Watch spent the week in NY accompanying and amplifying the voices and solutions of Amazonian leaders from Ecuador, Peru, and Brazil including: Women Defenders of the Amazon Against Extraction from the Ecuadorian Amazon, Patricia Gualinga (Kichwa from Sarayaku) and Catalina Chumbi (Shuar); Ronald Suarez Maynas (Shipibo from Peru), leader of COSHICOX (the Council of Shipibo Conibo Xetebo Peoples of the Peruvian Amazon); and Sonia Guajajara, National Coordinator of the Articulation of Indigenous Peoples of Brazil, among others.

We hosted and participated in over a dozen side events and public events in collaboration with several partner and ally organizations, including: UN Environment, the Interfaith Forest Initiative, Women's Earth and Climate Action Network (WECAN), Cultural Survival, the Shipibo-Conibo Center, and the New School, with support from Rainforest Action Network's Protect An Acre Fund, Global Green Grants, and Jumpscale.

We also co-hosted over 50 indigenous representatives at a grant-making skillshare workshop in coordination with Cultural Survival, International Funders for Indigenous Peoples (IFIP), LUSH, Pawanka Fund, and the International Institute for Education (IIE).

A few highlights from the week include:

  • Amazon Watch Meet and Greet with Amazon Defenders. It was truly a beautiful gathering of traditional song and dance by indigenous grandmother Catalina Chumbi (Shuar), voices of resistance, solutions, and opportunities to take action to protect the Amazon and our global climate. Thank you to all of our allies and supporters who attended!
  • Rally and petition delivery outside the Brazilian Permanent Mission in solidarity with indigenous peoples of Brazil on the eve of Terra Livre, the annual indigenous mobilization, where we delivered nearly 12,000 petition signatures to the Brazilian government. Thank you to WECAN, Brazil Solidarity Network, and Defend Democracy in Brazil for co-organizing! You can still sign the petition here.
  • Forest Defenders side event at the UN moderated by actor and activist, Alec Baldwin. It was quite an honor to share the stage to raise awareness about the crucial role of protecting the Amazon and forest defenders with such distinguished leaders, including: Vicky Tauli-Corpuz, UN Special Rapporteur on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples; Sonia Guajajara, General Coordinator of Articulation of Indigenous Peoples of Brazil (APIB); Gregorio Mirabal, General Coordinator of COICA; and Patricia Gualinga, Kichwa from Sarayaku, Ecuador.

In her opening remarks to this year's UNPFII, the Special Rapporteur on Indigenous Issues (SR), Vicky Tauli-Corpuz, said, "Threats and violence against indigenous people over property rights are being fueled by right-wing governments... We have to launch a global campaign against criminalization and impunity against indigenous people."

We agree with the Special Rapporteur and as part of Amazon Watch's inside/outside engagement strategy with the UNPFII we arranged a direct meeting between her and representatives of Women Defenders of the Amazon Against Extraction from Ecuador, some of whom she had met in the framework of her recent Ecuador country visit. They reminded her of their Declaration and the Ecuadorian government's failure to respect the rights of indigenous peoples and women, in particular, who are impacted by industrial extraction.

Immediately following her remarks at the Forest Defenders event, Sonia Guajajara headed to the airport to return to Brazil to join indigenous people from across Brazil at Terra Livre, where they mobilized to reject the assaults and attacks by the new right-wing government of Jair Bolsonaro. She is part of a growing movement of indigenous women leaders across the Amazon and the world who are taking a stand to protect Mother Earth. They are truly inspiring!

In coordination with the Articulation of Indigenous Peoples of Brazil (APIB), we released a ground-breaking report entitled, Complicity in Destruction II, to expose the major drivers and financiers of Amazon destruction in Brazil. Investors highlighted in the report include: Barclays (UK), JPMorgan Chase (US), and leading U.S. asset managers BlackRock, Vanguard, and State Street.

We are calling on European and North American financiers and commodities buyers to cut ties with producers of high-risk commodities (soy, cattle and timber) that are causing social conflict and Amazon destruction, and use their market power to send a signal to Brazil's leadership that the global community will not tolerate the policies of the new administration.

"If things are going to change, we are going to need help," said Sônia Guajajara, National Coordinator of APIB. "So we are asking that international consumers boycott Brazilian agribusiness products until the Brazilian government definitively addresses the question of indigenous land demarcations and acts of violence against indigenous peoples. We want peace, so that our peoples can live a just and dignified life."

Please join us in responding to the calls of indigenous peoples to protect the Amazon and climate by defending the defenders!

  • Photo credit: Allison C. Hanes at One Health Productions
  • Photo credit: Amazon Watch
  • Photo credit: WECAN International/Teena Pugliese
  • Photo credit: WECAN International/Teena Pugliese
  • Photo credit: Amazon Watch
  • Photo credit:  Amazon Watch
  • Photo credit:  Amazon Watch
  • Photo credit: Julie Mollins
  • Photo credit: WECAN International/Teena Pugliese
  • Photo credit: Amazon Watch
  • Photo credit: Ecodeo
  • Photo credit: Amazon Watch
  • Photo credit: Amazon Watch
  • Photo credit: Interfaith Rainforest Initiative

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