PARIS, FRANCE-- Indigenous Peoples from the Arctic to the Amazon gathered to demand "true climate solutions including bottom up initiatives originating in Indigenous knowledge, culture, and spirituality." The Indigenous flotilla canoed and kayaked on the Bassin de la Villette during COP21 in Paris. On December 6, 2015, the COP21 entered its 7th day of negotiations at the United Nations Climate Change conference. The COP21 is being held in Paris, France, at the Le Bourget conference center. Photos by: Emma Cassidy | Survival Media Agency

Bearing Witness: Indigenous voices missing from negotiations at COP21

Ed. note: This post is part of a series, “Bearing Witness,” highlighting indigenous women fighting for climate justice in the Americas. Read the rest of the series here.

Last Sunday, 25 indigenous activists from around the world formed a kayak flotilla in Paris’ Bassin de la Villette, calling on world leaders to consider their communities when negotiating the first legally-binding international agreement on carbon emissions reductions. The action was followed by drumming, speeches, and banner drops demanding that the Amazon be protected and oil be kept in the ground.

This demonstration took place a day after world leaders released the first draft of the climate agreement, which sets forth the commitments countries will make to reduce their carbon emissions. It is still only a draft — the final will be released at the end of the talks — but already, indigenous rights have been pushed out of the legally-binding agreement to a non-binding annex. Sunday’s demonstration was a space for international indigenous activists to voice their concerns that their rights and livelihood will not be included within the final document.

Representatives from indigenous movements throughout the Americas took part in the demonstration. Patricia Gualinga of the Sarayaku region of the Ecuadorian rainforest was there, along with her niece Nina and other Kichwa activists. Indigenous women from Oklahoma, Canada, and the Brazilian Amazon spoke about their connection to the Mother Earth, and the disastrous impacts climate change has had on their communities. Also present at the action were Munduruku activists who are currently fighting Brazil’s hydroelectric dams, so-called “green” energy projects that displace indigenous people and wipe out ecosystems.

The indigenous leaders released three declarations. One demanded a stop to fossil fuel extraction and investment in the industry; another asked for legal protection for the Amazon rainforest. The last announced the creation of a coalition of indigenous women throughout the Americas fighting climate change.

PARIS, FRANCE-- Indigenous Peoples from the Arctic to the Amazon gathered to demand "true climate solutions including bottom up initiatives originating in Indigenous knowledge, culture, and spirituality." The Indigenous flotilla canoed and kayaked on the Bassin de la Villette during COP21 in Paris. On December 6, 2015, the COP21 entered its 7th day of negotiations at the United Nations Climate Change conference. The COP21 is being held in Paris, France, at the Le Bourget conference center. Photos by: Emma Cassidy | Survival Media Agency

Indigenous Peoples from the Arctic to the Amazon formed a kayak flotilla to demand “true climate solutions.” (Photo credit: Emma Cassidy)

These declarations should be part of the agreement which world leaders are finalizing this week. Indigenous people are among those hit first and worst by climate change, yet they are given no place at the table during discussions which affect their ability to stay in their homelands and preserve their ways of life. As Crystal Lameman of the Beaver Lake Cree Nation said in a Democracy Now interview, “We don’t have a role. We walk around with badges that say ‘observer.’ We’re not allowed into the negotiating spaces.”

The negotiations’ potential for positive impact is suffering because of it: the final agreement is unlikely to keep us below the 2 degree Celsius increase above pre-industrial levels we have long understood to be a “safe zone” for the planet. Right now, even if all of the most ambitious pledges are included in the final agreement, we are on track for a 2.7 to 3.5 C increase, a level of warming that would be catastrophic. Already, climate scientists have revised the idea that 2 C is a “safe zone” and instead now believe that such an increase sits somewhere between “dangerous” and “extremely dangerous.” Activists and leaders from some of the world’s most impacted countries are now relying on the slogan “1.5 to stay alive” to push for emissions goals even below 2 C.

But climate negotiations aren’t what will save our planet: people-powered movements will. It’s only because of relentless pressure and organizing from grassroots movements that so many world leaders are even considering the carbon-cutting measures we need. Indigenous people have been on the frontlines of that push, fighting to protect the earth since even before we understood what climate change was.

We owe a debt to indigenous climate leaders who risk their lives to protect the planet we all call home. It’s past time we all stood with them, and helped shoulder the responsibility we have to preserve the earth. As Sonia Guajajara said at last year’s COP, “We must guarantee indigenous territories in order to save all of our lives.”

Our ability to survive on this earth cannot be separated from the justice work we do as feminists. Indigenous rights are climate justice, and climate justice is feminism.

Header image credit: Emma Cassidy with Survival Media Agency

Bay Area, California

Juliana is a digital storyteller for social change. As a writer at Feministing since 2013, her work has focused on women's movements throughout the Americas for environmental justice, immigrant rights, and reproductive justice. In addition to her writing, Juliana is a Campaigner at Change.org, where she works to close the gap between the powerful and everyone else by supporting people from across the country to launch, escalate and win their campaigns for justice.

Juliana is a Latina feminist writer and campaigner based in the Bay Area.

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