- As the world gathers in New York for Climate Week, Indigenous leaders are calling on UN delegates, environmental organizations, and the research community to back a stronger goal for Amazon protection.
- A central element of the “Amazonia For Life” campaign endorsed by 511 Indigenous nations across Amazonia and 1,200 organizations around the world, it calls on governments to protect at least 80% of the Amazon by 2025.
- “As a mother, a grandmother and a voice for a coalition of Indigenous peoples…I urge every state and each one of you to join us in our fight to protect at least 80% of Amazonia by 2025,” a new op-ed states.
- This post is a commentary. The views expressed are those of the author, not necessarily Mongabay.
More than half of Indigenous environmental defenders and leaders killed for safeguarding their ecosystems, their homes, and their family on the planet are Amazonians. This violence stems from a new stage of extractivism, one that will lead toward essential ecosystems failing, histories disappearing and the Amazon ultimately reaching its tipping point.
All told, degradation and deforestation have ravaged 26% of the region’s 874 million hectares. This destruction is expanding like fire, and threatens to bring about a regressive death for the entire region, and our cultures. This tipping point is no longer just a potential future: it’s fast becoming a reality.
Recognition of Indigenous rights and territories is a far cry from where the region and the planet need it to be. Despite some recent successes, if our voices are not heard, if Indigenous rights aren’t put at the core of conservation and climate action in the region, it could move toward a point of no return: a failed Amazonia.
In Amazonia, organized crime corrodes weak state structures throughout the region. Illegal mining and logging take more and more from our lands. Agriculture and cattle ranching operations encroach more and more each year.
Extractivism is part of the Amazon’s history. The damage it has caused has left its mark on the family histories of Indigenous peoples across the region, as clear as it leaves a mark on our home. My family is no exception. My great grandmother was a victim of the greed brought by rubber. I belong to the Uitoto or Murui-muinane peoples, whose origin is in Colombia. But we are a nation displaced by the rubber industry to Peru and Brazil.
Now, I speak as the first woman who leads 511 Indigenous peoples in the Pan Amazonian organization Confederation of Indigenous Organizations of the Amazon Basin (COICA) in its 38 years of institutional life. But I have been involved in my community since I was a child, because my grandfather was an authority of the Jitomagaro Clan, the people of the sun who live in the Chorrera, part of the Amazon that lies in what’s now called Colombia. When I was 20 years old, I supported the fight for the recovery of the Indigenous territory that today is called Indigenous Resguardo Predio Putumayo, which has an area of almost six million hectares. I’ve advised grassroots organizations in Colombia, and larger organizations, such as OPIAC, Colombia’s national Amazonian Indigenous organization.
In this time, I’ve learned much about other Indigenous cultures across the Amazon: their languages, their visions, the places they call home. And now, I find myself at a crucial moment in the history of Amazonia, a time when its future and its peoples will be defined.
It’s an uphill battle. In the past few months, we have witnessed the challenges the region faces. In August, Ecuadorian voters supported a historic referendum, one which stopped the development of new oil wells in Yasuní National Park. Apart from being an area rich in biodiversity, the Tagaeri and Taromenane peoples — two voluntarily isolated Indigenous communities — call it home.
Meanwhile, a bill in Peru that would have stripped voluntarily isolated Indigenous peoples of their lands and protections and destroyed nine million hectares of forests was struck down this year before it could reach congress, thanks to work by Indigenous groups and many of their allies.
In both cases, civil society and Indigenous peoples are responsible for the outcome. Together, we sent a bold message to governments across the region: no more oil, and respect for the rights of Indigenous peoples.
And yet as I wrote this article, President Lula has announced investing $60 billion in expanding oil and gas infrastructure in Brazil, Argentina, Venezuela, and Bolivia, showing a lack of commitment to avert an imminent tipping point in Amazonia.
Women are the first to suffer the effects of climate change — including loss of seedlings and wild biodiversity that are part of the Indigenous diet — because we guarantee food for families and communities. We also restore and reforest our wounded territories, by sharing and conserving biodiversity in our family spaces. That is why we maintain the forest with reciprocity, from micro to macro, assuring ecosystem integrity and services to our peoples and humanity. Amazonian women are carriers and transmitters of the systems of Indigenous knowledge that have safeguarded the Amazon for millennia.
However, as more women have entered participatory structures and Indigenous decision-making spaces, many of us are being persecuted. But we won’t stop defending our homes, our cultures, and our families fiercely.
At the Amazon Summit this summer, there were 113 issue areas declared. However, states failed to assume their responsibility to regulate “legal” extractivism, mainly in the oil, mining, and agriculture industries. Amazonia holds the greatest biocultural diversity on Earth, where more than 500 nations of Indigenous peoples live. The region also holds 20% of the planet’s freshwater, and it is the most biodiverse place on the planet.
Without immediate action, the declaration at Belém does not fill the void nor is it enough to avert a global catastrophe. The urgency is not just for the Amazon’s Indigenous peoples: it belongs to the planet.
The Colombian Minister of Environment has understood the historic moment and embraced our call by asking governments to protect at least 80% of Amazonia by 2025 in Belém. This call for action is a central element of the Amazonia For Life campaign and the declaration endorsed by Indigenous federations – representing 511 Indigenous nationalities and peoples across Amazonia and 1,200 organizations around the world – and is a vision consistent with what science tells us we need to protect, in order to avert a tipping point of no return.
As a mother, a grandmother and a voice for a coalition of Indigenous peoples, researchers, and environmental organizations with a community of 70 million people worldwide, I urge every state and each one of you to join us in our fight to protect at least 80% of Amazonia by 2025. Anything less will not stop the imminent regressive death of our home, and a failed Amazonia where nature and Indigenous cultures are at risk of disappearing, for policies that defend business as usual.
At this historic crossroads, I wonder if the People of the Sun in La Chorrera, Colombia will be able to continue telling their stories to our new generations. Our future is being decided every day, and time is running out to either ensure an Amazonia that thrives, or have one that fails. I hope the tipping point we reach in the next crucial months is not in the forest, but in our collective will to take ambitious action for Amazonia, together.
Fany Kuiru is an Uitoto Indigenous leader from Colombia, and will be speaking at a number of events at Climate Week in New York. She serves as the General Coordinator of the Confederation of Indigenous Organizations of the Amazon Basin (COICA), which is based in Quito, Ecuador. She is the first woman to be elected in COICA’s 39-year history.
Related audio from Mongabay’s podcast: Following the World Conservation Congress in 2021, COICA’s Zack Romo discussed 80 x 2025 and more, listen here:
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