Hindou Oumarou Ibrahim: A Champion for Indigenous Peoples against Climate Change

 

Hindou Oumarou Ibrahim is no stranger to international high-level policy discussions on climate change; she been participating for over a decade. As a 33- year-old Indigenous woman from a Mbororo pastoralist community of Chad, Ibrahim made headlines when she was selected to be the speaker representing civil society at the April 22, 2016 signing ceremony of the historic climate agreement reached at the 21st UN Conference of the Parties to the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCC- COP21) meeting in Paris in December 2015. She is also a member of the executive committee of the Indigenous Peoples of Africa Coordinating Committee and a co-chair of the International Indigenous Peoples’ Forum on Climate Change.

Peuples Autochtones du Tchad (AFPAT), a community-based organization working for the rights and environmental protection of the Indigenous Peule women and people of Chad, Ibrahim has experienced climate change firsthand. Peule Mbororo number an estimated 250,000 nomads in Chad who also practice subsistence farming in the Sahel region, a semiarid region of western and north-central Africa extending from Senegal eastward to The Sudan. “Climate change threatens our basic rights, our cultural values, and the very survival of these communities. For all Indigenous Peoples from any corner of the world, livelihoods are linked to natural resources— for our food and medicine, for everything. So, if there are floods or droughts, the impact is greater for us,” said Ibrahim, while also stressing the importance that traditional Indigenous Peoples’ knowledge can make to mitigation and adaptation. “Traditional knowledge and climate science are both critically important for building resilience of rural communities to cope with climate change, and Indigenous Peoples are ready to share their knowledge to help to mitigate and adapt.”

At the Rising Voices: Collaborative Science with Indigenous Knowledge for Climate Solutions conference, in April 2017 in Boulder, Colorado, Ibrahim highlighted the importance Indigenous women play in observing and combating climate change: “Indigenous women are the most affected by climate change, firstly because they are the ones who are collecting food and water to feed their families. They also gather traditional medicine for the health of the communities. They are playing a big role in natural resource conservation and also in protecting traditional knowledge. In my communities and in my regions, women have the knowledge of the water protection, food collection, and land protection through observing certain kind of trees that have to be harvested at specific times . . . they have to feed these trees in order to get a good rainy season. The roles these women hold are very important at the community level and also at the national level.

“The women of the communities understand climate change because they are seeing it through all their work. Because we are cattle herders, we have milk. The women see during the dry season that the quantity of the milk is reducing from one liter, it is becoming just like one cup.  They are not getting milk every day. They know that this is happening because of climate change. The elders who are holding the traditional knowledge, they are becoming few. To transfer it to the new generation, the mechanism has been changing a lot because young people are migrating from the communities to the big towns.  But, some of them who are staying, they learn from the elder peoples where we use the trees.” Ibrahim also shared concrete examples of climate change in Chad: “We used to have three seasons: dry season, rainy season, and cold season. But now the cold season has disappeared; cold season for us it’s not snowing. The rainy season changed a lot because we used to have six to nine months of rain, but now it’s like between two and six months of rain, with heavy rains that are not regular. This is impacting the food security in all the lives of the people; it has created desertification and the loss of biodiversity, and our livestock too.

In order to encourage sustainable management of the environment, Ibrahim co-developed a 3D mapping project with elders and herders. One of the key functions of the maps is to give voice to Indigenous Peoples in the national adaptation platforms and other national processes to promote peace, livelihoods, and biological conservation in the face of worsening climate instability, and to solve conflict connected to resource scarcity. She explains, “The 3D participatory mapping [allows] the elders to say all the history about when they were young, what exists there [now], and how the young people can protect the rest of the land. And they are very interested in doing that because they know it is their future and they have to take this knowledge.  The 3D participatory mapping also helped to give voice to women in some conservative communities. But still it is not easy, because weather is changing and it’s impacting their mother tongue, transferring the knowledge from one community, from one generation to another one.”

Every day in her work, Ibrahim fights to get Indigenous knowledge incorporated into climate change mitigation and adaptation strategies. “Where our traditional knowledge and science meet, we say that climate science uses modern knowledge and the forecasting system. But for us, we are just using our information and other factors that we observe. And from this we create our own Indigenous knowledges to adapt. During the rainy season we eat the fruit; at the end of the rainy season, we take the fruit and we break it down. When we break it, we see the liquid inside. If the liquid is abundant, we know that the tree is predicting for the next year; that helps us predict if it’s going to be a good year or not. And we have certain kinds of lizards, when they have a lot of babies . . . in some years there are not a lot of babies because they are not sure of the next generation. That helps us to predict if we are going to have a good rainy season next year or not. If the wind is coming from the south to the north, north to south; if the wind is heavy; if the wind is dry; if it is hot . . . that helps us to say if the rain is going to be heavy or not.” But, she cautions, “the elders who are holding the traditional knowledge are becoming few. To transfer it to the new generation, the mechanism has been changing a lot because young people are migrating from the communities to the big towns.

Every day in her work, Ibrahim fights to get Indigenous knowledge incorporated into climate change mitigation and adaptation strategies. “Where our traditional knowledge and science meet, we say that climate science uses modern knowledge and the forecasting system. But for us, we are just using our information and other factors that we observe. And from this we create our own Indigenous knowledges to adapt. During the rainy season we eat the fruit; at the end of the rainy season, we take the fruit and we break it down. When we break it, we see the liquid inside. If the liquid is abundant, we know that the tree is predicting for the next year; that helps us predict if it’s going to be a good year or not. And we have certain kinds of lizards, when they have a lot of babies . . . in some years there are not a lot of babies because they are not sure of the next generation. That helps us to predict if we are going to have a good rainy season next year or not. If the wind is coming from the south to the north, north to south; if the wind is heavy; if the wind is dry; if it is hot . . . that helps us to say if the rain is going to be heavy or not.” But, she cautions, “the elders who are holding the traditional knowledge are becoming few. To transfer it to the new generation, the mechanism has been changing a lot because young people are migrating from the communities to the big towns.

At the latest COP23 in 2017 in Bonn, Germany, much news coverage was dedicated to Indigenous activism. “Our strategies stand out,” Ibrahim says. “When we come out, we shout. We stand. We use media. We use the internet.  We use every possibility that would tell them it’s important. Then, we use peaceful voices to go to ‘friendly’ countries and we organize the Indigenous Peoples’ dialogue between us and the friendly States.  [We have] two days to show them clearly why we want to have Indigenous Peoples’ knowledge, why we want to have Indigenous Peoples’ rights, where we want to have it, and how we are going to implement it. During two days we negotiate with them and they say, ‘We are going to support you.’ And then we create a network of people who support us, who advocate for us. It’s not easy. Still it’s a very big fight. But, we have to go through it.”

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