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Indigenous Voices from the Frontlines of Climate Change

The following are excerpts from interviews with Indigenous delegates at COP27 conducted by our Indigenous Rights Radio producers. Listen to over 40 interviews in full at


Our Cultures Are Tied to Our Environment

imgLisa Qiluqqi Koperqualuk (Inuit)
President, Inuit Circumpolar Council Canada

In the Arctic, we are a people who have created our culture based around the whole Arctic environment. We live in the tundra and we rely on the marine ecosystem. Our culture is intricately tied to the marine ecosystem, our territory, the land. We rely on marine mammals for subsistence. We have been impacted by climate change in several ways. There’s coastal erosion in our communities. There’s the melting of permafrost. There is also the decrease of ice in our waters. That means that the autumn season is longer now rather than having winter come sooner and the water turn to ice sooner, as it usually does by November. At times, it’s no longer becoming ice until December, perhaps January. And that impacts our communities because our harvesters are using the ice as the highway. The permafrost in Alaska has been used as natural freezers, and those are melting as well.

So the melting of ice and permafrost impact the survival of our culture because our knowledge is transferred from generation to generation. If that knowledge is not able to be shared from one generation to the next, then it’s a loss of culture as well. Infrastructure is also damaged because when infrastructure is built above the permafrost and the permafrost is melting, it creates damage to infrastructure. We have to pay attention to airports. The airstrips can be damaged, and the airstrips are our link to the outside world because we don’t have roads that connect our remote communities to the large centers. Those airplanes bring a lot of supplies and also passengers.

As Indigenous Peoples, we want to take part in the decision making process in a way that our voice is included or heard within the decision making process, that our Indigenous perspectives, our Indigenous knowledge be included in those processes and the decision around adaptation, mitigation, and loss and damage funds; that our right to self-determination is part of this whole process.


We Are Paying a High Price for the Green Economy

Lars Anders Baer (Saami)
Member of the Saami Parliament, Finland and Reindeer Herder

There has been a dramatic change in the climate. Nowadays we cannot use our traditional clothes; it is too wet. When you talk about adaptation and our relations with the government, we have a problem with the new green economy in our area . . . mining for minerals for building new batteries, copper mining, gas, oil. We are paying a high price for the green economy. This has put pressure on our traditional lands and also on our traditional economies. We face similar challenges as in the Arctic. We can also imagine our friends in Brazil, our friends in the Pacific, or even in Nepal. The ice is melting and this is going to change our life quite dramatically.

In our area climate change is happening much faster. The ice is literally melting under our feet.


Without the Rights of Nature There Can Be No Us

Great Grandmother Mary Lyons (Anishinaabe)
Member, Women of Wellbriety Int’l Council and UN Observer on Women’s and Indigenous Issues

One of the reasons I feel that it’s important for us to be at the COP is that they need to hear Indigenous voices. We make up the majority of the planet and we are the original caretakers and gardeners of our lands.

The rights of nature are very important; without the rights of nature, there can be no us. We can fight for our rights, but if the rights of nature aren’t there for us to live upon, then it’s pointless. We have to be recognized, and we have to also recognize that we must take care of the air. If we keep putting everything in this air, all human life, all tree life, all animal life, everything is going to be affected by it. When you start breaking into the ground, you’re going to start disturbing the memory of the water.

Whoever is making these decisions and keeping us Indigenous people down, they really need to know that our young people are coming up and they’re not going to buy into this nonsense that they’ve been pushing on us. They’re coming up in force. Not only are they realizing that air, water, fire, and earth shows no prejudice, they’re uniting and they are becoming humanity as it was once introduced to us. We’re no longer standing in that division for them to keep us in these segregated places and telling us that we are less. We are the majority of the people, the original gardeners. We know organic lifestyles. We are the seed holders, and we must stand strong and protect that.


Climate Change Affects Indigenous Peoples in Cameroon

Aeshatou Manu (Mbororo)
Secretary General, African Indigenous Women Organization Central African Network (AIWO-CAN)

Climate change has really impacted our lives, especially that of women and girls. Women are mostly affected in areas of agriculture production, food and nutrition security, health, water and energy, climate related disasters, migration, and conflict. We now see the appearance of new diseases and water shortages. As pastoralists, we face loss of pastures and animals due to long dry seasons and the appearance of new species like the Bokassa that destroy the environment. Changing seasons, high temperatures, increased sun intensity affect communities and the farming calendar which lead to poor yields and lack of pasture for animals, causing hunger and malnutrition. Our forests are being destroyed by illegal logging, deforestation, forced evictions of communities. I call on the different stakeholders to respect the pledge they took at COP26 and equally give direct finances to Indigenous organizations to address issues at grassroots levels. Indigenous Peoples are the keepers and protectors of the environment and should be involved. Our rights must be respected and ensure climate justice for all.


Indigenous Peoples Have Solutions

Yolene Patricia Koteureu (Kanak)
Resource Person for Customary Council, New Caledonia

Women are really involved in the preservation of our culture, and they’re the first custodians of our stories. We have a global project at the country level to have our Kanak mats reinstated in all the customary institutions, and a bill has been put in congress to be voted on to cancel any import of external artifacts to preserve our cultures. The women weavers are actually doing the work in the chiefdoms in their communities, and at the institutional level as well. Women are already involved. The movement is already awakened; now we just need to coordinate. We have mining industries that are destroying our nature, our biodiversity, marine biodiversity, as well as our soil. We are encouraged by our brothers being chiefs at the customary senate. We now need more involvement from other Indigenous communities. In the Pacific, we’re so tiny, but when you see those people, those women especially, raising families, there will be a shift in our consciousness. There will be more awareness and actions because solutions are here already—they are being held by Indigenous Peoples.


Young People Must Join the Fight

Sara Elvira Kuhmunen (Saami)
Youth Activist

Climate change is a very big issue for us because it’s affecting our whole culture, especially reindeer herding, because we live so close to nature. We have these winters where it’s starting to rain and that’s really bad for us because then there’s an ice layer on the ground and it makes it difficult [for the reindeer] to find food. The other thing we are affected by is so-called green energy. For us it’s not that green because it’s affecting our land and waters. When you put up windmills, our reindeer don’t want to be close to them because they are afraid of them. Another thing is these green mines. They are a really big problem for us and a really big issue. And a third is these renewable forest cuts; that’s a really big issue in Sweden. A thing Saami youth can do is to be engaged in these issues and make their voices heard, fight against this. We have to raise our voices now. It’s more important than ever. If we don’t do it, we don’t have any future left or any culture.


Ensuring the Rights of Indigenous Women

Mrinalini Rai (Rai)
Director, Women4Biodiversity

What the Climate COP really needs to do is realize and pursue these aspirations that Indigenous women have been asking for, not for the first time. It has been a long process and it’s really important that they work on the gender action plan. We’re also looking at financing, one of the biggest focuses of COP27. We should make sure that it’s gender responsive, regardless of whether it is any kind of financing. Because sometimes you just assume that the women will be regarded and it just never becomes a priority, unless it is written down in a financing COP decision. The budgeting should be gender responsive and all the policies and processes that are all going to be discussed should definitely ensure that the women’s rights are included and concretely written down.


We Need Direct Support to Restore Loss and Damage

Grace Balawang (Kankaney Igorot)
Deputy Coordinator, Tebtebba

When I left to come here, there was a big typhoon affecting our communities. There were land erosions, there were displacement of our villages because of these flash floods, and there were some casualties. This is one of the main problems in the Philippines. Typhoons are a very regular climate change impact. They displace our communities and our economies especially, since we are agriculturally based.

We are joining the Climate Justice Action campaigns to negotiate for a financial mechanism for loss and damage, especially damage that is being caused by all of these floods. At the same time, Indigenous Peoples are also very much impacted by droughts. Our livelihoods and economic life is disrupted because of this climate change impact that we experience. We have been negotiating for direct support in terms of logistics as well as funding support directly to Indigenous communities, because most of the time Indigenous Peoples are not included in direct access for funding. We have been pushing for that with the Standing Finance Committee with the Green Climate Fund. Because of the damages experienced by our local communities, we really need direct support to restore our livelihoods and economic systems.



We Want Governments to Recognize Indigenous Knowledge

Jennifer Lasimbang (Kadazan)
Former member of Sabah State Legislature

My community (Sabah, Malaysia) is divided into many different parts. We have our coastal community, we have communities living by the rivers, and also in the mountains. What climate change is doing to us is mainly intensifying rainfall and unpredictable weather. You can imagine the flooding that’s happening in my area. We are mostly agriculturists. We plant wet rice, so we can’t predict any more when it’s the planting season and when it’s the harvest season. There’s just way too much damage to our livelihood and our territories. We are losing our natural resources. There’s massive landslides on the mountain. Our island communities are slowly suffering from the rising sea.

What I really want as an Indigenous person is the recognition of what Indigenous Knowledge can contribute towards mitigating the effects of climate change. We really need the government to recognize the rights of the people, the security of tenure on where we live, our lands, our territories. We really need a [declaration] of a climate emergency and action. We Indigenous people on the ground are trying our best with very little resources. On top of not being recognized, we do not have the resources to do more based on what we have already known for thousands of years. We really need the government to take action to respect the rights of the Indigenous people and also the knowledge behind what Indigenous Peoples can do. Let’s work together. We are here to help. We are here to ensure that we have a future for our children.



It Is Time to Implement the Paris Agreement

Tunga Rai (Rai), Nepal Federation of Indigenous Nationalities

We have a lot to say and a lot to offer to the climate discourse and climate change negotiation. Nepal is so diverse in terms of ecology, in terms of ethnicity, and also the different type of ecology in the country. The impact of climate change is diverse and urgent in our communities because in the mountains the snow is melting so fast, and in the lowlands there is flooding. Indigenous Peoples are in the forefront of negative impacts of climate change because of the lack of capacity and also lack of access to services and policy discourse.

It’s time to get the Paris Agreement implemented. Indigenous Peoples have a lot to say and bring to the COP discussion. Negotiators, policy makers, decision makers have to listen to Indigenous Peoples because [we] have distinct experiences in terms of climate change and adaptation, mitigation and adaptation technology. We have a lot to offer in climate change mitigation and adaptation. We are just not the stakeholders, we are the right holders of our land. The Paris Agreement will be implemented on the ground, on the land that is our land. That will impact us in either way. We want it to be impacted in a positive way, not in negative ways.

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