By: Sarah Kozal

“One surprise of COP20 has been the large presence of indigenous peoples’ issues and voices. In particular, many of the side events at the conference have focused not only on the environmental concerns of indigenous communities, but also on how indigenous communities can help monitor and mitigate environmental changes. Indigenous communities must rely on their home nations to represent their interests internationally, something Native American communities in the United States similarly experience due to their dependent sovereignty and lack of representation internationally. Peru is perhaps a fitting location for a shift toward more inclusiveness, as it supports a large number of indigenous communities living in and near the forests that are in the most danger from the effects of climate change. Warmer temperatures, more severe weather, increased flooding, changes in species’ traditional habitat range, and of course deforestation threaten to eliminate these communities.

It has been a slow shift, however, with tragedies tainting the process. Indigenous peoples in the Amazon face particular threats in attempting to participate in this conference as the lands they occupy are pursued for resource exploitation, often by their national governments. As occupants living outside the standard legal systems, these groups frequently do not have recognized title to the land and thus are treated as lacking property rights. They also face more menacing obstacles. This week the body of José Isidro Tendetza Antún, former vice-president of Shuar Federation of Zamora, an indigenous group in Ecuador, was found bound, beaten, and buried. Tendetza had been an outspoken critic of the Mirador open-cast pit mine that the Ecuadorian government had approved in the homeland of the Shuar. He had been planning to take his campaign against the mine to the COP this week. Other indigenous groups have similar tragic stories.”

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