Indigenous People comprise less than 5% of the world’s population yet they manage to protect 80% of the world’s existing biodiversity, despite ongoing violations of their rights and criminalization of their traditional practices.

As the COP15 Conference on Biological Diversity begins this week, decision makers from around the world are coming together to agree upon a global framework to shape global protection of nature over the next decade and into the future.

Here are four of the Indigenous Leaders who have travelled to Montreal to voice the need to recognise Indigenous and traditional land rights:

Adrienne Jérôme, Chief of the Nation Anishnabe of Lac Simon

Adrienne Jerome is the Chief of the Anishnabe Nation of Lac Simon on land that is now claimed as Quebec, Canada. Elected in 2016, she consistently advocates for the Lac Simon First Nation’s work to return the territory’s woodland caribou population to a healthy level. This species is essential to Lac Simon cultures and traditions, and is an indicator species that can be used to understand the integrity of the boreal forest. Today, the woodland caribou is still threatened by industrial activities, particularly logging and mining. 

“For thousands of years, our communities have survived because of the caribou. Today, we owe a debt of gratitude to this animal and there is no way we will let it disappear.”

The Anishnabe Nation is actively working to implement protection measures that combine traditional knowledge with Western science to protect key areas of interest or particular sensitivity. These measures also contribute to the recovery of other threatened or vulnerable species such as sturgeon and moose.

“I hope that COP15 will bring a different vision of the exploitation of natural resources so that biodiversity is promoted and conserved. A more holistic vision and close to nature as advocated by the First Nations in their traditional way of life. The non-respect of the rights of indigenous communities to protect nature is a form of systemic and environmental racism. This must change at COP15. It is time for the voices of Indigenous peoples to be heard.”

Dinamam Tuxá, Executive Coordinator for the Articulation of Indigenous Peoples of Brazil

Lawyer and Indigenous activist from the Tuxá people, who live in the Nordeste, a region of Brazil covered by tropical rainforest and bordering the Atlantic Ocean, Dinamam Tuxá is the current general coordinator of the Articulation of Indigenous Peoples of Brazil (APIB) and the Articulation of Indigenous Peoples and Organizations of the Northeast, Minas Gerais and Espírito Santo (APOINME).

Dinamam participated in two European tours (Guardians of the Forest and Indigenous Blood: Not a Single Drop More) in 2018 and 2019, where he denounced, together with other Indigenous leaders, the Brazilian policies that threaten to dispossess Indigenous Peoples of their territories, criminalise their struggle, and destroy the natural forest areas. These tours have promoted measures that pressure the Brazilian government and agribusiness companies to respect international agreements on climate and human rights.

“It is impossible to talk about biodiversity conservation without mentioning Indigenous Lands. Globally, areas managed by Indigenous Peoples are among the most conserved, even though we, Indigenous Peoples, represent a small part of the population. However, we remain outside the decision-making process and without our rights to our territories. We hope that this COP15 will recognize our rights and that it will create more space for our official participation.”

Valentin Engobo, Leader of the village of Lokolama, in the Congo Basin

Leader of village of Lokolama, a community living in the Democratic Republic of Congo, Valentin Engobo is the President of the Association of Pygmy Peasants of Lokolama (APPL), a civil society NGO that he created in 2004 to address challenges related to human rights violations and the empowerment of his community.

Their traditional knowledge combined with Western science has enabled them to raise awareness of the need to protect peatlands and conserve the ecosystem, especially through the domestication of medicinal plants. In 2016, the community of Lokolama launched its community forestry project with the objective of securing territorial rights by establishing a forest concession with Lokolama stewardship.

A year later, in collaboration with Greenpeace and a scientific team from the University of Leeds (UK), the community highlighted the discovery in Lokolama of the starting point of a vast tropical peatland complex, which stretches across the parts of the DRC and the Republic of Congo. This vast carbon sink stores the equivalent of three years of global emissions.

“It was both important for me and my village to celebrate this discovery, to highlight the role of our forest in protecting the climate, and to draw the attention of decision makers to the importance of considering us as equal partners in forest management as well as our contribution to global climate protection.”

Orpha Novita Joshua, Indigenous Namblong woman from West Papua

Orpha is a young Indigenous Namblong woman from the Grime Nawa Valley, in West Papua, Indonesia. She’s participating in the COP15 to represent her community and the Namblong Indigenous Women’s Organization, a group that works to protect the environment by empowering Indigenous women.

Orpha and her community are struggling to save their beautiful valley from illegal land clearing operated by PT Permata Nusa Mandiri (PT PNM) ─ an oil palm plantation company ─ in a place rich in biodiversity, including birds of paradise ─ a symbol of the Indigenous culture in Papua ─ and known to be one of the best bird-watching sites in West Papua. In 2012, the company was granted a permit from the Indonesian government to convert over 16,000 hectares of Indigenous forest land without their free, prior and informed consent.

“The government also handed the company an environmental permit without our agreement. Communities from the Grime Nawa Valley have staged peaceful demonstrations to demand the government revoke all the company’s permits, because we never relinquished our land rights to the company. But to our outrage, the company has gone ahead and begun clearing our forest anyway”

Orpha is calling on world leaders to stop investments linked to the destruction of nature that wipe out biodiversity and Indigenous Peoples livelihoods. “We want to be able to manage and develop the land according to our needs, and to sustain the natural forest and the animals it supports.”

COP15 is a chance to decolonise our approach to nature protection

This December, governments have the opportunity to create a systemic shift in the global effort to protect biodiversity. There are too many examples of conservation attempts that have contributed to the dispossession and eviction of Indigenous Peoples and local communities from their territories, a colonial approach to conservation that directly harms the people who are most able to protect biodiversity.

To be effective, the new Post-2020 Global Biodiversity Framework must abandon these failed conservation models and ensure the full participation of Indigenous Peoples and local communities in ecosystem management and decision-making.

To sustain biodiversity and all life on Earth, including humanity, it is essential to support the communities that have protected it for millennia. COP15 can provide the toolbox to make this happen.

Agnès Le Rouzic is a Digital Consultant with Greenpeace Canada