North American Indigenous Peoples Demand More in Copenhagen


The Indigenous Environmental Network

Date of publication: 
16 December 2009

Copenhagen, Denmark – As the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) winds down, thousands of people marched in the streets today to “reclaim power” from the UN process they say is not good enough. Indigenous Peoples led a march from inside the official venue of the climate negotiations, to stand in solidarity with the rest of civil society in demanding climate justice.

Over the past two weeks, indigenous peoples have been working to ensure all potential climate policies and actions that come out of the negotiations, ensure recognition of and respect for the rights of indigenous peoples and local communities. Specifically, indigenous peoples have lobbied for the incorporation of the UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples (UNDRIP) into climate policy. Although some would see the mention of the UNDRIP in the text of the Reducing Emissions from Deforestation and Forest Degradation (REDD) a small success, many feel it is a slap in the face of indigenous peoples.

“Indigenous peoples rights are mentioned once in the form of a recommendation for nation states to consider, but not as a requirement,” explains Alberto Saldamando of the International Indigenous Treaty Council (IITC). “But ensuring basic human rights for the worlds populations who are most affected by climate change should not be voluntary. It is a matter of obligation.”

“It’s a sad situation that world leaders representing industrialized society have lost their understanding of the sacredness of Mother Earth,” adds Tom Goldtooth, Executive Director of the Indigenous Environmental Network (IEN). “Before we can achieve global action, there needs to be international awareness of why we are really here. We marched out in support of our brother, President Evo Morales of Bolivia, and his demand that the rights of Mother Earth be recognized in the negotiating text here in Copenhagen.”

“Coming into these negotiations, I was optimistic about our world leaders coming together to solve this global problem,” says Nikke Alex, a Navajo youth who works for the Black Mesa Water Coalition (BMWC) in the southwest United States. “But now I see the health of our people and Mother Earth are not central to their agenda. Their goal is to use the climate crisis to make profit. The people who are really solving climate change are those at the grassroots level, working to create more sustainable societies.”

The IEN delegation brought a delegation of 21 Indigenous Peoples from North America affected by fossil fuel development. They came to call out false solutions like clean coal technology, nuclear power, and the carbon market. Over the past two weeks, the IEN delegation has used a variety of tactics to push for strong targets for reducing greenhouse gas emissions, and demand effective, fair and equitable methods to address the climate issue.


The Indigenous Environmental Network (IEN) is a United States-based non-governmental (Indigenous) organization formed in 1990 addressing environmental and economic justice challenges. IEN is a network of Indigenous Peoples empowering Indigenous communities and Nations towards sustainable livelihoods, demanding environmental justice, and maintaining the Sacred Fire of our traditions. Since 1998, IEN has been working on issues of climate change and global warming. IEN is one of the leading organizations/networks within the U.S. environmental justice movement involved in climate change policy – locally, nationally and globally.

Contact: The Indigenous Environmental Network Media Team
Mobile Number: +45 526 85596
E-mail: [at] gmail [dot] com


Copenhagen brings indigenous climate change issues to world stage

By Terri Hansen, Today correspondent –

14 December 2009

COPENHAGEN, Denmark – Indigenous peoples of the Amazon, the Arctic, the islands of the Pacific Ocean and communities throughout the world that depend on their natural ecosystem for sustenance, livelihood and culture are the world’s prime witnesses to climate change.

Yet even as they watch as their lands experience some of its earliest impacts, they have little say in the most important climate negotiations to date: the 15th United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change that began Dec. 7 – something that Inupiat Patricia Cochran, chair of the
Indigenous Peoples Global Summit on Climate Change, said “epitomizes climate injustice.”

“We did get some gains in the work that we are doing here in Copenhagen,” Victoria Tauli-Corpuz, chair of the UN Permanent Forum on Indigenous Issues said. “We managed to bring in the recognition of the UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples, an important instrument to ensure the rights and the knowledge of indigenous peoples is respected in all climate mitigation and adaptation processes.”

Tauli-Corpuz considers this a major victory because no convention has even discussed the rights of indigenous peoples, much less mentions the
Declaration. “Of course, we would have wanted stronger language but because of the opposition by the United States, and that we’ll have to negotiate with them on what is going to be contained in the document, that is the best that we can reach so far.”

The historic climate summit – aimed at reworking agreements to combat climate change when the 1997 Kyoto Protocol, a pact of agreed-upon target emissions between 37 industrialized countries and the European Union runs out in 2012, offers indigenous peoples a critical venue: the eyes of the world.

There’s little question on the part of those “on the ground” that not only is climate change happening, it is happening now and it is happening fast.

What folks don’t understand is, “it’s really about human beings, not just animals or the land,” said Cochran. “In our area there’s hardly a person who hasn’t lost an uncle or a grandfather who’s fallen through the ice and is never seen again. So for us climate change really is a very serious reality, it’s not just a theoretical discussion.”

It’s not only an Arctic issue, “but it’s so very real here,” says Gwichi’in Arctic Village leader Sarah James. The Global Gender and Climate Alliance is filming James’ efforts to call attention to the climate changes and industrial development that is affecting the ecology of the Arctic. “The permafrost just melts away now, drains the lakes, leaves a fire hazard.”

The Gwichi’in so far count 18 vanished lakes, entire ecosystems perished. Then fire sweeps through and burns the lichen that can take decades to grow and which the caribou depend on. “It’s displacing and disorienting the animals. It confuses people even,” said James.

And it’s poised to get worse. The intent of the UNFCCC proposals known as ‘Reduced Emissions from Reforestation and Forest Degradation’ is to halt deforestation by having governments of developing nations agree to protect forestlands designated a carbon sink to help stabilize the system thrown off-kilter by industrial emissions. REDD is expected to play a key role in the post-Kyoto agreement.

Supporters say that properly designed policy offers unprecedented opportunities to create sustainable livelihoods for forest people while safeguarding biodiversity and services provided by healthy forest ecosystems.

But a new report by Survival International says too little attention is given to the impacts these measures are having or will potentially have on indigenous peoples. REDD makes it easier for governments, corporations and others to lay claim to, exploit and, “in some cases,” destroy indigenous lands under the guise of climate change, says the report. Activists already report increased human rights violations such as forced evictions.

A growing chorus of environmental scientists and educators including Forests and European Union Resource Network say that allowing nations to trade designated carbon sinks for added carbon emissions would only justify more emissions by putting fossil fuel users over their allowance under the Kyoto Protocol. Environmental groups say linking REDD with emissions trading allows industrial nations to find novel places to bury their emissions rather than cut back.

The position of the International Forum of Indigenous Peoples on Climate Change is that REDD schemes “threaten our rights and our very existence.” Consultations often take the form of simply informing their communities. Instead, IFIPCC said they “need to include all affected and involved indigenous peoples, and our representative organizations. “

The agendas of indigenous delegations included a discussion of REDD during a special Indigenous Peoples’ Day symposium Dec. 12 inside the Denmark National Museum in downtown Copenhagen. Dinner, a film presentation by Conversations with the Earth, and a mingling of indigenous people from around the world followed the long and strenuous day of talks. Later that evening Nobel Peace laureate Desmond Tutu gifted those present with a harvest origin story.

Tebtebba organized the event to allow indigenous people to speak in more depth about the issues related to climate change. “They are victims of
impacts from climate change but at the same time indigenous peoples are also the solutions to the problems that we face,” explained Tauli-Corpuz.

The U.S.-based Indigenous Environmental Network met early on “to discuss our actions strategy,” said tribal campus climate organizer Kandi Mossett. She said IEN was looking into doing five direct actions. One, a massive march from downtown Copenhagen to the Bella Center, the site of the talks, coincided with Indigenous Day Dec. 12. A demonstration at the Canadian Embassy was also in the works, she said.

IEN’s youth delegate Gemma Givens, also part of SustainUS: The US Youth Network for Sustainable Development, said all the international youth
delegations were crafting their goals into one cohesive statement. “Our futures are being negotiated and we have to make sure we are heard in this

Givens said the U.S. has a lot to lose from a weak agreement “and a lot to gain from the transition to clean and safe energy and a stable environment. We’re asking the U.S. to re-engage as a leader and put together a meaningful and just binding treaty to demonstrate the power and dedication of the U.S. youth climate movement.”

The climate talks continue through Dec. 18.

‘Tuvalu’s strong plea’

Testimony of Ian Fry, Tuvalu delegate to the United Nations Climate Change Conference, Copenhagen, Denmark:

“The entire population of Tuvalu lives below two meters above sea level. The highest point above sea level in the entire nation of Tuvalu is only four

“Madam President, we are not naive to the circumstances and the political considerations that are before us. It appears that we are waiting for some senators in the U.S. Congress to conclude before we can consider this issue properly. It is an irony of the modern world that the fate of the world is being determined by some senators in the U.S. Congress.

“We note that President Obama recently went to Norway to pick up a Nobel Prize, rightly or wrongly. But we can suggest that for him to honor this
Nobel Prize, he should address the greatest threat to humanity that we have before us, climate change, and the greatest threat to security, climate
change. So I make a strong plea that we give proper consideration to a conclusion at this meeting that leads to two legally binding agreements.

“Madam President, this is not just an issue of Tuvalu. Pacific island countries – Kiribas, Marshall Islands, Maldives, Haiti, Bahamas, Grenada – Sao Tome in West Africa and all the LDCs: Bhutan, Laos, Mali, Senegal, Timor-Leste – and millions of other people around this world are affected
enormously by climate change.

“This is not just Tuvalu.

“Over the last few days I’ve received calls from all over the world, offering faith and hope that we can come to a meaningful conclusion on this issue. Madam President, this is not an ego trip for me. I have refused to undertake media interviews, because I don’t think this is just an issue of
an ego trip for me. I am just merely a humble and insignificant employee of the environment department of the government of Tuvalu. As a humble servant of the government of Tuvalu, I have to make a strong plea to you that we consider this matter properly. I don’t want to cause embarrassment to you or the government. But I want to have this issue to be considered properly.

“I clearly want to have the leaders put before them an option for considering a legally binding treaty to sign on at this meeting. I make this a strong and impassioned plea. We’ve had our proposal on the table for six months. Six months, it’s not the last two days of this meeting. I woke this morning, and I was crying, and that’s not easy for a grown man to admit. The fate of my country rests in your hands.”


Indigenous Peoples Achieve Major Gains in Climate Change Negotiations

International Indigenous Peoples Forum on Climate Change (IIPFCC) Press Release

14 December 2009

Copenhagen (IIPFCC Media Team) – Indigenous Peoples have achieved major gains in the ongoing climate negotiations here in Copenhagen, Denmark.

“This is the first time in any legally-binding convention that there is reference to human rights. And this has been our main concern from the very beginning,” said Victoria Tauli-Corpuz, an indigenous Kankana-ey from the Cordilleras in the Philippines and Executive Director of Tebtebba.

Explicit references to indigenous peoples have been included in the negotiating text on Policy approaches and positive incentives on issues relating to REDD. In the 11 December draft text, it included “Respect for the knowledge and rights of indigenous peoples…” including the UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples (UNDRIP).

It further called on Indigenous Peoples’ “full and effective participation” in the development and implementation of national plans related to REDD.
REDD or Reducing Emissions from Deforestation and Forest Degradation is a proposed mitigation action that aims to lock carbon stored in forests in tropical and sub-tropical countries. Most of these forests are found in indigenous peoples territories and they have expressed concern on the potential impacts of REDD-related. These include denial of rights and control over their forests, loss of forest-dependent livelihoods, forced eviction and other human rights violations, among others.

References on indigenous peoples have also been included in the SBSTA Draft Conclusions [FCCC/SBSTA/2009/L.19/Add.1] of the Working Group on REDD: approaches to stimulate action.

In this draft document, it recognizes “need for full and effective engagement of Indigenous Peoples and local communities in, and the potential contribution of their knowledge to, monitoring and reporting of activities relating to…” REDD plus activities.

It therefore calls on parties to develop “guidance for effective engagement of Indigenous Peoples and local communities in monitoring and reporting.”
The Subsidiary Body on Scientific and Technological Advice, one of two subsidiary bodies of the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change, provides the States-Parties with timely information and advice on scientific and technological matters relating to the Convention.

“This is a significant advance that brackets in the negotiating texts have been taken out since rights, in the first place, are fundamental and should not be subject to negotiations,” according to Joan Carling, Co-chair of the International Indigenous Peoples Forum on Climate Change (IIPFCC).

A large contingent of over 200 Indigenous Peoples coming from different parts of the globe has been participating in the Climate Talks in Copenhagen. Under the umbrella of the IIPFCC, Indigenous Peoples have been lobbying governments to include rights and their issues in the climate talks. Some Indigenous Peoples have also been included in several government delegations, notably, the Philippines, Norway, Bangladesh, Guatemala and Bolivia.

“The presence of a substantial number of indigenous peoples have considerably increased their visibility and highlighted their issues in the climate talks,” added Tauli-Corpuz.

In the Bangkok Climate Talks in September, Indigenous Peoples came out with a policy statement on climate change. The policy statement spelled out three key demands. These include the recognition of the collective rights of Indigenous Peoples as contained in the UNDRIP and full and effective participation in climate change processes including the recognition of their free, prior and informed consent. The last demand focused on the recognition by states of their traditional knowledge, innovations and practices on climate change adaptation and mitigation.


Malia Nobrega – malianob [at] gmail [dot] com
Jihan Gearon – +45 5268 5594 – ienenergy [at] igc [dot] org
Raymond De Chavez – raymond [at] tebtebba [dot] org
Ibrahim Njobdi – +45 5393 6207 – injobdi [at] yahoo [dot] fr