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If not us, then who? Why we need more Activists for Indigenous Communities

The issues around climate change remain ignored to this day. With few companies acting on prior promises, it is left to individuals to limit the worsening effects.

In recent years, governments and corporations have been looking for untouched grounds to utilise for fossil fuels and similar commodities. In doing so, they have come across secluded tribes. Most of these tribes [see also uncontacted peoples or indigenous communities] shelter in forests with limited access to the outside wide. They choose to live primitively and are naturally resourceful.

For example, the Penan of Sarawak. The Penan are a group of approximately 15,000 people, of whom only a few hundred still live a traditional forest-dwelling lifestyle. Their key ethic is never to take more than what is necessary.

As part of BBC Tribe, producers connected with the Penan people to view their way of living. Bruce Parry, the show's host, lived with the community and has since stated that they have fundamentally changed his understanding of the world. The tribe’s land was set to be destroyed and repurposed as a palm plantation, in which one member said they would “surely die” if that was the situation they were forced into it:

“There’s no tawai [mother's love for the land that supports them] in a destroyed forest. We prefer a forest where we feel tawai because the animals and our lives depend on it… this is the way of life we are practising; our hearts and minds are still in the forest… till death, I have to defend this land.”

As the video ends, the speech reads:

“Despite having lived here for thousands of years, the Penan’s impact on the land is so light they are struggling to prove that they have ever been here at all. They can therefore claim no official right to protect this, their ancestral home.”

As mentioned above, the tribe left so little of a trace that it was almost like they never existed. This is a recurring feature of the indigenous communities. According to the World Bank, indigenous peoples only occupy a quarter of the world’s surface area; within that, they safeguard 80% of the world’s remaining biodiversity.

Despite their efforts to protect Earth’s vast species and organisms, many governments recognise only a fraction of indigenous peoples’ land as formally or legally their own. Where exploitation of natural resources and insecure land tenure is the priority, it seems that no one is safe, regardless of their constructive impact on our climate.

As cultures are becoming increasingly threatened, governments and activists alike are acknowledging the importance of these communities. By supporting and standing up on behalf of indigenous peoples, we can help improve their livelihoods and learn more efficient ways to fight the climate crisis.

Who can I look to?

Jasilyn Charger – Cheyenne River Sioux Tribe

As co-leader of the One Mind Youth Movement, Jasilyn aims to provide more spaces for young indigenous peoples to connect with one another. She also co-founded the International Youth Council to empower similar young people to fight for their communities.

Charitie Ropati – Native Village of Kongiganak

Charitie’s main goal within her activism is to vocalise education for Indigenous peoples. A fierce advocate for students, Charitie is pushing for education reforms that encourage Native students to pursue academia. Whilst it is an issue that many people may not be aware of, it is worth noting that indigenous students have some of the lowest graduation rates demographically.

Xiuhtezcatl Martinez – Mashika People

An activist whose presence has been noted from a young age, Xiuhtexcatl uses his voice to fight for environmental justice within Indigenous communities. Speaking at his first climate event at the age of 6, it is no doubt that justice is his priority.

Anthony Tamez-Pochel - Wuskwi Sipihk First Nations Cree, Sicangu Lakota

Hoping to shatter false narratives, Anthony promotes awareness around native Youth in his hometown of Chicago. As the current Youth Chairman of the Center for Native American Youth’s Advisory Board, Anthony strives to reclaim Indigenous peoples’ political and economic relations with their ancestral territories.

If you want to help protect indigenous communities, please consider lobbying governments and companies whose supply chains affect these groups. By drawing attention to the injustices that Indigenous communities experience, we can heal an important and unnoticed relationship between humanity and Earth, as well as empower a previously voiceless demographic.


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