Indigenous leaders at the forefront of the fight against climate change were at the COP27 climate talks in Sharm el-Sheikh, Egypt this month and Nia Tero showed up in solidarity. Break through the noise and the corporate greenwashing, and listen with us to Indigenous policy advocates, activists, storytellers and artists who made the trip to Egypt, often at risk to themselves -- because everything is at stake in this moment, and we need the collective power of all peoples to meet it.
Featured voices include:
This episode features the music of Eric Terena, a Brazilian D-J, journalist and activist who belongs to the Terena people and is a founding member of Mídia Índia.
Producers: Felipe Contreras, Stina Hamlin, and Jenny Asarnow. Story editors: Jessica Ramirez and Tracy Rector. Host: Jessica Ramirez. Special thanks to Shar Tuiasoa, Jacob Bearchum, Michael Painter and Valeree Velasco for help with this episode.
We want to hear your stories, too. What is at stake for YOU and YOUR communities in this moment of climate crisis, and what are you doing to fight for our future? Let us know by sending us an email at: email@example.com
Seedcast is a production of Nia Tero, a global nonprofit which supports Indigenous land guardianship around the world through policy, partnership, and storytelling initiatives.
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Seedcast Season 2 Episode 13
Hypocrisy and Solidarity at COP27
November 23 2022
[00:00:00] Jessica Ramirez: This is Jessica Ramirez, your host for Seedcast. I'm joining you today from Coast Salish territory, but in this episode we're taking you all the way around the world to Egypt, to COP27. COP stands for “The Conference of Parties”. It's the UN Climate Summit, and my colleague Felipe Contreras was there in Sharm El-Sheikh, Egypt, in an elevator with an Indigenous leader from the Ecuadorian Amazon, Leo Cerda. a
[Felipe and Leo’s voices play in the background]
They were headed to a panel to talk about supporting Indigenous communities who are at the forefront of the fight against climate change.
[00:00:39] Felipe Contreras: Well, gimme the play by play from the moment I picked you up at the, uh, van.
[00:00:44] Leo Cerda: Um, you picked me up. We arrived at the Regency. We're lost. Nobody knows where we—it is going. I feel like we're like the countries that do not know how to do anything.
[00:00:58] Felipe: Is this like an analogy of COP, a metaphor?
[00:01:02] Leo: [Laughs] I feel like it is! Exactly! Nobody knows where to go or give us the right direction, so we have to take our actions into our own hands.
[Felipe and Leo laugh together]
You know? That's how we do it. That's how we do it. And we come here with a gang—collectively, collective power, you know, so…it’s good.
[theme music softly plays in the background]
[00:01:29] Jessica: At COP, depending on who you are, you'll have a different experience. The space is divided. There's a Green Zone, and there's a Blue Zone, where world leaders make commitments towards a greener planet but more often than not, don't follow through. And then there's the COP where the frontline defenders are—people more likely to be Black, Indigenous, queer, young; often protesting and agitating because the solutions towards climate resiliency come from the people most impacted.
Felipe arrived with a bunch of colleagues, and without access badges.
[00:02:06] Felipe: We have no zone passes.
[00:02:08] Jessica: In solidarity with Indigenous peoples from around the world.
Theme song by Mia Kami: We are standing, hear our calling, we are rooted to the ground we’re here to stay. No staying quiet, we stand united, we are rooted to the ground, can't tear us down, we’re here to stay…
[00:02:37] Jessica: It's day one, and Felipe already has a big surprise for us!
[00:02:42] Felipe: Yo, this is Felipe from Seedcast and I'm coming from you from Egypt. So I said we had no zone passes. Well, that has changed. So, I got access to both Blue and Green Zone, and I'll be sharing with you what is going on and what I'm hearing, because COP is such an interesting place. And I'm hoping that together we could figure out what this is.
[00:03:12] Jessica: Sharm El-Sheikh, where COP was happening, was originally built up for tourism. It's a complex maze of various resorts, spread out across a big distance. Everyone was staying at these ginormous properties, and each one is almost a town within a town.
Felipe was there with Indigenous peoples from around the world, people who Nia Tero brought to Egypt: policy advocates, storytellers, activists, artists, leaders whose peoples are on the front lines of climate change. So when Felipe first arrived to the resort, he invited some of these Indigenous leaders to share what was going on back home. He asked them, “What's at stake for your community in this moment of climate crisis?”
[00:03:59] Carmen Rosa Guerra Ariza: [Introduction in Spanish] My name is Carmen Rosa Guerra Ariza. I am a Kankuama Indigenous woman. I'm from the Sierra Nevada de Santa Marta, “The Heart Of The World”, in the Caribbean coast in Colombia. In the Sierra Santa Marta, we are four Indigenous nations: the Kankuamos, the Koguis, the Wiwas, and the Arhuacos. The four, we manage to protect The Heart Of The World that is the Sierra Santa Marta. That's the base of our deep belief of our territory—that is the heart of the world. If that heart stop beating, then the world stop. Every single human being, and life, stop. So that's our approach to the way we see life.
For our people, the main issue is that climate change is damaging a lot of those biodiversities that exist in our territories, and I can tell you an example: I remember when I was a little kid, that in my territory was actually a little bit of cold because we have the Picos Nevados, so it was cold and it was normal. But nowadays, you almost cannot wear clothes because it's really hot. So everything changed, even when you need to, well, plant your food; and it's not the same because it's raining a lot sometimes, sometimes it's really dry. So we cannot connect this moment of climate change with our ancestral knowledge, sometimes. It’s really disruptive. So right now we are trying to, well, tell everybody that it's a reality first; but second, we are trying to do the best we can to protect Mother Earth, to protect The Heart Of The World, but also to adapt because we need to adapt in order to survive.
[00:06:21] Gabrielle Langkilde: [Introduction in Samaoan] My name is Gabrielle Langkilde. I am from the beautiful islands of American Samoa. Some of the great movements back at home in American Samoa that I've seen is, moving to educate our youth on the different environmental challenges, and also the ways to express what we're facing. Back home, right now, we're facing a lot of coastal damage and a lot of our villages are seeing a lot of threat from sea level rise. And it's more than just loss of land, right? It's the loss of homes. And in turn, because of our land's connection to our culture, our language, you know, our family names and our family stories are connected to our land. And so what's at stake is not just our land, it's our livelihood, our stories, our culture—everything.
[00:07:45] Leo: [Introduction in Kichwa] My name is Leo Cerda. I'm from a very small community in the Ecuadorian Amazon, from the Serena village—we're just 160 people. But I am the founder of the Black Indigenous Liberation Movement, which is working in the realm of anti-colonial anti-racist struggle that works in the intersectionality of climate change and racial justice. In general, like Indigenous communities, Black communities, minority communities have this challenge that we have been dispossessed of our cultures, of our lands, of our territories, of our bodies; and we face colonialism, you know, and I feel like the immediate result of colonialism is climate change.
[00:08:58] Sophia Perez: [Introduction in CHamorro] My name is Sophia Perez, and a lot of people call me Sophie. I am Mestiza, so, CHamorro and white. So one of the subjects that I really focus on is the militarization of the Marianas in the larger Pacific. So by militarization, I mean US military developments. Those occur in the Marianas in a way where environmental degradation is unchecked. And then add to that, okay, so say the people of the Marianas don't like that. What political avenues do they have available to them? They are severely limited. So they're a part of the US, but they don't vote for the President, and they don't have a voting representative in Congress. This is a modern day colonial situation. And the Marianas, they rely really heavily on a tourism-based economy. So, not only is their land being degraded by some of this military development, but also it's impossible to expect tourists to come to an island where bombs are going off and you can hear training ranges. The coral’s bleaching from water contamination. And if there's no money, then there's even more of an impetus to leave. So if everybody leaves the Marianas, what happens to the culture? So that's why I say, what's at stake? Basically everything.
[00:10:24] Leo: In my community, we are currently battling a mining company, illegal miners. The government sees our land as something that they commodify and then they can give away to foreign companies to extract, destroy—dispossess—our lives and our communities. So we kicked illegal minors out last year, and they're coming back. And they keep coming back because not only the Ecuadorian government, but the world, is looking for more, looking for more, and digging for more. And we're the ones, we're the ones that are keeping our forests and our resources for the world to be sustained for the longer run.
[music plays in the background]
And I think that is the main fight that we have at COP, because we are the ones who are going to be suffering the consequences of this climate devastation. And the governments, corporations, they don't think about the future. They just think about the money, the now, the present. They think about how to dig more.
[00:11:38] Carmen: For us, keep doing work, what we are doing, is absolutely necessary. So we try really hard to connect with our ancestral spiritual knowledge. We also have our political work that implies talking about the problems that we have; speaking out loud and connect with the Indigenous movement in the national level and international level. Because without that you don't only lose The Heart Of The World, you lose the lungs of the world that is the Amazon, and the other amazing biodiversity and territories that we are keeping in, in taking care.
[00:12:30] Jessica: That was Carmen Rosa Guerra Ariza, the Policy Manager for Nia Tero's Global Policy Team. Leo Cerda is a climate activist, Indigenous rights defender, and the founder of the Black Indigenous Liberation Movement. Sophie Perez is a filmmaker and journalist. And Gabrielle Langkilde is a writer and educator. And they're all people who Felipe was spending time with at COP27 in Sharm El-Sheikh, Egypt.
[music continues in the background]
[00:13:11] Felipe: So…been in Sharm El-Sheikh for about four days now. First COP event, and my initial thoughts are confused, to be quite frank. From what I've heard in other COPs, it's been quite easy to get around, and part of the reason why a lot of activists and organizers come to these spaces, it's one of the few places you could get in front of your congresspeople, senators, and just representation of your country. And so for a lot of organizers, this is a reason to be here. And at previous COPs, it just had been easy to run into people; and this COP, logistics seemed to be sort of a nightmare. As I'm saying right now, I'm walking through where we're staying and it's…this feels like its own little town. I was at the Blue Zone yesterday—was my first day there—and it's a maze. There is spaces where there are Indigenous representation, but there are so many conversations happening, I don't know who's hearing what. Tomorrow I'll be paying attention to what is potentially being said, and I hope to share that with you.
[music plays in the background]
[00:14:50] Jessica: This year's COP was in the desert. Thousands of people flew in, many of them on private planes. Everyone was in air-conditioned buildings all day, drinking water from plastic bottles. The hypocrisy and contradictions at the climate negotiations every year can be very confusing, but people show up to try to make a difference. Carmen, the policy manager from The Heart Of The World, had been to several COPs, even though they are seriously flawed.
[00:15:31] Carmen: The COP27 is a platform that I have to say is really hard, because, for several reasons. The first one, it’s not that accessible for Indigenous nations. It's really hard. Not only because of the cost—that is a huge one, not everybody can be here. It's because of the specific knowledge that you need in order to be here. And then you have this part, that the parties are talking between each other, and not actually listening.
[00:16:07] Jessica: Gabrielle, the Samoan writer, had never been before, and she agreed.
[00:16:13] Gabrielle: Talking about climate change and carbon markets and things like that; that's not the way that a lot of people at home are able to talk about climate change. We understand what it is and we've been protecting our lands and waters, and dealing with these challenges for a long time. But these discussions are not very inclusive of us.
[00:16:33] Jessica: Leo Cerda, the founder of the Black Indigenous Liberation Movement from Ecuador, had been to other COPs too, and shared everyone's frustrations. He pointed out that Coca-Cola was a sponsor this year, and all the Coca-Cola products were free. Sprite, Coke; whatever that orange stuff is. Even the bottled water was owned by Coke.
[00:16:16] Leo: This is what’s happening at COP. Like, I cannot believe that one of the most polluter and plastic-generating company is bringing, like, the fossil fuel industry into the negotiation room. We need real solutions. And the solutions come from the ground up, not from the corporations down.
[00:17:20] Jessica: It's been reported that there were 636 fossil fuel lobbyists in the Climate Summit—100 more than last year; and a lot more than the number of Indigenous delegates who were there. And still, it looked to our team like there were more Indigenous peoples attending than in years prior.
[00:17:39] Carmen: I’m expecting that Indigenous people's voices get highlighted in this COP27, and we can have more in the future because, uh, if they are weak, they cannot talk. And if they cannot be here and say what they need to say, everybody loses—the whole humanity. Not only them.
[ambient music plays]
[00:18:16] Jessica: A lot of Indigenous leaders travel to COP27, at risk to themselves. Many Indigenous peoples at the front lines of fighting climate change are queer, or have marginalized gender identities. And this year's COP was in a country where being gay is criminalized. Being here showed that they felt it was important, and they wanted to make the best of it. So far, we've heard from people outside the negotiating rooms, but after a few days, Felipe heard from someone who was on the inside.
[00:18:56] Kimaren ole Riamit: Greetings! My name is Kimaren ole Riamit. I come from the Maasai Indigenous people who are pastoralists—people of cattle, people of land, people of the skies. I’m from the southern rangelands of Kenya, I had the privilege of being part of the delegation of the global Indigenous people's movement that were privileged to find their way to the United Nation Framework Convention on Climate Change Conference of Parties, otherwise called COP, the 27th session of this conference. And so glad to speak from here, and honored to have such a chance.
[00:19:49] Jessica: Kimaren spoke about what Indigenous delegates were fighting for, to make sure people's Free, Prior And Informed Consent is included in these documents that will affect Indigenous peoples. He explained that one of the main things Indigenous peoples were focusing on this year is what's called “loss and damages”. It means rich countries better pay up to the frontline communities that are suffering from climate change right now. And rich countries actually promised years ago that they would give $100 billion dollars a year to help. But unsurprisingly, they haven't.
[00:20:26] Kimaren: We want to tell state parties not to play politics with climate change; not to do business with the lives of our people. As I speak here, I'm a distressed man, because our pastoral communities in northern Kenya and southern Kenya are experiencing a drought, and basically the means to our livelihood is diminishing every day and lives are threatened. And this is the essence, and the urgency, with which loss and damage should be treated. Lives cannot be recovered tomorrow. So any action that can be taken today to save a life must, and should be, taken.
[piano music plays in the background]
[00:21:24] Jessica: These spaces are taxing—long days in air-conditioned buildings, and weighty conversations. So it's important to come back to center with your community, with your people, debrief, and unwind. To connect, to eat, and laugh, and share ideas with other brilliant Indigenous peoples from all over.
[we hear the sound of people talking and laughing together]
COP is a place where Indigenous peoples can come together, build movements, share their work that is happening on the ground, and link them as one unit. Many of our struggles are similar, and sharing knowledge and strategies together is also building Indigenous power in the face of all these world leaders, and in parallel to whatever talks are happening inside.
[people laugh joyfully]
In the spirit of building together, we wanted to know about the movements people are a part of at home. How are your communities fighting back? Here's Sophie, the filmmaker and journalist, talking about her community in the Mariana Islands.
[00:22:32] Sophie: There are some amazing grassroots movements that have sprung up, especially considering how politically limited the Marianas are. I know the Tinian Women's Association, for example, had an amazing response to something called the Commonwealth Joint Military Training Plan, which would've created shelling of this tiny island, just ripping up the coral reefs on Tulu Beach. The island was gonna get kind of massacred. And so this big group of women who—there was a couple lawyers, but a lot of people don't, you know, have degrees or anything—they took this 3000 page report of what the military was saying they were gonna do, and they just split it up and everybody read a chunk of it, and then shared it. And then they organized the whole community. And the way that they responded to that report was to give, like, something like 30,000 comments; and they were forced to rewrite it.
So, efforts like that are amazing, but is there like, a long term plan? I wish, but I think that people unfortunately are always struggling against all of these other more urgent issues, many of which are related to climate change. Like, there's been two different Category 5 typhoons that have hit the island. That leaves a scar. It takes a long time to rebuild after that. So that makes it really hard to really see the future, and plan, and make like a real sustainable response to climate change as a community.
[00:24:06] Kimaren: Sometimes, as humans, we live like we are the only species that matter on planet Earth. And we actually think we can do it alone. The reality of the matter is, we can’t. Nature is interconnected. Beings are interconnected. You know, I grew up in this pastoral landscape where we had no store for food, because we just needed food for the day. So cows come in the evening, they have milk, we gather milk, hot and warm. We take it, and that's our dinner. And then the next morning, we take milk for breakfast, we go hunting, and then the rest is, we are just enjoying the indigenous fruits and tubers as we graze.
The principle of Indigenous people is a mindset of abundance. So because of this mindset of abundance, we share more than we take away. And so, I encourage us to learn from Indigenous people because they represent the future, not the past, in terms of climate resilience. They are the masters of nature-based solutions. We can only learn from them and support them to share this knowledge with us.
[00:25:40] Leo: I know that it's hard for people to think about climate change, but we need to disrupt the narrative—the narrative that is being imposed by corporations, and by governments, because they are greenwashing our minds and they don't let us know that this is an emergency. This is a climate emergency. This is a social justice emergency. This is a racial emergency. This is a collective fight for the world.
[ambient music plays]
[00:26:23] Jessica: Another important gathering is coming up in a couple of weeks: the Convention of Biological Diversity in Montreal. Confusingly, it's called COP15—same acronym, different number. Instead of a focus on climate, the focus is on all of our non-human relatives. And Carmen will be there, too.
[00:26:45] Carmen: The important things in Montreal is that we are closing a long process about the global biodiversity framework, and that framework is going to lead whatever you need to do as a country, and as Indigenous organizations. So, when finally we have the framework, we need to figure it out how Indigenous people are going to manage that in their territories, and try to highlight that they have rights, and they need to be listened [to]. So it's really important right now. When you talk about the COPs, people start talking about “goals” and “targets”. That's important, but you also need to talk about realities and territories and what the people are feeling and thinking about this process, and that's really important also. So you need to talk about life.
[00:28:07] Felipe: Alright, so I'm heading up to Blue Zone. I need to get coverage of an event...
[the sound of ambient outdoor noise is playing in the background]
[00:28:16] Jessica: It's day five for Felipe, and it seems like he's getting the hang of how to navigate this space.
[00:28:23] Felipe: Alright. So I got through security. I got people taking photos, people in suits, people on their phones. I'm over here wearing my “You're on Native Land” beanie because yes, I always wear a beanie. Even in the desert! Alright, so I'm here at the Children and Youth—that's the first one you see once you enter the pavilions—it's Youth and Children, Resilience Frontiers, Moana Blue Pacific Pavilion, it's Technology for Climate Action. There's a Wind and Solar pavilion. And the most important one that I'm approaching now, the International Indigenous Peoples Forum on Climate Change. And I'm here!
[00:29:14] Thomas Joseph: And when we think about the global scheme of things, as we’re here at COP27 here in Egypt, and we understand that 80% of the biodiversity of this planet is in the tenure of us Indigenous people…
[00:29:27] Jessica: At the Indigenous Pavilion, there is a panel featuring international Indigenous leaders.
[00:29:34] Thomas: …We continue to understand that our lands, and access to our lands, is what they need to uphold their elite status, to uphold their patriarchy, to uphold their white supremacy, and their colonization…
[00:29:48] Jessica: This is Thomas Joseph, Hoopa, from Hoopa Valley in Northern California in the United States.
[00:29:55] Thomas: …And we have to come here, continually, to engage in a system that is broken to let the world know, and let the civil society know, that they have to address their governments here and back at home. Systems change needs to happen. And it's civil society's responsibility to enforce that, and hold their people accountable. And it starts by us here.
[Music by Eric Terena plays in the background at an event]
[00:30:34] Jessica: Civil society. That means people like you and me—those of us who aren't leaders in government, or in powerful institutions. The people in power have been in control for a long time, and are vying to stay that way. But Felipe said it was hopeful to see so many people show up. There were hundreds of Indigenous peoples in official negotiation spaces, but many more here supporting and raising their voices.
Yeah, there's a lot of critique about what's happening at COP, and you might not have access to the space where the people in power are directly listening to you, but you never know who's in the room right next to you. So no matter who you think is there, it's really important that you speak up. Because if you don't, then who will?
[Music by Eric Terena continues in the background]
[00:31:45] Felipe: Final question: why do you do this?
[00:31:48] Leo: I think we have to do it, because there's nobody that will do it for us. You know, as Indigenous people, we are the keepers of the forest and the wisdom, and our cultures. And most of the time we don't have any other choice but to do the things and like what, like, to protect our land, to protect our territories, to protect our homes, our families. That's why we do this. And I think it's our life mission, because we are the ones who have to expose our bodies to violence, to social impacts, environmental impacts. And that's why we are here at COP, to call upon our allies to support the people who are the forefront of this fight, to support our mission, because without the people who are protecting the forest, there'll be no forest in the first place.
[music plays, people cheer and clap their hands and it fades out]
[theme music begins]
[00:33:10] Jessica: Thanks for listening. And special thanks to Kimaren ole Riamit, Carmen Rosa Guerra Ariza, Leo Cerda, Sophia Pérez, and Gabrielle Langkilde for sharing their voices in Sharm El-Sheikh. Thanks also to Shar Tuiasoa, Jacob Bearchum, Michael Painter, Valerie Velasco, and Tracy Rector for your help on this episode. The music you just heard is by Eric Terena. He's a Brazilian DJ, journalist, and activist who belongs to the Terena people, and we'll be putting out an episode featuring him next year.
Seedcast is a project of Nia Tero, a Seattle-based foundation. Our teams are both Indigenous and non-Indigenous peoples, and we share a mission to secure Indigenous guardianship for all vital ecosystems. That means Nia Tero provides support to Indigenous peoples globally who are protecting their homelands from colonization and destruction. We do this because their practices are our best guides for making Earth livable for humans, and all other species, for generations to come. Here on Seedcast, our guests represent themselves, and their views may not reflect those of Nia Tero. We are dedicated to honoring our guests, their honest perspectives, and lived experiences.
If you liked what you heard, we invite you to subscribe to the podcast on your favorite platform so that you may never miss an episode. Leave us a review on Apple Podcast and share Seedcast with the people in your life.
We love making Seedcast, and we'd love to hear from you! Write to us or send us an audio message at firstname.lastname@example.org. Learn more about Seedcast and Nia Tero on our website, www.niatero.org.
This episode was produced by Felipe Contreras, Stina Hamlin, and Jenny Asarnow. Story editing by me—Jessica Ramirez—and Tracy Rector. Editing and sound mix by Stina Hamlin and Jenny Asarnow. Our executive producer is Tracy Rector. Our senior producer is Jenny Asarnow. Our producer is Felipe Contreras. Our consulting producer is Julie Keck. Our artist in residence is Lofanitani Aisea. Our fact checker is Romin Lee Johnson. Our social media is by Nancy Kelsey. Our transcripts are by Sharon Arnold. Our theme song is by Mia Kami. I'm your host, Jessica Ramirez, and we look forward to sharing more stories like this with you all very soon.
Theme song “Rooted” by Mia Kami: Like the wind we still move, like the waves we rise high, like the sun we never die. No staying quiet, we stand united, we are rooted to the ground, can’t tear us down. We’re here to stay…
[theme music fades away]
[00:36:24] Felipe: This is Felipe Contreras [sighs]. 8:30 PM Egyptian. Looking at the Red Sea right now, which is freaking amazing. A mosquito just went into my ear. Talk to you soon…Goodnight.