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Indigenous Peoples Speak Up For Nature

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  • Djehuti Sundaka
    http://www.blackelectorate.com/print_article.asp?ID=838 Indigenous Peoples Speak Up For Nature by Amanda Suutari In my community, says Roy Laifungbam of the
    Message 1 of 1 , Apr 1, 2003
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      Indigenous Peoples Speak Up For Nature by Amanda Suutari

      "In my community," says Roy Laifungbam of the Meitei people in northern
      India, "water is part of our daily ritual worship, as well as our annual
      spring festival. And this relationship is totally disregarded when you
      talk about water as a commodity." Laifungbam is part of the Caucus of
      Indigenous People, who attended the recent World Water Forum in Kansai
      to offer a spiritual perspective many members felt was absent from the

      "We're being treated like we're invisible," complains Santos Norato, a
      Mayan from Guatemala. "Everybody's more interested in modernity and how
      to take advantage of nature rather than how to care for it. We think
      that money takes priority over nature here
      . . . "

      According to UNEP (United Nations Environmental Protection), more than
      80 percent of the world's remaining biodiversity, and 90 percent of
      human cultural diversity, are found in indigenous territories. This
      highlights their role in caring for the world's last wild areas. Caucus
      members came with a wide variety of stories -- of coal-mining that is
      degrading springs in Arizona, desertification affecting Saharan nomads,
      rising sea levels threatening South Pacific islanders, rivers being
      dammed in native territories of India, and tourist resorts impacting
      communities in the Philippines -- but what they shared was a traditional
      reverence for this basic element.

      "The water, the trees, and the forests are all sacred to [the Mayans],"
      explains Norato. "We are part of nature. So we also have water
      committees who plant the trees and take care of the areas near the
      sources for water. These services are unpaid, but we believe that it's a
      useful natural resource that we all have to care for . . ."

      Richard Deertrack, a Pueblo from New Mexico, fears that modern life has
      threatened the intimate relationship many indigenous people have with
      water. "I come from a people whose only source of water was a stream,
      some springs, and hand-dug wells. When I first came into contact with a
      shower, I thought it was never-ending. So we're probably using 100 times
      more water than before we had all the infrastructure. If you turn on
      your water, somehow you lose reverence for it."

      But modernity has also inspired many communities to revitalize old
      customs. "Marine life has diminished in our lagoon," says Te Tika
      Mataiapo, of the Koutu Nui of the Cook Islands. "A lot of it has to do
      with irresponsible fishing. We have brought back a traditional method
      called raui, which we haven't practiced for over 50 years. And it's
      amazing. We've witnessed the growth of marine life, in fact, we're
      seeing species we haven't seen for a while. And not only have the fish
      returned, it has brought back a new consciousness of environmental
      protection and respect."

      For the caucus, their challenge is simply to be heard. "At the first
      Earth Summit in Rio, after a lot of lobbying and protest, we were
      finally recognized [in the concluding declaration] as a major group that
      had an important stake in the discussion," says Maifungbam. "But in
      Johannesburg [at the second Earth Summit, last summer], this was dropped
      completely from the declaration. So we had to fight again, right from
      scratch, to get indigenous peoples back on the agenda. We are still
      being marginalized even though we still play a very central role in the
      world's water resources."

      Although Maifungbam remains upbeat, pointing to the media attention they
      received, he stresses that much remains to be done.

      "I think that for indigenous peoples, everything is in the future. We
      have so much to do, and our struggle will still be long."

      This article first appeared in The Japan Times

      Tuesday, April 01, 2003
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