However, this feeling passed quickly once I started interacting with all the people that filled the space. It was quickly replaced by another concern. Everyone I talked to had their agenda, their rigid frame, their rant. Sure, they were also there because they were interested and wanted to learn, but I had a hard time engaging people in the complexities of the issues. The most striking examples hardly mentioned climate change, focusing instead on vaguely green success stories that barely brushed the surface of the issues that are really at play.
More commonly, people were unwilling to reach out of their own issue and engage on a broader scale. If you care about a carbon tax, why does that mean you force that agenda into a conversation on spirituality and climate change? I felt pushed around by these agendas through the day, and almost wanted to check out. Is this really the space for the interested, or the space for the leveraged priority?
"Everyone I talked to had their agenda, their rigid frame, their rant ... The most striking examples hardly mentioned climate change, focusing instead on vaguely green success stories that barely brushed...the issues that are really at play."
This talk was lead by a group of indigenous leaders from Sarayaku, a region of the Ecuadorian Amazon, an area known for its incredible biological diversity and its oil wealth. Their story as it pertains to climate change starts with the beginning of oil exploration in the region in 2002. The Ecuadorian government sent helicopters in and began operations without even notifying the people who lived there.
In response, the community began a 6-year battle with the government to protect their lands, and they ended up succeeding. In 2008, the tribe won a lawsuit through the international human rights tribunal that forced the government to move out, pay for damages and apologize for their action.
Felix Santi, the president of the tribal leadership, explained it like this: “Indigenous peoples value the living forest; they see its existence. In the eyes of the western world, the forest is a green space. We see it as interconnected and with beings that protect it.”
"The living forest, or ‘sumak kawsay’ in Ketchwa, their native language, means valuing these spaces of life, and the equilibrium of these spaces."
The living forest, or ‘sumak kawsay’ in Ketchwa, their native language, means valuing these spaces of life, and the equilibrium of these spaces. The tribe believes that bringing their view and knowledge to the world is the only way to create a sustainable future. When I consider this view, it makes me think more deeply about what sustainability means, and how my definitions and framework might be incredibly different from the framework of this indigenous group.
They also decided to send delegates to the international stage and clearly formulated a message for the COP that is based on their traditional knowledge systems. Their empowerment is something I want to see throughout the world, because communities deserve to fight their own battles. I’m still trying to discover how I help create that vision.