Indigenous voices echoed by Papal Encyclical on the environment

With the release of the Papal Encyclical on the environment, I am reminded of how indigenous peoples have been offering spiritual and practical guidance on the global ecological crisis for decades. These two statements seem particularly relevant to me:

Our cultural principles include the defense of the right to a dignified life, respect for mother earth and the environment, essential and sacred elements that we should leave as an inheritance to our children, grandchildren and their descendents. 

Today we invite all of our brother and sister children of the earth to tell the world that mother earth is alive, that the U’wa are alive, that the coming together of many voices, hands, cries, writings, meditation, feet, thoughts etc make people free from aggressors and destroyers.

We all belong to the divine creation SIRA and as such we deserve respect. Mother earth, despite being violated, silently continues feeding us, sustaining us.  She doesn’t feel envy.  She talks but very few listen to her voice.  She insists through cries but everything continues the same.  This worries us, but we the U’wa and friends of the U’wa of Colombia and the World will continue to defend her with our voice, our sacred fasts, our songs, our faith.

Our brothers and sisters, the air, water, sun, moon are contaminated and they are being destroyed.  This too worries us because if humanity wants to continue to live we should start to take decisions to prevent our self-destruction.  No one destroys man.  Man destroys himself. We want to continue reflecting to avoid the destruction of the world because the U’wa want to continue to live.

The money king is only an illusion.  Capitalism is blind and barbaric.  It buys consciences, governments, peoples, and nations.  It poisons the water and the air.  It destroys everything.  And to the U’wa, it says that we are crazy, but we want to continue being crazy if it means we can continue to exist on our dear mother EARTH.

U’wa Traditional Authorities
Statement to the national and international public on the
withdrawal of Oxy from U’wa sacred territory Kera Chikara
May 22, 2002

We affirm with one voice that it is time to assume the historical responsibilities to reverse centuries of predation, pollution, colonialism, the violation of rights and genocide. It is time to assume the responsibilities towards our future generations. It is time to choose life.

As Indigenous Peoples, our fundamental cultural belief systems and world views based on our sacred relationships to each other and Mother Earth have sustained our peoples through time. We recognize the contributions and participation of our traditional knowledge holders, indigenous women and youth.

Cultures are ways of being and living with nature, underpinning our values, moral and ethical choices and our actions. Indigenous peoples’ abiding survival is supported by our cultures, providing us with social, material, and spiritual strength. We believe that all societies must foster cultures of sustainability, and that Rio +20 should highlight the cultural, moral and ethical dimensions, as the most fundamental dimension of sustainable development.

We see that Mother Earth and all life is in a serious state of peril. We see the current model of sustainable development continues to proceed on the road of peril. As indigenous peoples we have experienced the terrible and negative impacts of this approach. These threats extend to peoples in voluntary isolation.

Sustainable development is realized through the full exercise and fulfillment of human rights. Indigenous Peoples see sustainable development and self-determination as complementary. Progress in various countries has happened to the extent that States have fulfilled their duties to respect, protect and promote our human rights, while conflicts have escalated where governments have imposed top-down development, whether labeled “sustainable”, “pro-poor” or “green”.

For Indigenous Peoples, self determination is the basis for Buen Vivir/ living well , and this is realised through secure land rights and territorial management and the the building of vibrant community economies. These local economies provide sustainable local livelihoods, community solidarity and are critical components of resilient ecosystems.

We will continue to strengthen and defend our economies and rights to our lands, territories and resources, against extractive industries, predatory investments, land-grabbing, forced relocation and unsustainable development projects.These include large scale dams, plantations, large-scale infrastructure, tar sands extraction and other mega-projects, as well as the theft and appropriation of our biodiversity and traditional knowledge.

Indigenous peoples call upon the world to return to dialogue and harmony with Mother Earth, and to adopt a new paradigm of civilization based on Buen Vivir – Living Well. In the spirit of humanity and our collective survial, dignity and well-being, we respectfully offer our cultural world views as an important foundation to collectively renew our relationships with each other and Mother Earth and to ensure Buen Vivir/ living well proceeds with integrity.

Statement by Indigenous Peoples International Conference
on Sustainable Development and Self Determination

Museu da República in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil
June 17–19, 2012


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