We cannot talk about traditional knowledge without talking about the right to land, territories and resources – for us, it is ecosystem-based and language-based – they are linked to each other, environmental activist Hindou Oumarou Ibrahim told Landscape News.
Ibrahim, a member of the pastoralist Mbororo community in Chad, also represents the Indigenous Peoples of Africa Coordinating Committee (IPACC) and the Association for Indigenous Women and Peoples of Chad (AFPAT), which she founded.
“My people depend on nature,” Ibrahim said during an interview on the sidelines of the 18th session of the U.N. Permanent Forum on Indigenous Issues (UNPFII) in New York. “Our life, our survival depends on nature, weather, land and natural resources. It’s my life and it’s my identity. It’s who I am.”
Ibrahim is attending the forum to make recommendations to her networks, attend meetings with states, U.N. agencies and Indigenous peoples organizations. UNPFII also offers an opportunity to highlight concerns over the murder of more than 160 people from cattle-herding communities in Mali and conflict in Cameroon, she said.
“I meet with my ambassadors and then discuss with them what is happening at home and how they can help under the U.N. system,” said Ibrahim, who became an activist when she saw the human rights of her community being violated and environmental concerns growing.
She felt a duty to act and after attending school in the Chadian capital N’Djamena, she learned more about the world, discovering that many other Indigenous peoples were lobbying for the same rights and protections as her own community.
“It is about our survival,” she said. “My people don’t depend on a salary at the end of the month to survive. They depend on rainfall. They depend on soil fertilization. They depend on the forest. They depend on foods, the winds – if it’s too hot or cold to survive.”
The communities she represents need rights to land, drinking water, traditional medicine, she said, adding that they also lack hospital facilities and schools.
“We need to protect the world because we’re not the only species living here,” she said. “We have all the other species who don’t talk. All the animals. All the trees. All the insects. All the birds. We are one part of those species. We have to live in harmony among all the species of nature.”
At UNPFII, Ibrahim is also meeting representatives from U.N. agencies to discuss such topics as the New York Declaration on Forests, a partnership of governments, multinational companies, civil society and Indigenous peoples aiming to halve deforestation by 2020 and end it by 2030. Her aim is to see how its implementation can follow a participatory process and respect the rights of indigenous peoples.
We have to participate in all systems and thematic areas where the U.N. is working because our voices are very important, she said. “The U.N. is about our futures and our future cannot be discussed without us. We’re representing millions of people.”
Decision-making must recognize diversity, she said, adding that the argument should not need to be made that women, youth and Indigenous peoples are important.
“We need to accept and recognize the role of each of us,” she said. “Why do we need to say it’s important for women to be beyond the kitchen or beyond making babies?”
A new campaign to stop the criminalization of Indigenous peoples for protesting against governments and corporations to defend their traditional lands was announced at UNPFII last week. It aims to protect environmental defenders from persecution, murder and imprisonment on falsified charges.
“Feeling under threat is every day, in every place – all of us feel it,” said Ibrahim, who won a National Geographic Emerging Explorers Award in 2017 for her work on a 3-D mapping project of her region.
There are a range of consequences depending on the way a criticism or statement is interpreted, she said.
“You can experience different kinds of harassment at different levels,” she explained. “An instrument to help and support Indigenous peoples is very important. When we protect land and resources, it involves a fight against big companies and governments who want to extract the natural resources for their economic benefit and who don’t think about the future of our planet.”
Imbalance and inequality have led to an unsustainable way of life – some people get only one meal a day while others are throwing food away, she said.
“We need sustainable sharing,” she said. “If we invest in the things we need – really need for our survival – and we forget about the things we don’t need, I think all the solutions are there. It’s just a matter of how we can balance the economy. How we can balance needs. How we can think to leave no-one behind.”
The 18th Session of the United Nations Forum on Indigenous Issues is at the United Nations in New York from 22 April – 3 May 2019.
Learn more about this topic at the Global Landscapes Forum conference in Bonn, Germany, 22-23 June 2019.