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It could be said that Joji Cariño was born to do what it is that she does – defend and uplift the rights of Indigenous peoples. She comes from the Ibaloi people of the Philippines, whose pasturelands were grabbed by the U.S. colonial government at the turn of the 20th century for the construction of a military air base. It was her great grandfather who took up this battle, fighting it all the way to the U.S. Supreme Court, which awarded him the case on the basis of “native title,” meaning the Ibaloi people had customary ownership over the land.
This paved the way for more recognition of Indigenous peoples in Philippine law, culminating in the passing of Indigenous Peoples Rights Act of 1997. But, she says, “The Act’s implementation is encumbered by many conflicting laws which privilege rich and powerful interests,” namely nefarious industries and regimes focusing on development at the cost of native lands and their peoples. “Authoritarian government and militarization has greatly impacted defenders of Indigenous human rights and the environment, including the killing of Indigenous women and children.”
Thus, Cariño has put herself at the nexus of policy, development and Indigenous rights through any way she can, from following in her great-grandfather’s footsteps to oppose detrimental dam-building to leading the drafting processes of major scientific reports informing international decision-making processes.
Most recently, the latter has come through 2020’s consequential Local Biodiversity Outlooks 2 (GBO2) put forth by the U.N. and the International Indigenous Forum on Biodiversity, the Indigenous Women’s Biodiversity Network, the Centres of Distinction on Indigenous and Local Knowledge and Forests Peoples Programme, where she serves as a senior policy advisor. The report lays out six ways forward to rebalance humanity’s relationship with nature, proposed by the Indigenous and local land custodians who understand this best.
“They embody intergenerational visions honoring the historical struggles and wisdom of past generations, drawing on the experience and innovation of today’s generations, and embodying the legacy and hopes of future generations,” she said of the six transitions in a Global Landscapes Forum event on biodiversity last year. “We are all future ancestors, challenged to renew the earth for coming generations. This is humanity’s joint endeavor to save our home.”