Africa, Climate Change, Environment, Global, Global Geopolitics, Headlines, Human Rights, Indigenous Rights

CLIMATE CHANGE: “We Are a Harbinger of What Is to Come”

Stephen Leahy

COPENHAGEN, Dec 3 2009 (IPS) - A small group of indigenous people have travelled here to the historic Copenhagen climate talks to show negotiators dramatic documentary videos they made about the immediate impacts of climate change on their homelands and way of life.

A prolonged drought in the Maasai lands of Kenya is killing the herds and devastating their pastoralist way of life. Credit: William Warby/creative commons license

A prolonged drought in the Maasai lands of Kenya is killing the herds and devastating their pastoralist way of life. Credit: William Warby/creative commons license

“We want to show policymakers what the three-year long drought in my country is doing to our communities,” said Stanley Selian Konini, a Maasai from Oltepesi in Kajiado district, Kenya.

“Our animals are all dead. The zebras and the monkeys are dying even in the forests,” Konini told IPS. “Leaders need to change policies to help us.”

The Kenyan video documents the impact of an intense drought hitting the Maasai community. During these extremely hard times, pastoralists have been losing their cattle – their main and sometimes only livelihood.

“It’s affecting our culture. There can be no dowry payments because we have no animals,” said Konini, one of the young Maasai who made the video.

“The elders say they have never seen anything like this drought. It is something beyond their understanding and experience of the Maasai people,” he said.

Konini’s video is part of a series called “Conversations with the Earth” which features videos created by indigenous communities from four different continents, offering powerful evidence and testimonials of climate change problems in their far-flung home communities.

The series is a year-long collaboration between Land Is Life of Boston, an indigenous rights advocacy group, and Britain-based community video trainers InsightShare, in collaboration with photographer Nicolas Villaume, which provided video equipment and training.

Together with complementary documentaries prepared by Tokyo-based United Nations University, the locally-made videos will be part of an Indigenous-led film and multimedia exhibition at the National Museum of Copenhagen, to start Dec. 8 as delegates gather for the landmark U.N. Framework Convention on Climate Change conference.

These videos show indigenous people’s intimate connection to Earth, and their humility, Nick Lunch, director of InsightShare, told IPS. “They actually blame themselves for not keeping their traditions,” said Lunch, who trained and equipped local people so they could make the videos and share them here and in their home communities.

The hope is that the videos will open the eyes and hearts of negotiators in Copenhagen, where the world community hopes to forge an agreement to reduce the carbon dioxide emissions that are driving climate change.

“We need more than just climate change [emissions reduction] targets, we need an inner change, a reawakening of what’s truly important in life and that we need nature and need to respect nature,” Lunch said.

It is this lack of respect for nature that has led to landslides that have killed hundreds of indigenous peoples and left thousands more homeless in the Philippines, said Keidy Magtoto Transfiguracion from the Igorot Cordillera region.

Climate change has increased the number and strength of “super storms” that have pounded the Philippines in recent years, Transfiguracion said in an interview. Her video documents how large-scale mining operations have rerouted rivers and destroyed the local environment and are the root cause of the landslides, she said. “The land can no longer absorb the heavy rains,” she explained.

In a polar opposite to the drought-stricken Maasai, there is too much rain for Transfiguracion’s people. “There is twice as much rain. We can only plant once a year instead of two or three times. We cannot grow enough food,” she said.

“Indigenous peoples have contributed little to climate change. Yet they suffer from the brunt of direct and immediate effects of escalating global warming,” said Inupiat leader Patricia Cochran, chair of the Indigenous Peoples Global Summit on Climate Change.

“Conversations with the Earth enables indigenous communities to give dramatic firsthand accounts of their experience with climate change,” Cochran said in statement. “We are a harbinger of what is to come, what the rest of the world can expect.”

However, during the U.N. climate negotiations, indigenous people do not have any official role – no place at the table – which epitomises “climate injustice”, she added.

“Traditional and indigenous communities depend on a relationship with healthy ecosystems and possess a wealth of knowledge, wisdom, and practical experience in adapting to long-term changes in their environment,” said Brian Keane, director of Land is Life.

“The rich and powerful can’t lead us out of this. This is our chance to work together. We have much to learn from indigenous peoples very low-carbon lifestyles,” said Lunch. “We to need to start learning fast.”

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