Indigenous peoples are recognized as leaders at biodiversity summits, but are not equal in negotiations

Indigenous lands contain approximately 80% of Earth's remaining biodiversity Behind the rainbow-tinted windows of Montreal's Palais des congrès, the halls of the sprawling downtown convention center buzz with activity as international delegates rush from one meeting to the next during the United Nations' biodiversity summit , COP15 .

Some 195 countries plus the European Union have a seat at the negotiating table when world governments meet on the traditional lands of the Kanien'kehá:ka Nation to work out a global biodiversity framework. This framework aims to save nature from breaking threshold by cutting pollution, ensuring sustainable forestry and agricultural practices, and protecting at least 30 percent of land, fresh water and oceans by 2030.

There was a significant Indigenous presence on the ground, with at least 497 of the 15,723 registered to attend the summit representing Indigenous countries or organisations.

But none of those Indigenous nations have decision-making status.

"We should always have these sponsors to speak for us. It's as if we were children," said Jennifer Corpuz, representative for the International Indigenous Peoples Forum on Biodiversity at COP15.

Indigenous nations are not included in the list of parties with status under the UN Convention on Biological Diversity. Simply put, they do not have the same status during negotiations compared to a country like Canada.

Indigenous lands contain about 80 percent of the world's remaining biodiversity, while forming about 20 percent of the Earth's total area, according to the United Nations. Many scientists, environmentalists and world leaders have recognized their leadership as stewards of the environment, and experts on how best to live in harmony with nature.

"We need to work side by side with the most effective guardian of biodiversity - Indigenous Peoples," UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres told the press during his opening address on the first day of negotiations at COP15.

But getting seats side by side with other countries is not always guaranteed, Corpuz said.

"It's quite ironic. Sometimes we just feel like it's lip service."

Corpuz is Kankana-ey Igorot and originates from the northern mountainous regions of the Philippines. He said in large plenary meetings, where all parties come together, representatives of indigenous peoples can speak and share their views. But when negotiations are broken down into small groups for detailed discussion, the process becomes more complicated.

"We can only participate on a co-lead policy," Corpuz said. In other words, they need permission to enter the room and sit at the table.

Sometimes they are allowed to join, other times they are denied entry. He said that if representatives of indigenous peoples want to propose changes to the biodiversity framework, at least one party must support them.

"It's happened many times before that we made our proposal and nobody supported it, so it just got carried away," Corpuz said.

"Why not let the best protector of nature speak at this conference?"

During this conference, he said countries appear to have listened to their advice so far. But he said indigenous peoples should have the right to speak on their own terms.

Cultivating the land since the beginning of time

Jérôme Bacon St-Onge, deputy chairman of the Innu Pessamit Council in Quebec, agrees that this is a bit absurd.

"We have been in America from time immemorial, we have cultivated the land, lived on the land and occupied the land since the beginning of time, but we have no legal status in the United Nations."

He drives eight hours from his community on the north shore of the St. Lawrence to attend the conference, and said he plans to do what he can to push for recognition of indigenous-led conservation.

"Our presence here at COP15 is to share our message on territorial protection and lead governments to take concrete action," he said.

From the other side of the world, Chief Viacheslav Shadrin traveled to Montreal to share a similar message.

"We are here to find solutions to help nature... and to help us, all of humanity," he said.

Shadrin is Head of the Yukaghir Council of Elders and hails from the Council of Elders of the Yukaghir Republic in the Russian Arctic.

He said indigenous peoples, as guardians of nature, should have a bigger role in negotiations. While they are becoming increasingly recognized as leaders on the world stage, he says there is still a lot of work to be done.

"We have to take part in all decision-making processes," said Shadrin. "We should receive more rights."

The global biodiversity summit runs until December 19, with ministers arriving mid-week for the high-level negotiating segment. Discussions are expected to culminate in what many hope will be an ambitious plan to protect nature over the next decade. This article was written by EDUKASI CAMPUS.  

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