Indigenous Communities: Changing Climates, Changing Lives

Indigenous Communities: Changing Climates, Changing Lives

A patchwork Amazon where soy replaces trees

An image of a young woman and child bathing in a pristine Amazonian lake grabbed my attention last Friday – part of a New York Times piece on the Kamayura tribe, and the challenges they’re facing in our climate-changing world. Pictures of serene lakeside-sunsets were interspersed with accounts of tribe members no longer being able to catch fish from the lakes on which they have historically relied. Attributed to rising temperatures, the decimated fish stocks are alarming realities for today’s Kamayura – forcing many to consider abandoning their traditional ways of life and joining mainstream Brazilian society.

The Kamayura are not alone, as indigenous communities throughout the world have been feeling the effects of climate change for some time now – from the Maasai, who because of prolonged drought and livestock death are increasingly marrying off their girls at younger ages for their sought-after dowries, to the Inuit who struggle to access traditional hunting lands as sea-levels rise.

So what are these indigenous communities to do? The NYT article mentions the United Nation’s Adaptation Fund, set up in Poznan, Poland in 2008. The fund acts as a repository for developing nations to donate money to poorer countries whose populations are grappling with the effects of climate change. As the global recession drags on though, the expected ‘voluntary contributions’ from the world’s richer countries total zero.

An alternative approach to dealing with climate change can be seen in Ecuador’s new constitution. Rather than waiting for the developed world to abate any twinges of climate-induced guilt, Ecuador has recognized the plurinational nature of its state, elevating the status of its many indigenous communities. These communities participated in drafting the new constitution that codifies environmental protection by granting nature rights and requiring the consultation of indigenous populations over the management of natural resources occurring on their land.

If Brazil were to follow in Ecuador’s footsteps, perhaps the widespread deforestation of the Amazon (activities which release a staggering 2 gigatons of carbon emissions annually) would be challenged. If indigenous communities have a greater say in their ecosystem management, and if nature is held as a rights-bearing entity rather than human property, perhaps indigenous communities such as the Kamayura could continue to live in balance, off of their lands.

Photo courtesy of Leo Ffreitas, Flickr