Indigenous leadership and knowledge essential to biodiversity protection

I grew up in Peru, and often visited my grandparents in the Andes mountains. My grandmother was a wise woman. She didn’t know how to read or write, but she was rich with traditional knowledge. We hiked together to find medicinal plants. I helped her deliver babies. She impressed upon me the power of nature and encouraged me to think of people and nature as one, not separate systems in conflict.

This early education around our intrinsic connection to the land has been at the forefront of my mind. More than 10,000 scientists, bureaucrats, and advocates were expected in Montréal over the course of the United Nations Biodiversity Conference, commonly known as COP15, in December 2022. They came to finalize a new deal for nature – a Paris Agreement to reverse the cataclysmic biodiversity loss we’re experiencing here in Canada and around the world.

Senator Rosa Galvez is a member of the Senate Committee on Energy, Environment and Natural Resources. | Photo courtesy of Rosa Galvez

An important milestone on the road to addressing this severe decline of biodiversity is for nations and subnational governments everywhere to commit to protecting 30% of their land and water by 2030. Canada agreed to this goal on a federal level in 2020 and now we can play a central role in ensuring a similar ambitious target for the world.

As these discussions take place, there is a voice that must be central to the conversation. This is the voice of Indigenous peoples from around the globe, whose leadership is critical if we don’t want to repeat the mistakes of the past.

Indigenous peoples steward approximately 20% of the planet, but this relatively small share contains 80% of the world’s remaining biodiversity. That means the impacts of development and deforestation affect them disproportionately. It also means that a deal that doesn’t include Indigenous leadership could cause disproportionate harm.

These days I still travel regularly to South America with ParlAmericas, where we discuss key issues of common concern throughout the Americas. Indigenous rights are a frequent topic of discussion at these meetings, and as someone who has studied the atrocious impacts of mining on Indigenous communities in Latin America, it’s an issue that’s very close to my heart. I have witnessed and learned from their skills of living in harmony with nature, amid a changing world. As important as it is for us to reach a global biodiversity agreement, we need to push even harder to ensure it’s an agreement that honours the rights of Indigenous peoples around the world.

Canada has already shown leadership in this regard. The federal government has announced an $800-million commitment to support Indigenous-led conservation projects. There has also been increasing recognition of the important role of Indigenous land guardians, whose knowledge systems offer an essential means of addressing the biological and cultural diversity crisis.

As we set our sights on mobilizing the necessary transformative change to live in harmony and solidarity with the natural world, I find myself thinking of my grandmother and her teachings. We have an opportunity to lead now if we’re to achieve a robust agreement that puts western science and traditional Indigenous knowledge on the same level. A deal that isn’t diluted by compromises and weak words. The magnitude of the challenge must be reflected in strong language and commitments with an accountability framework to ensure all levels of government are doing their part.

Senator Rosa Galvez represents the Bedford division of Quebec. She is a member of the Senate Committee on Energy, Environment and Natural Resources.

Source: Senate of Canada