Search

Indigenous Women of the Americas Protecting Mother Earth: Struggles and Climate Change Solutions


Blog by Emily Arasim and Osprey Orielle Lake

Gloria Ushigua (Sápara Nation, Ecuador) and Casey Camp Horinek (Ponca Nation, Oklahoma, USA) joined in a moment of solidarity and love. These two outstanding Indigenous women leaders are uniting across continents to protect and defend the Earth and their communities from oil extraction – Photo by Joan Beard


Indigenous women around the world are impacted first and worst by the effects of environmental destruction and a rapidly changing climate, their disproportionate vulnerability the result of a brutal intersection of colonialism, racism and sexism whose effects continue largely unabated. However despite all odds and against great challenges, it is these very same Indigenous women who are rising up, challenging the status quo and taking action to build the vital solutions so desperately needed in order to chart an equitable and sustainable course for humanity.


On May 12, 2016, an outstanding group of Indigenous women leaders from South and North America (Turtle Island) united to share their concerns, struggles and plans for change at ‘Indigenous Women of the Americas Protecting Mother Earth: Struggles and Climate Solutions’, an afternoon event presented by the Women’s Earth and Climate Action Network (WECAN) International and our allies at Amazon Watch and the Indigenous Environmental Network.


‘Indigenous Women of the Americas Protecting Mother Earth: Struggles and Climate Solutions’ was held in New York City in parallel to the United Nations Permanent Forum on Indigenous Issues, with the expressed purpose of bringing public visibility to the diverse stories, solutions and demands of frontline women climate leaders.


While the sentiment and experiences shared by each speaker was unique and firmly rooted in their own homeland and place – there were two overriding themes that flowed from the women’s words: (1) respect for and implementation of Indigenous rights and knowledge is a prerequisite for climate justice and effective sustainability solutions and (2) in protecting the rights, health, lives and lands of Indigenous peoples, we ultimately safeguard the future not only of Indigenous nations (which is reason enough), but of the Earth and all it’s people. We are all unequivocally interdependent within the systems of life.


Throughout the presentations, the women also illuminated important points around the meaning of being an aware, respectful and diligent Indigenous ally, and shared a vision for the thriving future that we might still have if we learn to truly honor and uphold Indigenous rights at a global scale.



Pictured left to right: Aura Tegria Cristancho (U’wa, Colombia), Leo Cerda (Kichwa, Ecuador), Gloria Ushigua (Sápara, Ecuador), Casey Camp Horinek (Ponca, USA), Crystal Lameman (Beaver Lake Cree, Canada), Osprey Orielle Lake (WECAN Executive Director) introducing the panel of speakers. Not pictured: Alicia Cahuilla (Huaorani, Ecuador) and Kandi Mossett (Mandan, Hidatsa, Arikara, USA) – Photo by Joan Beard


In honoring the traditions of Indigenous allies, the event opened with prayers by Casey Camp Horinek, elder and a leader of the Ponca Nation (Oklahoma, Turtle Island, USA), who called for attention to the gift of the present day, and the capacity we all have to act, stand and relate to Mother Earth in a different way.


Casey reminded audience members that we are all relatives of each other and of the Earth, and that our greatest hope for the future lies in remembering this and growing together in strength and unity. She called upon all present to thank and honor the women and men who came before, standing in the face of adversity on behalf of the Earth, and through their brave actions allowing us to be here together today.


Osprey provided introductory remarks and a base for the day’s presentations by highlighting how Indigenous peoples, and Indigenous women in particular are the most vital voices and solutions bearers in the fight to address climate change and it’s roots in deep structural injustices within our social, economic and political systems. The audience was reminded that over 80% of the worlds remaining biodiversity lies in the hands of Indigenous communities, who have coexisted with and maintained these living systems for generations.


“We must make it very clear that we are interconnected. They [Indigenous women] are the ones on the frontlines defending our air, the mountains, forests, rivers. They are keeping the web of life alive, and if they go down we are all going down. People are putting their bodies on the line, people like Berta Cáceres… and we need to understand that this is directly our family. These women are on the frontline making possible the continuity of life for all of us, so let us listen deeply and engage,” Osprey commented.



Gloria Ushigua – Photo by Joan Beard


Gloria Ushigua, President of the Association of Sapara Women, spoke first, with translation by Leo Cerda (Kichwa) of Amazon Watch. [All translated quotes should be considered translations, not direct quotations]


Gloria is a land and community defender from deep within the southeastern Ecuadorian Amazon, committed to maintaining the cultural identity and integrity of the Sápara peoples and promoting the rights of Indigenous women. She stands at the forefront of the regional movement to stop oil drilling – speaking out, advocating within the United Nations, and leading marches and demonstrations in response to violent policies that continue to