By Bruno Vander Velde, originally published at Forests News

Global agreements on forests and climate change must safeguard the rights of indigenous peoples, said a Latin American indigenous leader who called for setting clear rules over development initiatives that affect the forests they live in.

“At the global level, forests are where indigenous peoples are living,” said Cándido Mezúa Salazar, Chairman of the National Coordinator of Indigenous Peoples of Panama, speaking on 7 December before an audience of 1,700 people at the Global Landscapes Forum in Lima, Peru. “We’re not saying that we are the owners of all the forests of the world, no. But we do have an influence on them because the forests are part of our lives. And we must respect that. But how can we manage this if we do not have clear rules?”

The Forum, organized by the Center for International Forestry Research on the sidelines of the UN climate talks, brought together climate change negotiators, government ministers, scientists, land-use practitioners and civil society, including community and indigenous representatives.

Mezúa Salazar urged attendees at the Forum to try to see forests from a different perspective.

“[Indigenous people] see the forest from the inside,” he said. “You cannot take me out of this landscape. So the social and environmental responsibility goes much farther than seeing it as a simple tree, a simple forest. Society must be closely related to all these processes. What do we mean by this? That we need to have development of the communities, but development respecting their cultural principles and rules.”

Watch Mezúa Salazar’s speech, above, or read an edited transcript, below.

Transcript of Cándido Mezúa Salazar’s speech: 

We are part of the forest. In this very moment, each one of you, each one of us, is playing a role. The purpose that each one is meeting right now is to convey this message. That’s how we are part of the forest. You are part of this forest, also. And this is one of the first teachings that we receive from our grandparents. In order to see how we are affected by something, we need to be part of the forest. And that’s how we started since we were very little to have some stories to tell to our children on what is going on.

And one of the first teachings that we receive from our grandparents is how water flows. Why does water flow? Why is water cold? Why is water getting warmer at night? And sometimes, they teach us to fish at night, to fish during day time, to be in a cold environment. And when it is hot water, we’re looking to be warmer. All this is part of our teachings on the landscape. But this reality belongs to our communities. Our realities are changing with the reality of society. We see, for example, now I’m here gathered with all of you. All of you who are my brothers and sisters in a reality that we can now say that things have changed. Our relationship inside the communities or in our relationship with the world, with the planet, our Mother Earth, is suffering.

And one of the first messages that we would like to convey that is that we are all fully responsible. But how can we do this when each one of us plays a role? When each member of society plays a role, and we are not able to meet this role. How can we know that each one of us has something to contribute, but still we do not act sufficiently? So therefore it’s time for us to act. Maybe society during the past 20 years has gotten into a dynamic of trying to understand, what is the situation of climate change? And when we are listening, there’s some rules—noble policies. New initiatives are being created, like the REDD initiative, initiative on climate change. Sometimes indigenous peoples and communities do not know about this.

We do not realize that this is going on. But we have our own reality. We know that in our communities things are also changing. And this is affecting us. But when there are some agreements established, global agreements, of course this affects our countries. When there are conventions or bilateral conventions between different programs and countries, these also affect our communities. But, as part of this dynamic, on very few occasions we make clear rules. There are no clear rules to work a relationship between the population and the global rules. So therefore we need to work based on global rules, but these should not affect the rights of the indigenous peoples. That’s one of the messages that we are conveying, almost in all the conferences. How should the roles of each one be properly respected?

Right now we are saying, there is main damage of rights. All the global programs should respect the rights of indigenous peoples. And the main element of life for us, which is the Earth, the land. If there is no land for us, we think that our rights will be breached even [further]. So therefore one of the elements that I see within this climate change scenario, we need to ensure the rights to the land of the indigenous peoples. …

Read more at Forests News 

Indigenous leader at GLF 2014: Development efforts in forests must respect people’s rights

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