The Original Protectors of Our Earth

Written by Aronya Waller

Photo from the United Nations

“The earth and her creatures are sacred, and Indigenous cultures know that we are all connected to each other and do everything in their power to maintain that balance.”

Mónica Divane, Veggie Mijas Orlando Organizer 

Indigenous communities are the original protectors of Mother Earth. They have protected their lands for thousands of years, respected and honored wildlife, and utilized traditional knowledge passed down for many generations. These communities continue to safeguard some of the most biodiverse areas on Earth. According to The Guardian, “[a]lmost 50% of the world’s land mass (minus Antarctica) is occupied, owned or managed by Indigenous peoples and local communities, with roughly 40% of those landscapes labeled as protected or ecologically sound.” Indigenous communities may only consist of 5% of the global population, but they effectively manage 20-25% of the Earth’s surface. More importantly, they protect 80% of the biodiversity left in this world. As Mother Earth’s caretakers, Indigenous communities play a crucial role in protecting our planet and its biodiversity. 

Photo from Amazon Frontlines

Yet, with all their traditional knowledge and practices, our Original Protectors still find themselves fighting to protect one another. Many indigenous communities suffer disproportionately from biological diversity loss and environmental degradation due to manufactured devastation from large corporations. Due to this, their spiritual connection has been increasingly dissolving. Many Indigenous, especially those in isolated or rural regions, continue to face multiple threats such as disease outbreaks, poverty, environmental injustices, and human rights violations. Furthermore, some populations may even be facing extinction. Nemonte Nenquimo, a leader in the Waorani community in Ecuador, further explained the threats. “Our brothers and sisters living in isolation have made the decision to live in the way of their ancestors, but the world is closing in on them,” says Nenquimo. “The global economy continues to drive poachers, loggers, and land grabbers deep into our territories, putting our peoples at risk.” Their survival is threatened by environmental degradation, deforestation, industrial activities, toxic waste, and forced migration. This is compounded by climate change. 

Photo from Amazon Frontlines

Indigenous communities have been trying to fight climate change using their traditional knowledge. They have developed sustainability practices that could be recreated globally. Their knowledge of plants, animals, and ecosystem management has been essential in finding ways to adapt to climate change. For example, the Kichwa Sarayaku people in Ecuador developed a proposal that protects the forests and keeps fossil fuels underground based on the principle of living in unison with the natural environment. The Kawsay Sacha (Living Forest) proposal was presented at the Twenty-Third Conference of the Parties to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change in Bonn, Germany. The idea of living as one with nature stems from the traditional knowledge of the Indigenous community of the Amazonian Rainforest. “The earth and her creatures are sacred, and Indigenous cultures know that we are all connected to each other and do everything in their power to maintain that balance,” Veggie Mijas Organizer Mónica Divane explained. “They don’t live to profit off their fellow man. Indigenous people live to protect the sacred balance because they understand that once that balance is off, humans will inevitably be affected.”

As we focus on climate change and protecting our environment, we must prioritize centering the Original Protectors, the only people who have maintained a connection with Mother Earth since the beginning of time. “I believe maintaining the sacredness of the natural world, knowing that everything is alive and connected to each other, is why the Indigenous people are the best protectors of the Earth,” Divane said. Ancestral knowledge and traditional practices will continue to impact significantly the protection of our climate and the survival of our world.


Challenges and Opportunities for Indigenous Peoples’ Sustainability

Indigenous peoples and the nature they protect

Why protecting Indigenous communities can also help save the Earth

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