A Conversation with a Forest Guardian

In the midst of the buzzing Green Zone at the COP22, I had the gift of having a brief yet enriching exchange with an indigenous woman from the Brazilian amazon. Indigenous peoples are among the first to experience the effects and injustices of climate change. They have the smallest carbon footprint yet they are the ones forced to tackle the disasters. Their basic rights are continually being taken away in favour of mass corporations and industry. They are becoming victims to a problem they didn’t cause, and their recognition and traditional knowledge is the perfect solution. Here is a short interview made possible by the help of translator Daniel from the front lines of the Indigenous Peoples Pavilion at the COP22 in Marrakech.


Q: What is your name and where do you come from?

A: My name is Rosemary and I am from the Indigenous peoples of Arapaho from the Amazonia region of Brazil.

Q: Why have you come to the COP22?

A: Because I am part of an indigenous movement that is voicing our basic rights to our land and to our Amazonian forest.

Q: Thank you, for doing what you are doing. What are the fundamental ways of life for your people?

A: My indigenous people are rooted in our territory and our forests. We depend on the health of nature to survive. Nature’s health is our health. We live in unison with nature.

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T-shirt: In defence of constitutional rights of indigenous peoples

Q: Can you give me a description of your community?

A: My indigenous Arapaho people live between Venezuela and Columbia. We are only 20 families and live closely together. In terms of nature, we dedicate our time in hunting, farming, fishery, handy crafts, and cultural celebrations. And when we do these things, we do them together, we are intergenerational. The mothers, fathers, children, and grandparents are all working with one another, learning from each other.

Q: How is your community affected by climate change?

A: Some years ago, everything was normal, everything was balanced. But now, our cultivation is thrown off. When we are supposed to plant, the land isn’t ready. When we try to do what we have done for centuries, what our ancestors have done, it is extremely hard, because everything has changed. Things have gotten out of control. Our crops are dying. Our agriculture, our food, has been greatly affected. In the spring, the flowers are no longer there, everything is mixed up. We have lost control of everything and our culture is struggling to manoeuvre the rapid changes we are directly experiencing.

Q: If you could give a piece of knowledge to government bodies and politicians and they would listen to you, what would it be?

A: Our Indigenous peoples live very closely with the forest, with the Amazonia. Our forests are the lungs of the universe. If this is the case, how is it that societies don’t recognise us. How is it that societies don’t treasure these forests and the people that have come to know it so well. They just think they can plant a tree every now and then. What we do, however, is a different thing. We know that we depend on the forest, that we depend on our waters, on the animals that are here, on our entire ecosystem. Our life is the forest’s life. There is no difference. This is what matters. This is what we should think about. The loss of this fundamental knowing of balance and connectivity is what we should be working to restore.

Q: Thank you. Thank you so much. Do you have any questions to ask me?

A: Why are you interested in indigenous peoples? Do you see us in any way as an example of anything, and if so how are we an example for society?

Yes, I definitely see you as an example for society. To me — a person who does not belong to any tribe — I feel a loss of community. I long for tradition, for ancestral culture, to know the land and the land to know me. What you have is so special, so many of us are tangled in consumerism and blinded by industry, so many of us have forgotten what our bodies, what our lives are made of. You are a living reminder that we are deeply connected to our ecosystems. You are a beautiful example of the harmony that can exist between humans and nature. Hopefully one day we can all begin to honour this. It is time that we all start becoming guardians of our planet’s natural resources.

Thank you. Obrigada.

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Written by Gabrielle Royo-Fay

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