NEW YORK – In the front rank of the march against global warming on Friday in New York, 16-year-old Swedish environmental activist Greta Thunberg is immediately recognizable, but together with her there are “other Gretas” – indigenous leaders who have come from all over the world to demand that humanity unite to defend Mother Earth.
“We urgently need help, not to lose nature and indigenous people for business and political reasons,” young Bolivian Maria Jose Bejarano de Oliveira, 18, told EFE, adding that she was selected by her community to represent the Confederation of Indigenous Peoples of Bolivia.
“The Chiquitanos Indigenous Peoples of Bolivia are in a devastating situation, there are four million hectares (10 million acres) burning and the government is not declaring a national disaster,” said Bejarano, who considers it a privilege and a “responsibility” to bring her voice to the worldwide strike.
Along with her, at a meeting with reporters before the march in southern Manhattan, is 17-year-old Brazilian Artemisa Barbosa Ribeiro, a combative activist of the Xakriaba tribe who recently accompanied Thunberg to the US Congress to demand solutions.
Wearing a tiara of feathers and with her face, chest and arms painted, Barbosa lambasted Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro, criticizing that “indigenous blood is being spilled each time the government receives money” for projects that destroy nature, “which is the life of everyong, not just us.”
“As young indigenous people we’re asking humanity to join the struggle,” said the Minas Gerais resident, a Brazilian state where mining has contaminated the water, reduced the resources of local residents and resulted in their deaths, she added.
Panama’s Militza Lizbeth Flaco Suira lamented the deforestation in the area near the border with Colombia: “Seeing that climate change is destroying our Mother Earth breaks my heart. We’re here to join forces with the activists. It’s not only we indigenous people who are fighting, it’s everyone’s fight.”
These young people and their territories are part of a global alliance of communities that spans 16 countries in the Amazon basin, the representatives of which gathered on Friday at a breakfast prior to the march.
For five years, the alliance has been pursuing its work and denouncing not only “crimes against the environment, but also against humanity” – veteran Brazilian indigenous activist Sonia Guajajara, a 2018 Brazilian vice presidential candidate, said.
Having arrived recently in New York for this week of action against climate change and top level UN meetings, Guajajara warned how governments are “altering the truth” in their favor and are criminalizing the native peoples.
She said that there are 14 sites of conflict that have emerged this year in Brazil and 180 measures being pursued in Congress that threaten indigenous lands. “They are handing the Amazon away to foreigners, especially to the United States,” she said.
The general coordinator of the alliance, Ecuadorian Tuntiak Katan, said that they have come to New York “so that the (Climate) Summit doesn’t just remain promises, but so there will be action and concrete solutions. We don’t want an international declaration, that’s not worth anything.”
Katan applauded the mobilization headed by the young people to support the “demands of centuries” being brought into the public eye by the “protectors of biodiversity,” to whom the millions of dollars mentioned at international forums never arrive, he said.
He also said that everyone there was “open” to cooperating with governments and invites them, just like the rest of society, to perform “personal awareness-raising work” from which projects contributing to change can emerge.
The indigenous peoples on Friday are starting an “unequal struggle,” given that to demand their rights they must abandon their territories and families, but there is hope despite the “world pandemic,” as Costa Rican Levi Sucre Romero, the coordinator of the Mesoamerican Alliance of Peoples and Forests, said.
“For the first few years, we did activities apart from official events because they didn’t let us enter, there’s a filter ... But after we raised our voice, we’ve managed to open things up a little: Three minutes to speak before the Summit on Sept. 23,” he said.
“It’s a tremendous boost for young people to have joined the fight against climate change. They say that young people are the future, but they are also the now, and they live now, with us,” the activist said, noting the actions of “resistance” and the events ahead in the coming days.