Indigenous Groups Call for Bold Steps at Amazon Summit

Indigenous leaders from across South America called Monday for bold steps to protect the Amazon and their ancestral lands, ahead of a summit on saving the world’s biggest rainforest.

Brazilian President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva will host fellow regional leaders Tuesday and Wednesday for the first summit in 14 years of the eight-nation Amazon Cooperation Treaty Organization, seeking a roadmap to stop the destruction of one of Earth’s crucial buffers against climate change.

Native leaders who took part in pre-summit talks last weekend in the host city, Belem, called on Lula and his counterparts to create new Indigenous reservations — one of the best ways to protect nature, according to experts — and rethink the way the world views the rainforest.

“The forest isn’t an oil well, it’s not a gold mine. It’s our temple,” said Nemo Guiquita, head of Ecuadoran Indigenous confederation CONFENIAE, which represents 1,500 Amazon communities.

“We hope our views will be included in the [summit’s] final statement,” she told Agence France-Press, saying politicians should not be the only ones deciding the future of the Amazon.

“We’re calling on world leaders to work hard to promote conservation. Our struggle isn’t just for Indigenous peoples, it’s for the entire world, so future generations can survive on this planet.”

Brazilian Indigenous Affairs Minister Sonia Guajajara called the summit a “historic moment” for Indigenous peoples.

“We’re not just thinking about the next four years, we’re thinking about the next 40,” she told AFP.

The participating countries — Bolivia, Brazil, Colombia, Ecuador, Guyana, Peru, Suriname and Venezuela — are due to discuss strategies to fight deforestation and organized crime in the Amazon and seek sustainable development for the region.

Colombian Indigenous leader Dario Mejia, a member of the Zenu people and representative on a United Nations panel on Indigenous issues, urged world leaders to fundamentally rethink the idea of “economic development.”

“There have been many different names for the market economy. First, ‘progress.’ Then. ‘development.’ Now, ‘the bioeconomy’ or ‘transition economy,'” he said.

“But if we don’t overcome the values of cut-throat competition, of permanent war on nature, it’s going to be very difficult to overcome the environmental crisis. … I want to hope [the summit] will prove an important step for us all.” 

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