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Pope: We must listen to Indigenous Peoples to address climate crisis

Meeting a group of Indigenous delegates attending the 6th Global Meeting of the Indigenous Peoples Forum, Pope Francis calls for the protection of their rights and highlights the crucial role of indigenous peoples in the fight against climate change.

By Lisa Zengarini

Pope Francis has urged governments and the international community to respect the cultures, dignity and rights of Indigenous Peoples, acknowledging their crucial role in helping address the current global environmental crisis.

The appeal came on Friday as he addressed a group of 40 Indigenous delegates attending the 6th Global Meeting of the Indigenous Peoples Forum, taking place this week in Rome in conjunction with the Governing Council of the International Fund for Agricultural Development (IFAD).

The Forum was established in 2011 as a platform for consultation and dialogue where Indigenous Peoples’ representatives convey their concerns, requests and recommendations to improve their ongoing partnership with IFAD to eradicate world poverty and hunger. 

Indigenous Peoples’ Climate Leadership

This year’s meeting, running until 13 February, is focused on Indigenous Peoples’ Climate Leadership: Community-based Solutions to Enhance Resilience and Biodiversity.

In his address in the Consistory Hall, Pope Francis remarked that the theme offers an opportunity to recognize the critical role indigenous peoples play in protecting the environment and to “highlight their wisdom to find global solutions to the immense challenges that climate change poses to humanity on a daily basis”.

“We should listen more to indigenous peoples and learn from their way of life to properly understand that we cannot continue to greedily devour natural resources, because ‘the Earth was entrusted to us in order that it be mother for us, capable of giving to each one what is necessary to live’. Therefore, the contribution of indigenous peoples is essential in the fight against climate change.”

Reconverting Western models to address the climate crisis

The Pope insisted on the urgent need for “joint actions” and dialogue to reconvert “the consolidated power structures that govern Western societies and, at the same time, “transform the historical relations marked by colonialism, exclusion and discrimination”, because, he said, “the environmental challenge we are experiencing and its human roots have an impact on each of one of us”.

Valuing Indigenous People’s cultural heritage

He therefore called upon governments to recognize the indigenous peoples “with their cultures, languages, traditions and spiritualities”, and to respect their dignity and rights, remarking that “Ignoring the original communities in the safeguarding of the Earth is a serious mistake, not to say a great injustice”.

“Valuing Indigenous People’s cultural heritage and their ancestral techniques will help to embark on paths for better environmental management.”

While commending IFAD’s work to assist indigenous communities in their endeavours for autonomous development, in particular through its special Fund to Support Indigenous Peoples, Pope Francis said these efforts must be intensified and accompanied by farsighted decisions for a “fair transition”.

Harmony with creation key for a good life

Continuing off the cuff, the Pope encouraged Indigenous peoples to persevere in pursuing harmony with creation and in their communities as a key for a “goo,  life”, and expressed his support for their fight against the current extractivist policies which are destroying the Earth.  Indeed he said, the good life “is not doing nothing, ‘la dolce vita’”, it’s harmony with our environment which is more than an equilibrium, because “it’s not functional” to something.

“When people don’t respect the good of the environment, (…) our common good, they become inhuman , because they lose contact with our Mother earth, not in a superstitious sense, but in the sense that culture gives us harmony.”

Indigenous peoples know this too well. This is why, the Pope insisted, “Aboriginal cultures must not be  converted to a modern culture”, but “need to be respected” , and allowed to follow their own path to development, and their wisdom should be listened to. 

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