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Thousands of Delegates Tackle Climate Change Issues at UN Forum on Indigenous Issues

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Representatives of the world’s 370 million indigenous people are gathered at the United Nations this week to demand that their voices be included in future talks on climate change. Over 3,000 delegates are attending the seventh session of the UN Permanent Forum on Indigenous Issues. We speak with Casey Camp-Horinek, a member of the Ponca Nation of Oklahoma. [includes rush transcript]

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This is a rush transcript. Copy may not be in its final form.

JUAN GONZALEZ: Representatives of the world’s 370 million indigenous people are gathered at the United Nations this week to demand that their voices be included in future talks on climate change. Over 3,000 delegates are attending the seventh session of the UN Permanent Forum on Indigenous Issues. They argue that indigenous people in many parts of the world have been among the worst hit by global warming but remain the least responsible for causing it.

Last September, the General Assembly passed an historic resolution calling for the recognition of indigenous peoples’ rights to control their land and resources. But the Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples is not legally binding, because Canada, New Zealand, Australia and the United States voted against it.

AMY GOODMAN: Casey Camp-Horinek is a member of the Ponca Nation of Oklahoma. A lifelong political and environmental activist, she founded the Coyote Creek Center for Environmental Justice. She is a delegate to the UN on behalf of the indigenous environmental network. She joins us now here in our firehouse studio in New York.

We welcome you to Democracy Now! Why are you at the UN? What do you hope to accomplish?

CASEY CAMP-HORINEK: In the long-term effect, I hope to accomplish zero emissions by 2050. I’m hoping that the fossil fuel regime will pay attention to the indigenous knowledge of the peoples globally, so that we’ll be able to make less impact as fossil fuel-burning people and more impact as people who were born this generation to literally save our mother, the earth.

JUAN GONZALEZ: And the focus especially on climate change and its impact on indigenous people, as you’re mentioning, why that particular focus this year?

CASEY CAMP-HORINEK: There is no choice. It’s now is the time and the only time that we have in order to allow the human being to continue to live on Mother Earth. Mother Earth will continue to exist, but with a shrug of her shoulders, she will simply shake us off if we don’t align ourselves with the natural laws.

Right at this time, the disproportional impact of fossil fuels on our lands — and I’m speaking here of the North American natives from Alaska down into the Mexicos — has been such that we are noticing and have been noticing for a full generation the change in the weather patterns, the change in the animals. The ability for our people to sustain themselves in their own traditional areas is becoming less and less. And we simply have had no choice about these giant corporations that come to exist on our lands, with or without our consent.

Our people in the Northern Hemisphere, those up in Alaska and on the Arctic Circle, the permafrost is melting. We hear about the polar bear all the time. And, of course, they’re our relatives, and we do care about them, and their continued existence is coexisting with us. We see our people are dying. We see that their way of life is gone. The caribou trails are gone. And, of course, each of us has our own story.

AMY GOODMAN: You’ve been dealing with environmental issues from Canada, the tar sands, to Alaska, to Oklahoma. What about what’s happening in New Mexico in Desert Rock with the coal-fired plant?

CASEY CAMP-HORINEK: I’m learning more about that. Thank you for asking. The woman that’s working with us named Eloise Brown from that particular area is telling us that she woke up one morning and simply found that they were going to dig in her front yard, literally, right on the edge of the properties that her people have had for millenniums.

My understanding is that it’s all money-based. It’s all about the fact that they believe that the fossil fuels are going to last forever and that we can continue to tear up Mother Earth and extract every last drop of oil and every shard of coal and continue on this false road towards prosperity.

The Dine people have, I believe, four or five coal-burning situations within about a twenty-five-mile radius. She says that they can’t even see some of their sacred places any longer. And it’s affecting the health of the people, as well as the health of those who are going to use that fossil fuel.

JUAN GONZALEZ: The forum at the United Nations has gotten very little attention in the US press, the commercial press. What’s been the reaction in other — the presses of other countries of the world? Has it been ignored as much there, as well?

CASEY CAMP-HORINEK: No, but we’re used to that. You know, we’re a lot more known outside of the United States than we are within the United States, speaking on any indigenous people’s issues. We were talking in the other room when you were speaking about the world hunger issue and talking about what was going on in Haiti. There’s multi, mega farmer things that come onto our lands. Right now, we’re dealing with hog farm issues, where in Yankton, South Dakota, there have been dozens and dozens of natives that have been arrested in the last few days doing a peaceful protest about a mega farm that’s coming onto tribal lands that are checker-boarded these days. But all of it affects us. All of the runoff goes into the Missouri River and down into their lands. They’re being arrested by the dozens, but the USA Today reported about the hog farm was breaking ground, period. So we’re used to this.

AMY GOODMAN: Last question, and that’s about the presidential candidates: what are your views of the US presidential candidates?

CASEY CAMP-HORINEK: I have a very difficult time. I would not say that one candidate is a lot different than the other one when it comes to indigenous issues. We’re under the Department of Interior, the Bureau of Indian Affairs, and very often they’ll talk about the parks and the antelope and even the buffalo and the wolf, but you don’t hear any of them talking about indigenous issues. And so, I’ll have to talk about the president of my tribe, maybe, and I don’t know what his impacts would be to you.

We do, on our lands, have ConocoPhillips, we have Continental carbon black, we have a landfill that’s dwarfing our historic cemetery. And all of these things are poisoning our well water. We’re dying of disproportionate rates of cancers that nobody even hears about. There are less than 800 of us that live locally there. Last year, we had one funeral per week, and you can imagine how that affects a small population. Our children are being affected by this. The health of our people, psychologically, sociologically, culturally, is being impacted in virtually every area.

And those of us who are on the frontlines of the fossil fuel regime are reaching out to ask every person that can hear your voices to pay attention to the indigenous knowledges that are going on and to pay attention to what type of fossil fuel use that they participate in and to ask for a moratorium on new drilling and on new extractions, because only — it’s up to us. Do we want to continue on the face of Mother Earth? Or do we choose to become extinct, along with all of our other relatives?

AMY GOODMAN: Well, Casey Camp-Horinek, I want to thank you for being with us, a member of the Ponca Nation of Oklahoma, longtime political and environmental activist. She’s here at the United Nations for the Permanent Forum on Indigenous Issues.

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