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Indigenous Leaders at the Front Line of Climate Change, at the Front of the Historic Climate March in Copenhagen

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On Saturday, over 100,000 people marched in Copenhagen calling on world leaders to agree to a just climate policy. Leading the march was a delegation of indigenous leaders from communities on the front lines of climate change. Democracy Now!’s Anjali Kamat and Elizabeth Press speak to indigenous activists at the march and at the Danish National Museum. [includes rush transcript]

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

AMY GOODMAN: This is Climate Countdown. We’re broadcasting live from Copenhagen in our exclusive two-week series on the climate talks. I’m Amy Goodman.

On Saturday, over 100,000 people marched in Copenhagen calling on world leaders to agree to a just climate policy. Leading the march was a delegation of indigenous leaders from communities on the front lines of climate change.

Democracy Now!'s Anjali Kamat and Elizabeth Press spoke to indigenous activists at the march and at an earlier event at the Danish National Museum.

    FIU ELISARA: Well, I’m Fiu Elisara from Samoa, a small country in the Pacific. I’m here in Copenhagen, because as small island countries, the whole issue of climate change is an issue of life and death for many of our peoples and indeed our countries. And as indigenous peoples, too, it’s a huge issue for us, because a lot of the solutions that are being proposed in Copenhagen are all terrible, flawed solutions that would not do anything about the objectives of the climate change convention about curbing climate change and stopping emissions. But they are, in fact, making the problem worse.

    And it’s really sad to see that there is no political will to actually make it work, and instead of cutting greenhouse gas emissions and the commitments made by the developed countries, they are in fact now shifting the responsibility to us, who have contributed very little or nothing to the whole problem, and yet we really are at the forefront of the impacts, the negative impacts.

    MALIA NOBREGA:Aloha kakou. My name is Malia Nobrega, and I’m from the island of Kauai in Hawaii, which is, unfortunately, an illegal part of the United States of America. For me, back home on Kauai, my family, we’re salt producers. And it’s the last place in the islands of Hawaii that continue to make salt in this traditional way. And we’re seeing the disappearance of our land, which — where we can produce salt.

    PROTESTERS: Leave the oil in the soil! Leave the oil in the soil!

    ROBBY ROMERO: My name is Robby Romero. I am from the Apache and Pueblo territories of the Southwest, Turtle Island. And I’m here because I think it’s vital that indigenous peoples’ voice is part of the global conversation, especially when it comes to climate change. I believe that everything new is hidden in the past and that indigenous peoples are the first to be impacted. They live at the point of impact and are the first to experience the ruin and unnecessary desecration of land and life. And it’s their wisdom, along with modern science — it’s going to take both — to lead us into a time of healing. And if the indigenous voice is not included in the negotiations here at COP15, it will be a major, major mistake.

    JOHNSON CERDA: My name is Johnson Cerda. I am a Quechua Indian from the Ecuadorian Amazon, and I grew up in the rainforest. Now we are here because we understand that climate change —- in the climate change negotiation, we need at least to put our voice first. Second, we want to insert some safeguards for indigenous peoples. And the third thing is that we need to also say here that we have knowledge, and we can share our knowledge.

    SARIMIN BOENGKIH: My name is Sarimin Boengkih, and I come from a small island in the Pacific region called New Caledonia. We are losing land. With losing land, we lose identity. We lose our sovereignty on food. We lose our culture. We lose our languages. So it is very important for us, for the future generation, that the world leaders listen to us, take into account our rights, and sign a good long-term, binding agreement.

    MALIA NOBREGA:Well, we’re hearing that what will come out of Copenhagen is a six— or seven-page political statement. I think at this point, for the indigenous caucus, we want to at least have a few sentences within this whole document that will recognize and respect our indigenous rights, because that will create the framework for any future negotiations.

    GUNN-BRITT RETTER: My name is Gunn-Britt Retter. I’m working for the Saami Council Arctic and Environmental Unit. I am from a small town on the northeast coast of Norway called Unjárga, or Nesseby. And I’m a Coastal Saami. It’s not only the climate change that’s a challenge to us, but also the national state’s mitigation efforts. So we don't only see — as the Arctic Ocean opens up, we don’t only see a race for the oil and gas resources, which also impacts our lands; we also see a race for green energy and windmills and water power plants and nuclear plants actually impacts our land, as well. So the mitigation measures are as big a challenge as climate change in itself.

    PROTESTERS: Fight for justice! Fight for justice! Fight for justice!

    FIU ELISARA: Unfortunately, they are now proposing a whole lot of geo-engineering solutions, so-called solution techno-fixes, to the problem. And we are — we are really looking at that with a huge concern, because the Pacific Ocean now is being targeted for ocean fertilization. And that has never been tested. And we are concerned that the languages here does not even address the whole issue of relevant and appropriate technologies. And the fact that, you know, developed countries are trying to integrate intellectual property rights into technology makes it unaffordable and inaccessible for people like ourselves in the Pacific.

    PROTESTERS: Climate justice! Climate justice! Climate justice!

    JOHNSON CERDA: In relation to our contribution, we have, as I said, knowledge, but the problem is that, here, most of the countries, they believe that they have the knowledge. Also organizations, you know, NGOs, they are saying that “We want to go to train the communities to understand what is climate change.” We feel the climate change. We know what’s climate change.

    PROTESTERS: ¡El pueblo unido, jamás será vencido! ¡El pueblo unido, jamás será vencido!

    FIU ELISARA: We are saying that climate is going to be the economic crisis. It’s going to cause economic crisis. It’s not only affecting our peoples, small island countries, the Pacific and indigenous peoples of the world; it’s already knocking at the doors of the rich countries. And if they don’t do anything about it, and if they don’t heed the caution of the scientists, if they don’t heed the spirit of Bali to do real solutions and to address climate change, unfortunately, the whole world and Mother Earth is — it’s going to be, you know, the end — it’ll be the end of all of us.

    ROBBY ROMERO: I think that what we do now, or fail to, in this moment will be humanity’s defining legacy.

AMY GOODMAN: That report by Anjali Kamat and Elizabeth Press, indigenous leaders on the front lines of climate change, on the front lines of the climate protest.

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