Honoring Indigenous Peoples and Local Communities on World Rainforest Day

June 22 is World Rainforest Day, a day to raise awareness and encourage protective action in one of the world’s most extraordinary ecosystems: the rainforest.

Healthy forests are one of the most effective climate change mitigation tools for reducing carbon dioxide levels in the atmosphere, regulating the water cycle, and producing oxygen. In addition to their function as carbon sinks, forests provide social, environmental and economic benefits to many communities around the world.

We want to take this opportunity to acknowledge that indigenous peoples are the best guardians of the rainforest and have been for generations. There is an intrinsic relationship between indigenous peoples and the rainforest; their knowledge is the key to protecting our forests.

More than 1000 indigenous rainforest communities still exist, and of the world’s 300 million indigenous people, 50 million live in or depend on tropical rainforests. The Amazon alone is home to more than 30 million people, including 350 Indigenous and ethnic groups who directly depend on the rainforest for food, clothing, medicine and culture.

Unfortunately, all of these communities face the threat of deforestation, forced displacement, and extinction. With the eradication of these groups, we will also lose generations of indigenous knowledge and practices dating back thousands of years of peaceful coexistence between ethnic groups and rainforests.

Five Indigenous Rainforest Communities

Here are five indigenous rainforest communities around the world and their practices that we should celebrate this World Rainforest Day:

Sateré-Mawe from Brazil

The Sateré-Mawé are a forest people whose ancestral land is the headwaters of the Amazon tributary. Due to encroachment and interactions with the invaders, most of the Sateré-Mawés have been driven from their homes and forced to settle in urban areas. The Brazilian government has relaxed environmental controls in hopes of developing the Amazon, and as a result, the original reservation has been invaded by miners and loggers. Fires are used to clear land for livestock and agriculture, and most of the forest has been destroyed.

Samela Sateré-Mawé is a young grassroots activist who takes inspiration from indigenous culture and Swedish activist Greta Thunberg for the fight for the environment and the rainforest. He believed that indigenous peoples were an extension of nature and that nature was an extension of him; if the rainforest is going to die, so are the people.

Nail-Yalanji in North East Queensland, Australia

The Kuku-Yalanji are an indigenous tribe located in the tropical rainforests of Australia. They are the only tribal rainforest people in Australia to still have their own culture and language, and have a history that goes back 50,000 years to Australia’s earliest human occupation. They are dedicated conservationists, taking from the forest only what is absolutely necessary. They believe that taking from the forest today means less for tomorrow. They also believe that the spirits of their deceased ancestors seek refuge in the forest and remain there, watching over the tribe and making sure that all obey their rules and laws.

Penan Sarawak, Malaysia

Sarawak is part of Borneo, the third largest island in the world, and is home to many tribes. The Penan are the last surviving hunter-gatherer tribe in Southeast Asia. From an early age, children are taught to share whatever is caught or picked. Sihun seen as a significant offense for these people and roughly translates to a failure to share. Due to logging and other human-wildlife conflicts, only 200 of the 10,000 Penan people are able to maintain a nomadic lifestyle. The Penans depend entirely on the forest for survival and are skilled at tracking and hunting, but the Sarawak state government does not recognize the Penan rights to their land. As a result of forest destruction, many Penan people suffer from malnutrition.

Peng Megut was one of the last nomads of Borneo. He and the people of his tribe are currently fighting against the oil palm plantations that have been developed on their land. Most members of the Penan tribe have moved to the villages and are now plantation workers on the forest lands that were once their home.

Colombian Village

Desana are a small community of hunter-gatherers from the Amazon region of eastern Colombia. Desana has passed down a myth that conveys the importance of preserving forests from generation to generation. Desana believes that all living things are connected by a shared energy and feed each other. Man should only take in no more than is necessary from this life energy. When they hunt, they treat each animal with respect and care, and when they consume the animal, the energy is then transferred to humans. When a human dies, his soul is returned to the animal, and his energy replaces the animal lost to hunting. This allows their energy to flow in a continuous cycle.

Mbororo from Chad

The Mbororo are a nomadic community of cattle herders living throughout Central Africa’s Sahel. They observe nature and study animal behavior to determine their seasonal migration patterns. In Chad, the seasonal migration of people helps fertilize the soil and provides a natural barrier to deforestation. They have also helped regrow vegetation and fight desertification. In the tropical forests of Africa, where some communities use wood products to build settlements, they do so without negatively affecting the nature around them.

Hindou Oumarou Ibrahim is an environmental activist, coordinator of the Association of Women and Indigenous Peoples of Chad (AFPAT), and co-chair of the International Indigenous Peoples Forum on Climate Change, the indigenous peoples caucus for the UNFCCC. He is a member of the Mbororo herders in Chad. He works to combine indigenous knowledge with science to fight climate change. He understands that indigenous peoples must be equal partners in the struggle and urges world leaders to implement indigenous-led solutions.

Save the Rainforest

These are just a few of the thousands of indigenous communities that exist within the world’s rainforests. Indigenous peoples are the best forest guards because they depend on biodiversity for survival and are not motivated by greed that drives environmental destruction.

Indigenous peoples must be at the forefront of nature conservation. Maintaining the balance of the ecosystem has always been a way of life for indigenous peoples. Unfortunately, although they are the first to preserve the environment, indigenous peoples are also the first to suffer from climate change.

EARTHDAY.ORG understands that reforestation is one of the most important and accessible ways that communities can contribute to solving the challenges of climate change and protecting indigenous peoples.

We are committed to continuing The Canopy Project and investing in internationally responsible reforestation programs.

We ask everyone to Invest in Our Planet through individual action and grassroots activism. As individuals, through changing awareness, behavior and practice, we all have the capacity to make a difference and take action against climate change. We hope to encourage and inspire everyone to involve their community in environmental activism.

Finally, we must use our networks and privileges to prioritize the voices and knowledge of the people who inhabit and have been the strongest protectors of the rainforest.

Leave a Comment

%d bloggers like this: