On environmental and biodiversity issues, the influence of indigenous peoples is more important than ever at the international level, says a member of the Karen indigenous people of Myanmar.
“In indigenous cultures, we look at a woman’s cooking. If she has a wide variety of indigenous seeds, she is industrious and a valued community member. For us, this is a more important indicator of wealth than money.” Naw Ei Ei Min, Member of the Karen indigenous people of Myanmar.
On the occasion of International Mother Earth Day, celebrated every year on April 22, Naw Ei Ei Min, a member of the Karen indigenous people of Myanmar, explains why indigenous peoples play an important role in protecting the environment and combating the climate crisis.
“For indigenous peoples, land, forest and water represent life. We depend on nature and care for our landscape. Natural resource management is an important part of our way of life. For example, the way we use crop rotation, and avoid monocultures by planting various types of crops on our lands.
In indigenous cultures, we look at a woman’s cooking. If she has a wide variety of native seeds, she is industrious and a valued community member. For us, this is a more important indicator of wealth than money.
Environmental influence is more important than ever
I started working with the Asia Indigenous Peoples Pact, an organization that represents 14 countries on the continent and advocates for indigenous communities in the General Assembly. I decided to focus on the role we play in protecting biodiversity.
When it comes to the environment and biodiversity issues, our influence is more important than ever at the international level. In the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) there is now a platform of local communities and indigenous peoples.
This is a great achievement for indigenous peoples, as it provides us with an arena for indigenous knowledge and allows us to participate in the decision-making process.
But these changes must also extend to the national, regional and community levels. The real change has to happen on the ground. The complex way in which international agreements are negotiated sometimes does not fit with how we communicate; there still needs to be more equity in our participation and giving a voice to those of us who care about climate change.
Climate justice is a fundamental element
The destruction of the natural environment means the disappearance of our traditional way of life. Indigenous peoples are suffering the effects of climate change every day, on the ground, on their lands and in their communities.
We face the threats of climate change, and also the continued exploitation of natural resources. That is why climate justice is so important. If we are to find lasting solutions to the crisis, we must consider indigenous peoples’ views.”
Naw Ei Ei Min represents the Asian continent at the United Nations Permanent Forum on Indigenous Issues. She spoke to UN News during the 22nd session of the Forum, which was held April 17-28  at UN headquarters in New York.