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Climate Justice: Can you hear their voice?

This article is the third installment of our climate justice series.  Read the other articles here.  

Reading the fifth chapter of Mary Robinson’s book, Climate Justice, introduces us to two women, Hindou Oumarou Ibrahim and Jannie Staffansson. Both belong to groups of native nomads and yet their lives and experiences are worlds apart. 

Hindou, is a member of the nomadic Peule-M’bororo people who live on the fringes of the Sahel Desert and wander with their livestock over the borders of Chad, Cameroon, Niger, Nigeria and the Central African Republic. 

 Jannie’s nomadic family are the Saami – indigenous reindeer herders who trek the northern portions of Norway, Sweden, Finland and the Kola Peninsula of Russia.  

Generations of Saami and M’bororo have roamed traditional lands for thousands of years.  Their pastoral ways of life are embedded deep in their culture and in their cumulative knowledge of land and animals.  Traditions, based on cycles of time, season and weather, make up much of their collective identity. These traditions, passed down from generation to generation, are now under threat because of climate change.

Their pastoral ways of life are embedded deep in their culture

In the past, the M’bororo, could predict rainy seasons and growing seasons.  The Saami instinctively knew when to move their herds based on predictable snow and ice conditions.  But there is a change in the weather, which has become less predictable. Today, the Saami and the M’bororo lead delicate lives, challenged by melting ice, inconsistent rains, and unpredictable weather. Food and water scarcity dramatically impacts nomadic tribes. Men are challenged as they look after farms and herds, and women confront managing families with dwindling resources.

Jannie and Hindou are fortunate.  Both are well educated – not a privilege often afforded to girls in nomadic tribes.  Their education has opened doors for them, doors to explore science and climate change to better help their people. 

The agreement fell short in respect for indigenous peoples

Both were invited to attend the 2015 COP21 Climate Summit in Paris. The agreement created there set the tone for future global climate action, however the agreement fell short in respect for indigenous peoples. More powerful groups had their way at the expense of indigenous rights by excluding indigenous rights from the final drafts.  More powerful nations were able to fight and defend their interests at the expense of ignoring the life and death struggles of indigenous people. Through further lobbying, indigenous representatives secured a provision to the Paris Agreement creating a “Platform for Indigenous Peoples.” Here they hope their voices will be heard as they relate their front-line battles with climate change.

Will you listen?

When important decisions need to be made, the most equitable decisions are ones that equally involve all stakeholders.  We afford everyone a “seat at the table” to ensure all voices will be heard. The table is not just set for the rich or those with the loudest voice.  It is open to all who have a stake in the discussion. It is unfortunate that we have not included those most vulnerable to climate change from the beginning.

The table is not just set for the rich or those with the loudest voice.

Human rights and environmental rights are directly linked for indigenous people.  Their life is their land and environment. They are inseparable. Long before scientists tracked climate change, the world’s indigenous peoples noticed changes in weather.  They have new stories to tell. Stories of inconsistent rain, stories of melting ice, stories of struggle and survival. The world can learn from these stories.

Will we listen?


Photo by Daniel Fontenele on Unsplash


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