Indigenous peoples make up less than 5% of the global population, yet they take care of 80% of global biodiversity. For centuries, they’ve been Earth’s foremost protectors, with collectively held wisdom and ecological knowledge that’s key to solving the climate crisis.
Words by Kate Newman
“Indigenous knowledges are not a backup plan anymore, they are the plan” — Dr. Cutcha Risling Balding
In the spirit of protecting earth, here are five inspiring and Indigenous custodians with an important message that we can learn from and amplify.
Originating from Northern New South Wales, Amelia Telford is an Aboriginal and South Sea Islander woman from Bundjalung country who is sowing the seeds of climate action.
From a young age, she witnessed the threat of climate change to the wellbeing of her culture, particularly the land erosion occurring in her hometown. She realised that whilse climate change affects us all, the impacts aren’t evenly distributed. Rising sea levels force Indigenous communities off of their land and increasing extreme weather events affect remote infrastructure the most, often inhabited by First Nations communities.
“It’s people of colour and people in low socioeconomic communities, women – that often face the most severe consequences.”
Winning multiple awards, including Australian Geographic Young Conservationist of the Year in 2015, Amelia also founded Seed; Australia’s first Indigenous Youth Climate Network where she aims to build the next generation of Indigenous activists to protect their land, culture and communities in the fight for climate action.
A name for everyone to know!
— Follow @seedmob to learn more.
Nemonte Nenquimo is a Waorani woman from the Amazonian region of Ecuador.
Well known for her success in protecting the Amazon from oil extraction, Nemonte and the Waorani people filed a suit against the Ecuadorian government, claiming that they did not obtain prior consent to the Waorni people to auction their land off to oil companies.
The case was a success, which not only protected 500,000 acres of rainforest from exploitation, but also meant that the government would have to provide informed consent before auctioning off any other land in the future – a huge win for Indigenous communities that has spread waves of hope!
Nemonte is one of the founding members of the Indigenous organisation, Ceibo Alliance, and was named by Time Magazine as one of the most influential people of 2020. Her mission is to demand that Indigenous communities are respected, andtheir land is protected too.
She is a true champion of the Earth.
— Follow her at @nemonte.nenquimo.
Born in 2004, Autumn Peltier is an Anishinaabe Indigenous clean water advocate from Wikwemikong First Nation Manitoulin Island, in Ontario, Canada.
Known as “the water warrior,” she is a leading local youth environmental activist, who began her fight for the right to clean water for Indigenous Canadians at just 8 years old. At the young age of 13, Autumn addressed world leaders at the United Nations on the issue of water protection, and in 2019 she was nominated for the International Children’s Peace Prize.
“We can drink neither money nor oil. We have to do everything we can for water.”
In August of 2020, she released a short documentary “The Water Walker” which traces the roots, passion and perseverance of her role in the Indigenous and global youth environmental movement.
Autumn continues her work in protecting the sacred element of “blue gold”, and advocates for access to clean water for Indigenous peoples across the world.
— Follow Autumn at @autumn.peltier.
John Aini is an environmental advocate from New Ireland, the northernmost province of Papua New Guinea. During his work in the 1980s, John began to notice environmental decline and started giving presentations to neighbouring villages on the need to use their natural resources sustainably and to resist harmful commercial fishing efforts.
In 1993, John and other members of his family turned these presentations into Ailan Awareness, an NGO that focuses on not only conserving marine ecosystems, but that also helps local communities connect scientific marine knowledge with an Indigenous understanding of the sea.
In 2012 he was awarded the Seacology award; an annual recognition for the heroic achievements of Indigenous leaders who risk their lives and wellbeing to protect their land’s ecosystems and culture.
By empowering coastal communities to manage the marine resources they depend on, John has done so much to protect both the people, their livelihoods, and the beautiful reefs of New Ireland for many generations to come.
— Visit Ailan Awareness to learn more.
Xiuhtezcatl Martinez, also known as ‘X’, is a 20-year-old Indigenous climate activist and hip-hop artist of Aztec heritage, unique for using popular culture as a tool for resistance and reimagining the future for his generation.
‘X’ has not only spoken multiple times at the United Nations (in 3 different languages: English, Spanish, and Nahuatl – his Indigenous language), he has also given 3 ted talks, filed a lawsuit against the U.S federal government for failing to act on climate change, and is the Youth Director of Earth Guardians; an organisation working with young people around the planet to protect our Earth, air and water.
Through his music, Xiuhtezcatl aims to highlight the environmental issues facing the entire nation, in the hope that the importance of climate awareness would spread throughout his generation.
— Follow ‘X’ at @xiuhtezcatl.