I was part of a ``historic’’ moment in Xcaret, on the Mayan Riviera of Mexico, earlier this month. Here representatives of indigenous organizations worldwide had gathered together with government representatives of various governments, including Bolivia, Panama, Philippines, Trinidad and Tobago, Guyana, Bangladesh, and Peru to prepare a strategy for giving voice to the concerns of the indigenous groups in the COP-16 negotiations in Cancun in November.
This was the first time a country has supported indigenous peoples in preparing for a COP, normally dominated by policy wonks and government negotiators. Historically, relations between indigenous groups and states have been confrontational in nature; in Latin America in particular, there has been a history of violent events, including the long civil war in Chiapas. The process of inclusion, however, is fundamental in many Latin American countries, as indigenous peoples form a significant demographic group─15 million in Peru, 12 million in Mexico, and about 6 million in Bolivia and Guatemala.
Against this backdrop, it was heartening in Xcaret to see, indigenous leaders and government officials, jointly preparing a strategy to voice their preoccupation and concerns over issues that will come with climate change and have the potential to affect all groups. In the meeting, indigenous peoples presented themselves as first and foremost “citizens” of those countries, even though different from the mainstream. This time, the governments were actually listening to their voices. It is becoming increasingly recognized that indigenous peoples are among the most vulnerable to climate change, due to their dependence upon, and close relationship with, the environment and its resources. Climate change is expected to exacerbate existing inequity faced by indigenous communities in the form of political and economic marginalization, loss of land and resources, and ultimately their distinct ways of life.