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Indigenous Voices Sing Out for Earth Justice at the UN

At the end of each April, the Permanent Forum on Indigenous Issues brings a wave of color, song, and spirituality to UN Headquarters. The Forum serves as a space in which indigenous peoples from around the world can shed light on the particular development, peace, and security concerns they feel, challenges they face, and solutions they offer as indigenous peoples. This year, UNANIMA joined members of the NGO Mining Working Group and other religious NGOs sponsored the participation of a delegation of indigenous people representing REPAM, the Pan-Amazonian Ecclesial Network. REPAM has created a school of human rights that recently distinguished 13 specific cases of human rights abuses related to industrial destruction of the environment from throughout Latin America. Prior to their arrival in New York, the REPAM delegation brought 7 of these cases before the Inter-American Court in the United States capitol. During their week in New York City, they had the opportunity to participate in a number of events in and around the UN, including speaking for civil society in multiple side-events to the Forum and meeting with the Permanent Representative of Brazil to the UN, the Special Rapporteur for Indigenous Issues, and a delegation from the Holy See.

The REPAM delegates spoke with passion, poetry, and conviction about the impact of environmental degradation on their livelihood, culture, and identity as peoples of the Amazon. Their unique perspective helped those in attendance re-frame “climate change” as a process whereby mother earth is healing herself from an illness from which the land, the water, the air, and the people suffer together. Lyla June Johnsen, an educator from the Diné People of southwest North America who served as a respondent in one of the REPAM panel discussions, made a strong impression on attendees when she pointed out the window at the bustle of New York City and said, “They say this is civilization. There is nothing more primitive than this. Here we are selling our own grandchildren.” Importantly, they offered their traditional, local wisdom as a means for participation in the healing of our groaning world. Armindo Goés of the Yanomami People of Brazil emphasized empowering people to heal through education. Change of culture, he said, is not about transferring knowledge, but rather, awakening others to the truth that exists within them. A short video on the work of REPAM is available here in Portuguese with captions in other languages. The group has also produced a series of radio programs on Laudato Si’ which are available in English and in Spanish. (Top and bottom photo source: REPAM)