'We are rebels': Indigenous women take lead on climate action at COP28

Fredi Ponce Parra, a student at the College of St. Benedict and St. John's University, writes about how Indigenous women made their voices heard at COP28 in Dubai.

'We are rebels': Indigenous women take lead on climate action at COP28
Panelists at COP28 spoke about 鈥淐limate Champions: Indigenous women leading livelihoods and food security" in Dubai in 2023. (Courtesy of Fredi Ponce Parra)

This piece is part of Project Optimist's student and community reporting program in central Minnesota. A group of students conducted field reporting at the COP28 conference in Dubai and wrote stories that highlight their research. Fredi Ponce Parra is a senior at the College of St. Benedict and St. John鈥檚 University with a major in political science and a minor in history.

Indigenous women are among those who are currently facing the ramifications of climate change, along with other challenges like sexism and access to education. 

At the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) 28th Conference of the Parties (COP28) in Dubai, Indigenous women made their voices heard through speeches, panels, and demonstrations. Although they were not around the negotiation tables, they made strides in their visibility during the conference, held from Nov. 30 to Dec. 13, 2023.

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Indigenous people had a dedicated pavilion at COP28. There were also more pavilions in the conference where Indigenous people participated and were given spaces to speak.

Indigenous people have unique connections to their land. To them it is not a parcel or real estate. It is their home and their relatives. Indigenous spirituality is fundamental to this connection to land. Indigenous people see animals, plants, water, and the earth as their relatives. Mother Earth provides us with everything we need to survive, and we must take care of her.

Ketty Marcelo L贸pez is the president of Organizaci贸n Nacional de Mujeres Ind铆genas Andinas y Amaz贸nicas del Per煤 (ONAMIAP). This Indigenous woman-led organization focuses on advocacy for Indigenous women鈥檚 rights in Peru. 

Indigenous women speaks about impact of climate change at COP28.
Ketty Marcelo Lopez, president of Organizaci贸n Nacional de Mujeres Ind铆genas Andinas y Amaz贸nicas del Per煤 (ONAMIAP), speaks at the COP28 conference in Dubai in 2023. (Courtesy of Fredi Ponce Parra)

At COP28, she explained her spirituality by her relationship to rivers: 鈥淚 was born by the Peren茅 River, and I grew up by the river. The river was my friend and continues to be my friend. After school, when I was about 6 years old, I would leave my notebooks and go play. In the city, kids go to the playgrounds, they learn to swim in pools. I learned to swim in the river, that was my playground.鈥 

She continued, 鈥淲hen I moved to the city, I was missing something. In Lima, it is all cement. I would look for a river, the R铆mac River, which is nasty. I would look at the river and I would feel peace. My daughter too looks for rivers because I do, unfortunately she didn鈥檛 grow up with the river I did. For 30 years, the Peren茅 River has been polluted by mines with lead. I don鈥檛 enjoy that river anymore, my children didn鈥檛 get to enjoy that river, and it is like seeing a brother agonize, and just watching him die.鈥

Mayra Macedo, president of Organizaci贸n de Comunidades Ind铆genas de Mujeres Shiwilu (OCIDMUSHI), had a similar sentiment, 鈥淲hen there is deforestation, we don鈥檛 just see trees die. In those forests are our sacred sites. We are fed and healed by Mother Nature. That鈥檚 why we are thankful for her and feel the need to keep defending her." As species leave and die due to climate change, Indigenous people face the consequences.

The same is true for Indigenous people in Minnesota and the United States. Turtle Island, also known as North America, is the ancestral homeland of the first people. In Minnesota, or Mni S贸ta Makh贸膷he, the Dakh贸ta and Anishinaabe people were stewards and caretakers of the earth long before any European settlers came to this land. 

Young man in a suit and tie poses for a photo.
Fredi Ponce Parra (Courtesy of Fredi Ponce Parra)

The Dakh贸ta and Anishinaabe people have deep connections to this land. This is where their ancestors lived and played, where their dead are buried, where they find healing, and where they were forcefully removed from. They are still here. This is not unique to the Dakh贸ta and Anishinaabe people.

Many of those sitting around the negotiation tables at COP28 are not people on the front lines of the climate crisis. Women, children, the elderly, those with disabilities, and Indigenous people worldwide are among those who are facing the dangers of the crisis while contributing little to carbon emissions, according to the United Nations and the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency.

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Indigenous people are experiencing the ramifications of climate change. Wilma Mendoza Miro is the president of Confederaci贸n Nacional de Mujeres Ind铆genas de Bolivia (CNAMIB). She explains that 鈥淥ur population has suffered devastating fires, we鈥檝e lost sources of water, (sources of water) aren鈥檛 satisfactory anymore, the seasons are not the same. We can clearly see there is change. There is no guarantee of our food sovereignty.鈥

Marcelo L贸pez, Macedo and Mendoza Miro said climate solutions cannot come without Indigenous people, especially Indigenous women, at the table.

鈥淏eing an indigenous woman means resistance,鈥 said Macedo. 鈥淲e are rebels, rebels to this system that we want to change.鈥

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