Indigenous communities emerge as proactive negotiators

T. V. Padma

T. V. Padma
South Asia regional coordinator, SciDev.Net

For me, a refreshing change in climate change and sustainable development meetings, compared to the high-brow, purely scientific meetings, is that they bring in local communities’ representatives on the podium to share their insights and wisdom.

And so I enjoyed listening to Roberto Marin,  (Asociación de Capitanes y Autoridades Tradicionales Indigenas del Pira Parana (ACAIPI), Colombia; Jaqueline Dias, (Articulação Pacari) PCARI, Brazil; and  Myrna Cunningham, member, UN permanent forum on indigenous issues ad executive director of CADPI, Nicaragua, albeit I had to make do with an English translation of their speeches in Spanish or Portuguese.

They narrated their struggles to preserve their culture and knowledge even as they assimilate some of the more ‘modern’ concepts of education and health; their efforts to forge inter-cultural universities for indigenous community students and with special courses on traditional knowledge; and their emergence from passive or helpless, marginalized victims of relentless modernization to determined negotiators in international treaties and conventions.

For example, Brazil’s Pacari network brings together 47 traditional pharmacies and community-based organisations to cultivate medicinal plants, preserve traditional ecological knowledge and health traditions, and protect biodiversity in the Cerrado (savannah) biome.

With no comprehensive legislation that recognizes traditional health practices in Brazil, the network mobilized medicinal plant producers and local health practitioners to create self-regulating policies; set standards on the amount of plant used to prepare traditional medicines, safety and sanitary conditions for plant processing; and sustainable harvesting techniques.

And Myrna Cunningham Kain was the first Miskitu woman to become a surgeon, and was the founder and first rector of the University of the Autonomous Regions of the Nicaraguan Caribbean Coast (URACCAN).

Jennifer Rubin, climate frontlines negotiator at UNESCO, explained how indigenous communities are determinedly making use of state and national dialogues; and UN mechanisms, to express their concerns ad protect their rights. Indigenous people live in or sue resources on some  22 per cent of the world’s land area, which harbours 80 per cent of the global biological diversity.

They made effective interventions in the Convention on Biological Diversity   (CBD), but feel they are yet to make a similar dent in climate change negotiations.  There has been some progress though. – recognition of indigenous knowledge at the the 2010 Cancun adaptation framework principles; and the upcoming fifth IPCC assessment report.

Indigenous people have not been passive. We are negotiating, resisting, adapting, and engaging with policymakers, nationally and internationally,  Rubis said.

This blog post is part of our Forum on Science, Technology and Innovation for Sustainable Development blog which takes place 11-15 June 2012. To read news and analysis from the conference please visit our website.

One Response to Indigenous communities emerge as proactive negotiators

  1. drpremrajpushpakaran says:

    Indigenous Knowledge Day (Aug 22), will spread a global message on protecting the traditional knowledge of the native communities.

    prof. prem raj pushpakaran

Comments closed. Read our blogs at

Please log in using one of these methods to post your comment: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: