PARIS, FRANCE — The sound of drums and chanting rang across the Bassin de la Villette — Paris’ largest artifical lake — on Sunday as representatives from indigenous tribes stretching from the Arctic to the Amazon demonstrated against the extraction of fossil fuels and the omission of indigenous’ rights from an international climate treaty. A group of about 25 activists gathered in canoes and kayaks on the lake, displaying flags emblazoned with traditional symbols, while others joined from above, hanging banners off of a nearby bridge.
Following the demonstration on the water, six indigenous leaders spoke about their desires for a climate agreement that respects their territorial rights and traditional lands. Together, the leaders released three declarations: one signifying the creation of a coalition between all indigenous women of America, one asking that sacred Amazon forests be legally protected, and one asking for an end of fossil fuel extraction and subsidies.
“We are here to call upon the governments of the world that they must respect the rights of Indigenous peoples,” Faith Gimmel-Fredson, executive director of REDOIL and a member of the Neets’aii Gwich’in people, said during a press conference. “No more false solutions. We don’t have time.”
Indigenous peoples, who are often still dependent on the land for subsistence and cultural traditions, are some of the first communities to feel the full force of climate changes. In the Arctic, the Gwich’in people, who depend on the Porcupine caribou herds that migrate from the Alaska’s coastal plains down into Alaska and Canada, have seen their food security threatened as changing climate impacts the caribou’s migration patterns.
“Alaska is ground zero of climate change,” Gimmel-Fredson said. “The ground we walk on is literally melting beneath us.”
In addition to climate change, fossil fuel companies looking to launch exploratory drilling in the Arctic also threaten the Gwich’in peoples’ food security and traditional way of life. Alaskan politicians, including Gov. Bill Walker (I) and Sen. Lisa Murkowski (R), have consistently called for the coastal plain of the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge — a crucial birthing ground for Porcupine caribou and a sacred place for the Gwich’in people — to be opened to oil and gas exploration.
“We kicked Shell out of the Arctic,” Gimmel-Fredson said, but noted that her people still face the “assault of our traditional territories by the fossil fuel extractive industry.”
Despite their proximity to the consequences of climate change, indigenous communities have had to battle simply to be included in the international climate agreement that is expected to come out of the Paris talks next week. As late in the talks as Thursday — two days before the draft of a climate deal was sent to ministers to use as basis for upcoming negotiations — it seemed as if any mention of indigenous communities and indigenous rights might not make it into the agreement. As of Saturday, it appears as though references to indigenous rights have been reinserted into the text.
“It is key that we are here as indigenous communities because we are the frontline communities,” Dallas Goldtooth, of the Mdewakanton Dakota and Dińe peoples, said. “Our relationship to Mother Earth is being impacted, and our way to live our lives is being destroyed.”
The Keep It In The Ground Declaration garnered support from over 150 leaders in the environmental and justice communities, with organizations like 350.org, Center for International Environmental Law, Food & Water Watch, and Friends of the Earth backing the declaration.
Casey Camp-Horinek, an environmental and native rights activist from the Ponca Nation of Oklahoma, spoke of the changes she has seen as hydraulic fracturing has boomed across the state. Since 2009, Oklahoma has seen an intense spike in earthquakes, becoming the most seismically active state in the lower 48 in 2014.
She likened the spread of fracking throughout Oklahoma to the original “environmental genocide,” caused by European settlers bringing smallpox and colonizing indigenous peoples’ land.
“Now, they come with refineries, with fracking, and with pipelines,” she said. “They kill the air, they kill the Earth, they kill the water.”