Indigenous delegates to UN talks in Copenhagen debut video evidence, accounts of climate change

December 03, 2009

A delegation of more than 20 indigenous teens, women, elders and shamen heading to historic Copenhagen climate talks today offered the world self-created video evidence and testimonials of climate change problems in their far-flung home communities.

The videos include scenes of cows and zebra dead or dying of drought in Kenya; parched landscapes and stunted crop growth in Cameroon; destructive, unseasonal summer downpours in Peru, and a dry, rerouted river in the Philippines among other images and personal accounts of the impact climate change and development are having on indigenous people.

The testimonials also describe the unintended consequences of imposed climate change mitigation efforts on local livelihoods, and examples of the value of traditional knowledge in responding to climate change.

Created with the support the California-based Christensen Foundation, award-winning community video trainers, photographers and non-governmental organizations, the vignettes, entitled Conversations with the Earth (CWE), debuted today online at

The Conversations with the Earth videos, together with complementary documentaries prepared by Tokyo-based United Nations University, also form part of an Indigenous-led film and multimedia exhibition at the National Museum of Copenhagen, to start Dec. 8 as delegates gather for the landmark UN Framework Convention on Climate Change conference.

The indigenous peoples delegation, some members traveling overseas for the first time, will be aided by interpreters to participate at the UN talks Dec. 7 to 18. Their agenda includes discussion of the controversial international REDD (Reduced Emissions from Deforestation and Forest Degradation) program, adaptation strategies and other topics at a special Indigenous Day symposium Dec. 12th

Conversations with the Earth is a collaboration between Land Is Life of Boston, an indigenous rights advocacy group, and UK-based community video trainers InsightShare, in collaboration with photographer, Nicolas Villaume.

The effort has connected indigenous groups and communities living in critical ecosystems around the world, including the Atlantic rainforest, Central Asia, the Philippines, the Andes, the Arctic, and Africa.

The Kenya video is particularly compelling, documenting the impact of an intense drought hitting the Maasai community. During these extremely hard times, pastoralists have been losing their cattle -- their main and sometimes only livelihood -- while the elderly and the sick have begun dying from malnutrition and other causes.

Post-Copenhagen, CWE will launch a series of presentations worldwide to expand the success of connecting indigenous communities to share adaptation strategies and link with rest of the world around key climate change issues.

"Indigenous Peoples have contributed little to climate change. Yet, they suffer from the brunt of direct and immediate effects of escalating global warming," says Inupiat leader Patricia Cochran, Chair of the Indigenous Peoples Global Summit on Climate Change.

"Despite the recent adoption of the UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples, they continue to have little say in the UN climate negotiations, epitomizing the climate injustice."

"At this critical time of global decision-making, indigenous voices have an important message for the global community and future generations," she adds. "From Papua New Guineans working to save their seaside homes, to Maasai villagers responding to cattle-killing drought, Conversations with the Earth enables indigenous communities to give dramatic first-hand accounts of their experience with climate change."

"We are a harbinger of what is to come, what the rest of the world can expect."

"Traditional and indigenous communities depend on a relationship with healthy ecosystems and possess a wealth of knowledge, wisdom, and practical experience in adapting to long-term changes in their environment," says Brian Keane, Director of Land is Life.

"The pace of change is such, however, that indigenous communities are struggling to adapt to what's happening," he adds.
Quotable quotes from Conversations with the Earth

"We do not have much, but what we have is out there." Charley Swaney, Arctic Village, Alaska, USA

"Our proverb says, 'The ox never gives birth, and it never rains in the dry season.' But now we have rains in the dry season, and it'd dry in the rainy season." Shagre Shano Shale, Doko, Ethiopia

"You rich countries are very happy about what you're doing, going about your business, not knowing that your actions are damaging our reefs and our islands." John Pondrein, Manus, Papua New Guinea

"It is now the turn of the people to suffer because the animals have largely already died." Oloodo Saitago, Masaai Community Elder, Kenya

"We have never come across a drought that affects zebras and donkeys...They are the last to be affected. This is an emergency and it is getting worse." Benson K. Letuya, Kenya.

"The forest was like an umbrella...very lush with no dry ground. The trees are now gone. Next we'll be selling stones," Benjamin Koroe, Kenya.

"Most of the fruits on the trees fall early. There is simply not enough water to give them strength." Unnamed interviewee, Eastern Cameroon

"We don't know where to find fish to eat. The temperature is unnaturally high in both the dry season and the wet season; there is no more difference between the seasons. The Earth has changed."

Unnamed interviewee, Eastern Cameroon "Nowadays rain is falling really heavy. When it is cold it penetrates our bones. And when it is warm the sun burns our skin like fire."

Unnamed interviewee, San Juan de Dios, Peru "The Pachamama (Mother Earth) did not receive any of our words."

Unnamed interviewee, San Juan de Dios, Peru "The weather keeps changing; that is the problem. We can no longer predict it. Previously it was best to plant in May. But now the rain keeps changing. You can see how unhealthy our plants look."

Unnamed interviewee, Philippines. "My neighbours ask the skies: Why did you rain? Our crops will be ruined. It's a puzzle to us why it's raining in mid-summer."

Unnamed interviewee, Philippines. "So now we continue assert our right to defend the land the water the forest. Because without these, how could we live, where would we go?"

Unnamed interviewee, Philippines. "When it is really clear and nice it is too hot. And that's when we can't do any hunting because the animals won't get close."

Unnamed interviewee, Ikaluktutiak, Cambridge Bay, Nunavut Canada "It is said long ago by my ancestors and even the ministers and priests that the world would change and be harder. It is getting different and all the animals will be dying and we will have nothing to eat."

Unnamed interviewee, Ikaluktutiak, Cambridge Bay, Nunavut Canada

Christensen Fund

The Christensen Fund assists people and institutions that believe in a biodiverse world infused with artistic expression. It works to secure ways of life and landscapes that are beautiful, bountiful and resilient, working in regions chosen for their potential to withstand and recover from the global erosion of diversity. The Foundation backs the efforts of locally-recognized community custodians of this heritage, and their alliances with scholars, artists, advocates and others. It also funds international efforts to build global understanding of these issues.


UK-based InsightShare works with Indigenous communities to identify, train, and equip local videographers to enable them to record the impacts of, and responses to, climate change at the local level. Creating and sharing these video stories enables Indigenous peoples to contemplate and present their own perspectives on the effects of climate change to inform the global debate.

Nick Lunch, Director, +44 7766 178533,

Land is Life

Founded in 1992 with headquarters in Boston, Land is Life work to help indigenous communities secure rights at local and national levels, and to advance dialogue and action to achieve international legal recognition of indigenous peoples' rights to self- determination and collective ownership of lands, resources and knowledge.

Brian Keane, Director, +1-978-660-2102,



Irma Luz Poma Canchumani (Spanish speaking)
Indigenous Quechua farmer and video project facilitator from Vilccacota, Central Andes.

Francisca Angelica Canchumani Ricse (Spanish speaking)
Shaman, healer and local elder; mother of Irma. She will lead healing rituals in Copenhagen.


Venant Messe (French speaking; some English)
A Director of Okani, (which means rise up), an Indigenous-led organization in Eastern Cameroon that trains communities in filming and storytelling techniques. Mr. Messe is a teacher who works across Central Africa and a dedicated community leader in increasing international demand as an advocate of Baka/Pygmy rights.

Marcelline Eboko (French speaking)
Venant's wife, charged with support of Baka women.


Moses Mopel Kisosion and Jemimah Maitei Kerenge, (both English speaking)
Maasaï community representatives, video project facilitators and trainers.


Jennifer Awingan (English speaking)
From the Cordillera of Northern Philippines, Jennifer is a young Igorot leader who coordinates Asia Pacific Indigenous Youth Network (APIYN), which promotes and defends the rights of indigenous peoples in general, especially youth..

Haydee Sixto Banasen and Keidy Magtoto Transfiguracion (both English speaking)
Indigenous video project facilitators and trainers.


Pamela Anne Hakongak Gross, (English speaking)
Pamela is an Inuk raised in Nunavut and the Northwest Territories, studying Anthropology and Aboriginal studies at Carleton University, Ottawa.

Jeanette Kakafwi (English speaking)
Born in raised in the Northwest Territories, Jeanette leads a participatory video project exploring how climate change affects health and wellness.


Jesùs Smith (Spanish speaking)
Jesus is affiliated with the Foundation for the Promotion of Indigenous Knowledge (FCPI), working to strengthen the Kuna community's ability to respond to issues affecting their land and welfare.

Diaguidili Deleon Merry (Spanish speaking)
Represents Kuna youth.


Gloria Ushigua (Spanish speaking)
Gloria is a Zapara traditional Shaman and leader of the Zapara people of the Amazon rainforest, a small group of about 450 people living on both sides of the Ecuador-Peru border. She first came out of the forest in 1990, when it was thought that the Zapara were extinct, to protect her ancestral homeland. Since then, she has made great strides for the Zapara. She spearheaded a campaign that resulted in UNESCO designating the Zapara culture as a "Masterpiece of the Intangible Heritage of Humanity."

Moi Enomenga (Spanish speaking)
Moi Enomenga founded the Waorani representative organization. He has been a leader in the conflict between Waorani rights and oil development on their ancestral homelands. Moi is well known because of the central role he played in Joe Kane's book "Savages."


Marcos Terena (Portuguese and Spanish speaking)
Marcos Terena, a co-founder of Land is Life, founded the first indigenous peoples rights movement in Brazil in 1977.


Sarah James (English speaking)
Sarah James is an elder of the Gwichi'in people, 'the people of the caribou,' of Alaska and northwest Canada. In Gwichi'in territory, the complex signs of climate disruption start with simple factors: drier summers, erratic snow, abrupt temperature shifts, and melting permafrost. Whole lakes disappear when the permafrost melts. The Gwichi'in residents of Arctic Village have so far counted eighteen vanished lakes, entire ecosystems perished.

Robby Romero (English, Spanish speaking)
Robby Romero is a US Apache / Tewa activist and musician. In 2003, Robby created a campaign to protect the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge from oil development.


Herculano Nava represents the indigenous communities of the Alta Tarahumara region on the advisory council of the
Mexico's Federal Government's Commission for the Development of Indigenous Peoples.


Shagre Shano Shale, an elder of Doko village.


Alejandro Argumedo, Director, Asociación ANDES, a Quechuan agronomist from Peru and a graduate of McGill University, Canada, actively involved in the international policy debate on indigenous knowledge, intellectual property rights, access to genetic resources, benefit sharing, and related biodiversity issues.

Arrangements are being made for Indigenous leaders from other regions, including Kyrgyzstan and Tajikistan, to join the delegation.

Christensen Fund

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