By Caroline Wambui
Biodiversity and Climate Manager
Laudato Si’ Movement 

As we mark this year’s International Day for the World’s Indigenous Peoples, we celebrate the role Indigenous People play in protecting God’s creation and biodiversity.

Did you know that Indigenous Peoples represent less than five percent of the world’s population but protect 80 percent of the world’s biodiversity?

Who are they?
Spanning across the Arctic to the South Pacific, Indigenous Peoples are “descendants of those who inhabited a country or a geographical region at the time when people of different cultures or ethnic origins arrived,” according to a common definition from the United Nations.

Indigenous societies are found in every inhabited climate zone and continent of the world except Antarctica. It is estimated that there are approximately 5,000 Indigenous nations throughout the world.

The value that Indigenous Peoples and Local Communities bring towards the conservation of biodiversity is vital and vast. A study by the ICCA Consortium that focused on 17 Indigenous and local communities worldwide states that “human rights must be at the heart of conservation policies in order to protect the already diminishing biodiversity”.

As Pope Francis wrote in Laudato Si’, “For them, land is not a commodity but rather a gift from God… When they remain on their land, they themselves care for it best” (LS 146).

His Holiness also compels us to rethink the role Indigenous People can play in caring for God’s creation.

“I urgently appeal, then, for a new dialogue… We need a conversation which includes everyone, since the environmental challenge we are undergoing, and its human roots, concern and affect us all” (LS 14).

These are communities that have relied on and cared for the land for generations, building an intimate knowledge of the natural cycles of plants, animals, and weather.

Leveraging their traditional practices and unique governance systems is vital, as these allow for protection of ecosystems and biomes better than the already existing states or other agencies. Laudato Si’ has reminded us about the importance of caring for nature and the respect for the Earth and its ecosystems.

As Catholics, we’re called to join Indigenous Peoples across the world and tell world leaders that we need international agreements that bring Laudato Si’ to life.

Below, ahead of two vital UN summits later this year, join the thousands who have already signed the “Healthy Planet, Healthy People” petition and tell world leaders how they should do.

By doing so, you’re helping Indigenous People in the Amazonian region, where Indigenous communities, such as Huaorani, Sápara and Sarayaku Kichwa Originary Peoples, have lived in a sustainable way for a millenia, nourishing themselves without damaging the environment. A true “harmony with nature.”

Africa’s Indigenous Peoples and Local Communities have been forced to exist around government-drilled bores of water, extractive industries, and logging companies that have heavily depleted the very foundations of the second-largest biome in the world.

Yet Indigenous Peoples throughout the continent have persisted and remain the continent’s caretakers.

Local practices of traditional farming are now vulnerable to effects of the climate crisis. For thousands of years, Indigenous Peoples in the United States of America have deployed mitigative tactics, such as building rock walls at the low tides, which helps bring more shellfish and that helps their food security.

The Swinomish have already kicked off projects aimed at helping the communities adapt to a shifting climate, though this has to be done faster than ever before.

They have been protecting the salmon population in the Skagit River by planting trees to provide shade and reduce river temperatures.

Indigenous Peoples and Local Communities have had this intimate dance with nature for centuries, but they can’t do this alone, and they shouldn’t have to do so much.

This year, we have an opportunity like no other to let world leaders know how we feel about protecting God’s creation. Show them how you feel by signing the “Healthy Planet, Healthy People” petition.

“The effects of the present imbalance can only be reduced by our decisive action, here and now” (LS 161).