How the World is Still Ignoring Indigenous Peoples

By Michele Affinito | Magazine | December 4, 2021

Cover Illustration: COP26 protest on the street of Glasgow. Michael Dougall / Twitter

Magazine reporter Michele Affinito discusses how Indigenous peoples around the world are neglected in climate debates and discussions whilst they are the ones who are most knowledgeable in biodiversity conservation.


Another episode of “world leaders engaging in false promises” took place at the 26th United Nations Climate Conference of Parties (COP26) in Glasgow, Scotland. World leaders engaged in political talks to solve the climate crisis, while greatly ignoring the parts of the world’s population that are the most successful in biodiversity conservation: Indigenous peoples.

A mix of neglecting Indigenous struggles, complex bureaucratic processes, stringent coronavirus measures and border policies have rendered this COP26 problematic, to say the least. Discussion tables have not only been unsuccessful at providing effective policy solutions but many of the policies proposed are also being opposed by Indigenous communities who are tired of the continuous commodification of natural resources. 

COP26 protest on the street of Glasgow. Michael Dougall / Twitter

The promise of net-zero emission through carbon capture markets (reforestation, biofuels and technological innovations) is still heavily linked to the ongoing exploitation of natural resources that has contributed to the destruction of our planet. The proposed “solution” will still allow polluters to buy permits to keep polluting, according to Tom Goldtooth, executive director of the Indigenous Environmental Network. While fossil fuel lobbyists have a seat at negotiation tables, Indigenous peoples are protesting outside against this system that kills environmental activists and disregards their requests.

One could object that, compared to the first COP in 1995 in Berlin, Indigenous peoples are more visible. According to some, we should appreciate what has been achieved. However, in 2020, at least 331 human rights activists were killed, one third of them being members of Indigenous communities, according to a report by Humanity United. Therefore, what has actually been achieved is more attention towards the never-ending violence against a minority that keeps fighting to protect its lands. What do we make, then, out of this visibility, if Indigenous peoples’ stories are still instrumentalized and romanticized? The answer: nothing.

Indigenous peoples are still not taken seriously. If they were, the international community would not have stood for a conference centered around climate issues where an Indigenous activist was invited for the first time and only allowed to speak for three minutes. Txai Suruì from Brazil was allotted this short amount of time at the opening of the COP26 after which the world proceeded to ignore Indigenous requests. Three minutes are not enough. 

Indigenous peoples are not tokens to be used whenever stated and international organizations are targeted with accusations of neglect. They are not flags to be waved whenever convenient, just to be tossed away again once the momentum is lost. Sonia Guajajara, Helena Gualinga, Hinduo Oumarou Ibrahim, Xiye Bastida, Txai Suruì: these are the names of the people who really care about our future, who put their blood, sweat and tears into their activism despite the violence and neglect they face every day. 

We can only dream of a COP27 in which Indigenous peoples will finally be given a seat, or we can actually act to make it possible. We must act to give Indigenous communities a bigger platform to amplify their voices and make our leaders listen. Our future is at stake.

Michele Affinito is a student at the University of Amsterdam. The views expressed here are not necessarily those of The Amsterdammer. 

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