Of the many thousands of participants at the Bonn climate conference which begins on 6 November, there will arguably be none who come with as much hope, courage and anger as the busload of indigenous leaders who have been criss-crossing Europe over the past two weeks, on their way to the former German capital.
The 20 activists on the tour represent forest communities that have been marginalised over centuries but are now increasingly recognised as important actors against climate change through their protection of carbon sinks.
In the run-up to the United Nations talks, they have been visiting the UK, France, Belgium, the Netherlands and Germany, talking to city leaders, environment NGOs and youth groups. Their aim is to build support for their role as forest defenders – a role that frequently puts them odds with agribusiness, mining companies and public security. The Observer caught up with them on the road to Paris.
“We have been looking after the forest for thousands of years. We know how to protect them,” said Candida Dereck Jackson, vice president of the National Indigenous Alliance in Honduras, as she outlined the principal demands of the group: respect for land rights, recognition of crimes against the environment, direct negotiations over forest protection, decriminalisation of indigenous activists, and free, prior and informed consent before any development by outsiders.
In one sense it is part of a battle that first peoples – as many indigenous groups refer to themselves – have been fighting since their territories were colonised hundreds of years ago. But this time the campaign is being waged from a bus – previously used for rock music tours and election campaigns – in the context of growing concern about the climate and environment.
This has provided some overlap with their ancient struggle to retain ancestral land and a different set of values.
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