Earth Day 2020. It’s past time we center Indigenous and grassroots leadership & wisdom.

Facing COVID-19 and catastrophic climate change, let us embrace interconnection and a historic redirection of resources to the grassroots.

Artwork by Jackie Fawn, commissioned by Culture Strike. Shared with permission.

As today marks the 50th year celebration of Earth Day, it is especially critical to center the leadership and wisdom of Indigenous Peoples worldwide, who have been stewards of Mother Earth for time immemorial. 

A cosmovision shared by Indigenous communities around the world tells us that we are interdependent. As we grapple with two major crises: the COVID-19 pandemic, and climate change, our interdependence has never been as painfully clear as it is today. Just as the health of one can impact the health of all in times of a pandemic; the harm inflict on our waterways, the air we breathe, and the earth, hurts us all.

The coronavirus is telling the world what Indigenous Peoples have been saying for thousands of years –– if we do not help protect biodiversity and nature, we will face this and even worse threats.”

Levi Sucre Romero, a BriBri Indigenous person from Costa Rica and co-coordinator of the Mesoamerican Alliance of Peoples and Forests in an article via the National Observer.

Legacies of colonization, capitalism, and resource extraction have led to staggering worldwide inequity while devastating people and planet. Just 1% of the world’s population own 44% of the world’s wealth. As we fight to protect Mother Earth, we must also decolonize wealth by mobilizing resources to the grassroots.

Why The Grassroots?

At Thousand Currents, our grassroots and Indigenous partners are climate justice leaders at the frontlines fighting fossil fuels and industrialized agriculture. They are guardians of most of the world’s remaining biodiversity. They are protectors of Mother Earth. As a global community, we have so much to learn from them.

These are just a few of the teachings our Indigenous and grassroots partners have shared with us along the way. They have helped us grow as individuals and as an organization:

A Masterclass on Buen Vivir 

Our partners, Desarrollo Económico Social de los Mexicanos Indígenas (Social and Economic Development of Indigenous Mexicans, or DESMI), one of the oldest and most reputable grassroots organizations in Chiapas, shared with us the Indigenous concepts of Buen Vivir.  María Estela Barco Huerta of DESMI taught us about what’s needed to build individual consciousness, work collectively, and to take a more expansive view of global solidarity.

Learnings from Indigenous Worldviews on Biocultural Diversity

Our partners, the Association of Communities in the Potato Park (ACPP), composed of a group of Indigenous Quechua members in the Andes Mountains of Peru, are keeping the tradition of Sumaq Kawsay, a term closely related to the concept of Buen Vivir or “right living,” reflecting a respectful co-existence with Mother Earth and the ancestral spirits.

Ntinga Ntaba kaNdoda: African-centered, self-determined, and people powered

Our partners, Ntinga Ntaba kaNdoda, a vibrant rural community movement  located in Keiskammahoek, Eastern Cape, South Africa; mobilizes for rights, democracy, land reform, and sustainable rural development anchored in Indigenous knowledge. They are exploring pathways of building community through self-determination and balance with the earth, and their initiatives in agroecology, solidarity economics, and youth-centered leadership development are a powerful example of what community self-determination can look like. 

Strengthening networks.

Graphic notes by Elizabeth Hee of our webinar on global grassroots responses to COVID-19

Our grassroots and Indigenous partners have always shown us that community networks are the first responders in time of crisis. Far before governments or large NGOs enter the picture, local communities and networks are on the ground practicing the truest forms of mutual aid and community care. Their grassroots brilliance in the face of COVID-19 is a testament to how critical it is to mobilize resources to the grassroots, especially as we face mounting threats from climate change in the years to come.

Funding the frontlines.

Indigenous peoples around the world are at the frontlines of the climate crisis and at the forefront of the solutions. Yet over the last few decades, larger funders have predominantly supported top-down strategies to address climate change, neglecting to support bottom-up, grassroots and Indigenous-led solutions that have significant greenhouse gas emissions reduction potential; solutions like agroecology, community governance of renewables, and direct resistance to resource extraction.

Meanwhile, Indigenous frontline land defenders are being targeted, criminalized, and killed by militarized governments and corporate entities. In spite of national lockdowns in response to COVID-19, these threats continue to escalate. Just last month, Zezico Rodrigues Guajarara, an Indigenous leader from northeastern Maranhão state in Brazil was found shot dead, following the murders of five other Indigenous community members fighting illegal logging since November. Now more than ever we must stand in solidarity with our Indigenous brothers and sisters, land defenders, and water protectors.

Indigenous leaders of the Global South presente! at COP25, advocating for Indigenous-led solutions from the grassroots. Photo via Ayse Gursoz.

It’s time to radically reshape our world to care for Mother Earth.

Lourdes Huanga who leads our partner FENMUCARINAP

This year’s Earth Day theme, Climate Action, reminds us that before COVID-19, we were already facing the world’s greatest threat multiplier –– climate change. If we truly want to act on climate and care for the planet, we must embrace our interdependence and step it up.

Let us step up to defend Indigenous rights and support Indigenous self-determination. Let us step up and mobilize resources for grassroots solutions to our shared global challenges. Let us step up and radically reshape our world into one that honors, respects, and cares for Mother Earth.

In solidarity,

By Ayse Gursoz , Communications Manager