Today saw the inauguration of the third major edition of Indigenous Terra Madre, held in Ainu Mosir, the homeland of the Ainu people on the island of Hokkaido, Japan. With 200 delegates from 27 countries representing countries around the Asia Pacific region and beyond, the event has two main focuses: the resilience of indigenous peoples in the face of the climate crisis, and the necessity of empowering our youth to become the leaders of tomorrow that our communities and our planet need.
The day closed with a symposium dedicated to the theme of healing our broken relationship with the planet, and the impact of this relationship on our food security. As the moderator Melissa Nelson of Slow Food Turtle Island put it, “Mother Earth is speaking to us very loudly, and sending us clear messages. The way our societies are living is creating climate chaos. One of the most powerful typhoons ever witnessed will hit Japan tomorrow, a timely message of the urgency of this situation. The imbalances in our society are being accelerated and magnified. It’s time for us to listen to Mother Earth and to heal it, so that we may pass on our sacred foods to future generations.”
Kazumi Oishi, a shamaness of the Ryukyu people from the south of Japan, said people are “finally coming to accept what shamanic oracles have been predicting for hundreds of years: that our way of life will lead to the destruction of nature. The way we grow food and the way we eat will drastically change. From my experiences meeting other indigenous peoples from around the world, I believe the most important work we must undertake is seed preservation. We don’t know yet which seeds will be best suited for the world of tomorrow, but we need to have the widest choice of seeds available for what tomorrow brings, so conserving our biodiversity is more important than ever.”
Yoshida Kunihiko, a Law Professor from Hokkaido University, stressed the global imbalance in the recognition of indigenous peoples’ rights as stipulated by the United Nations Declarations on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples (UNDRIP) of 2007: “Indigenous peoples have an innate understanding of sustainable lifestyles and holistic philosophies. The enforcement of the UNDRIP is essential for the future wellbeing of all humankind, yet its application is far from sufficient. Presently we have Ainu people being arrested for practicing their ancestral salmon fishing here in Japan, and as such, their rights are not respected. Their recognition as an indigenous people does not go far enough in protecting the rights which come with it. The Boldt Decision in the USA on the other hand, is an example of case law which has had far-reaching consequences for the respect of indigenous rights. There are also efforts in the USA to remove hydroelectric dams which destroy river ecosystems, while in Hokkaido the destruction of nature continues unabated despite the protests of the Ainu people against, for example, the Nibutani dam. There is even an Inter-American Court of Human Rights based in San José Costa Rica, while in East and Southeast Asia we are lacking such vital institutions. But despite the obstacles, we are working towards clear legal goals.”
Nahideh Naghizadeh is a researcher from Centre for Sustainable Development and Environment (CENESTA) and a member of the Union of Indigenous Mobile Pastoralists of Iran. She drew a relatively progressive picture of the situation in her country, where Indigenous Community Conserved Areas in Iran have recently been declared, a new type of protected area that is explicitly self-managed by indigenous or nomadic peoples. “We are working on a social level to re-empower these peoples and recognize their social structures, to advocate for their rights over their territory and their traditional land management systems. These indigenous peoples of Iran account for just 2% of the population, yet they produce 25% of our meat, 35% of our handicrafts and make a major contribution to the country’s economy. They are a critical element of our national food security, and indeed, the conservation of our biodiversity. Their seasonal migrations are a historical adaptation strategy for managing the land and living in harmony with nature. It’s no surprise they are more resilient than non-indigenous communities to environmental problems such as drought.”
“But in order to maintain the health and viability of these communities we also need recognition of land rights. Land is a fundamental element for any food system. And these peoples’ rights to their land must be documented and recognized in order for their traditional knowledge to be preserved, which will be a crucial tool in the fight against climate change. We also need to invest in mobile services that reach isolated communities in order to incentivize the youth to stay in their communities and not migrate to cities. Such a trend spells death for nomadic communities, but it doesn’t have to be this way. We have solutions at hand.”
At the close of the session, when the panel is opened up to the audience for comment, Shizue Ukaji, an Ainu woman born in 1933 raises her voice: “Indigenous people all through the world are all brothers and sisters, we have only one mother and father. I am so happy to meet so many of my brothers and sisters from all around the world here today, and to host them here in Ainu Mosir. How we eat, cook and treat each other: all of this was taught to us by indigenous people, and this is the legacy that I’d like us to leave for future generations.”
by Jack Coulton, October 11 2019