This crisis, Xiuhtezcatl Martinez told the Global Landscapes Forum this past June — not having to name which crisis he was talking about — “is one of the most unifying moments of human history.”
Or divisive, depending on which side of the Amazon fires you happen to stand.
Young people the world over rose in solidarity with elders of indigenous communities from some 83 countries this past June in Bonn, Germany, as they stood up for their rights as sole stewards of their lands, all the while embracing the challenge of confronting the global climate crisis and stemming the tide of devastation left in its wake.
Martinez, with his indigenous Aztec heritage, is the youth director of Earth Guardians, and is one of 21 young people suing the US federal government for its inaction on climate change. Martinez will speak at the Global Landscapes Forum in New York on Sept. 28, around the time teen climate activist Greta Thunberg will address the UN General Assembly.
Indigenous voices are being heard more often of late, if not exactly listened to.
Perhaps they should be listened to, if the words of Raoni Metuktire, chief of Brazil’s Kayapó people, are to have any meaning. In a searing op-ed essay for The Guardian earlier this week headed “We, the peoples of the Amazon, are full of fear. Soon you will be too,” Metuktire was both sombre and reflective as he chose his words carefully, and reached for some deeper meaning behind the fiery headlines.
“You destroy our lands, poison the planet and sow death, because you are lost,” he wrote. “And soon it will be too late to change.”
The warnings have been there since the ancestors, for “you, our brothers who have brought so much damage to our forests.
What you are doing will change the whole world and will destroy our home — and it will destroy your home, too.”
The young people, the climate activists — Thunberg, Martinez, Alexandria Villasenõr and countless others — are the future. Their vision quest has allowed them to see.
“We call on you to stop what you are doing, to stop the destruction, to stop your attack on the spirits of the Earth,” Metuktire wrote. “When you cut down the trees you assault the spirits of our ancestors. When you dig for minerals you impale the heart of the Earth. And when you pour poisons on the land and into the rivers – chemicals from agriculture and mercury from gold mines – you weaken the spirits, the plants, the animals and the land itself.
“So why do you do this?
”We can see that it is so that some of you can get a great deal of money. In the Kayapó language we call your money piu caprim, “sad leaves,” because it is a dead and useless thing, and it brings only harm and sadness.
When your money comes into our communities, it often causes big problems, driving our people apart. And we can see that it does the same thing in your cities, where what you call rich people live isolated from everyone else, afraid that other people will come to take their piu caprim away from them. Meanwhile other people starve or live in misery because they donʼt have enough money to get food for themselves and their children.
“But those rich people will die, as we all will die. And when their spirits are separated from their bodies their spirits will be sad and they will suffer, because while they are alive they have made so many other people suffer instead of helping them, instead of making sure that everyone else has enough to eat before they feed themselves, which is our way, the way of the Kayapó, the way of indigenous people.
“We all breathe this one air, we all drink the same water. We live on this one planet. We need to protect the Earth. If we donʼt, the big winds will come and destroy the forest.”