Preliminary Pages

Prologue FILAC

The present report shows how important and urgent it is to protect the forests and communities of indigenous and tribal peoples’ territories. It demonstrates that the threats to these forests and their inhabitants are growing in a way that is disproportionate and unsustainable, even though indigenous and tribal peoples have been good guardians of nature. In response, it proposes a set of investments and policies for climate funders and government policymakers to, in coordination with indigenous and tribal peoples, help catalyze culturally sensitive sustainable development processes for this sector of the population.

For the Fund for the Development of the Indigenous Peoples of Latin America and the Caribbean (FILAC), territorial rights are one key component for indigenous peoples to be able to define how they live. They provide a space where indigenous peoples can reproduce, practice, preserve, and revitalize their own political, economic, social, legal, and cultural system, in harmony with nature.

In that context, it is worth highlighting the emphasis this report gives to how important the indigenous and tribal territories are in terms of their:

  • vast landmass;
  • great capacity to capture and store carbon;
  • enormous biodiversity;
  • rich and diverse cultures; and
  • potential contribution to culturally sensitive rural development and achievement of the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs).

It is fundamental to compensate indigenous peoples for helping to revert the negative consequences of the current development model, which has been especially harmful for indigenous and tribal peoples. The indigenous and tribal peoples of Latin America and the Caribbean are increasingly worse off compared to other groups. This deficit began with the loss (dispossession) of many of their territories and servitude, enslavement, and forced labor. Some contemporary forms of enslavement persist to this day, and “should be eradicated immediately”, as the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR) noted in 2009 in relation to the indigenous Guaraní communities in the Chaco region.

©FAO/ Mauricio Mireles
Traditional clothing of the Guna Indigenous People Púcuro Indigenous Territory, Darién Province, Panama.

Three quarters of the planet are covered with water. Barely two decades ago, it seemed like there would be enough of the vital liquid to meet every woman and man’s needs. On average, Latin America and the Caribbean is the region with the most available water: 33 580 cubic meters of water per person per year, without even including the great subterranean Guarani aquifer, between Argentina and Uruguay. The region has four of the most important rivers in the world (Amazon, Paraná, Orinoco, and Magdalena) and some of the largest lakes. Nevertheless, unrestrained forest destruction and waste, among other things, have made some nations, literally, die of thirst.

Based on their view of the good life (buen vivir) our indigenous peoples protect the water, the air, the earth, the forest, life, which interrelate with each other and form the basis for life.

Indigenous and tribal peoples’ persistent demands for their rights and own forms of development, and their persistent defense of their territories and natural resources have become increasingly visible in recent years. This has also come with a resurgence of the criminalization of indigenous movements, and their leaders and authorities, and the propagation of undesirable practices of discrimination, persecution, racism, and assassinations.

A new relationship with indigenous peoples implies allocating resources to revitalize their intangible wealth of cultures and ancestral knowledge. That immaterial cultural patrimony provides a holistic foundation for the indigenous peoples’ systems of communal living, including their forestry management practices, such as assisted forest regeneration, selective harvesting and reforesting, and assisted growth of trees within existed forests.

In recent years FILAC has learned various lessons, based on its experiences implementing community-designed sustainable development projects. Now that the world faces a global emergency and the effects of the COVID-19 pandemic, FILAC is more convinced than ever that specific strategies and approaches are need for indigenous and tribal peoples for three reasons:

  1. The great majority of indigenous and tribal peoples live under structurally vulnerable conditions – many of them live far from urban areas and have extremely limited access to basic services, including healthcare and water.
  2. These are peoples with their own cultures and require an approach that integrates academic knowledge with their own contexts, knowledge, and ancestral practices, including their own languages and medical systems, among others.
  3. For indigenous communities, especially those that belong to peoples with small populations, keeping the virus out of their territories is a matter of life and death, not only for the individuals concerned but for their existence as a people. Given the immunological situation of many communities, the presence of COVID-19 can have dramatic consequences for these peoples, as happened in the past with other diseases.

Given all this, the time has come to create a more inclusive, resilient, and sustainable future. This requires new ways of conceptualizing and “doing” development, to achieve a “good co-existence” between peoples and between humans and other living beings, nature. That is the basis for really addressing the threats against and rapid destruction of the forests and habitats of indigenous and tribal peoples’ territories.

President of the Fund for the Development of the Indigenous Peoples of Latin America and the Caribbean (FILAC)