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(Photo: Allan Lissner / Indigenous Environmental Network)

'Keep Fossil Fuels in the Ground: A Declaration for the Health of Mother Earth'

Indigenous leaders from around the world, along with allies, are demanding real climate solutions, including bottom-up initiatives originating in their traditional knowledge, culture, and spirituality.

Jon Queally

Demanding their voices be heard, their rights respected and that fossils fuels be left in the ground to spare humanity and Mother Earth, Indigenous people from around the around the world made their latest mark on the ongoing climate negotiations in Paris on Sunday by crossing the Bassin de la Villette in the heart of the French city, assembled in a flotilla of traditional boats, kayaks, and canoes.

In addition to the action on Paris' largest lake, the groups also held a press event where they presented a joint declaration articulating their sacred and collective demand that in order to preserve balance and harmony with the planet's living systems, the ongoing COP21 climate talks must go further than powerful governments have so far allowed.

"We are here to call upon the governments of the world that they must respect the rights of Indigenous peoples," Faith Gimmel-Fredson, executive director of REDOIL and a member of the Neets’aii Gwich’in people, said during a press conference after the action. "No more false solutions. We don’t have time."

"We ARE the balance, we LIVE the balance and this is our contribution here in Paris." —Felix Santi, Kichwa community As Natasha Geiling, who attended the protest and subsequent press conference, reported for ThinkProgress:

Despite their proximity to the consequences of climate change, indigenous communities have had to battle simply to be included in the international climate agreement that is expected to come out of the Paris talks next week. As late in the talks as Thursday — two days before the draft of a climate deal was sent to ministers to use as basis for upcoming negotiations — it seemed as if any mention of indigenous communities and indigenous rights might not make it into the agreement. As of Saturday, it appears as though references to indigenous rights have been reinserted into the text.

"It is key that we are here as indigenous communities because we are the frontline communities," Dallas Goldtooth, of the Mdewakanton Dakota and Dińe peoples, said. "Our relationship to Mother Earth is being impacted, and our way to live our lives is being destroyed."

Goldtooth, who campaigns for the Indigenous Environmental Network, spoke on behalf of the coalition to express their collective opposition to many of the misguided proposals that have been put forth at the COP21 conference, such as carbon markets, techno fixes, and top-down efforts that contradict nature's logic and beauty. In contrast, the numerous tribal members, leaders, and allies—representing Indigenous Peoples from the Arctic to the Amazon—put forth their demands for real climate solutions, which they said includes bottom-up initiatives originating in Indigenous knowledge, culture, and spirituality.

"Considering that Indigenous communities often face the worst consequences of climate change, the decision to reject Indigenous Rights and advocate for false solutions is not only offensive and intolerable, but illogical and destructive to the climate change movement as a whole," said Goldtooth. "Carbon trading and REDD+ projects are schemes to continue business-as-usual, nothing more. We, as frontline Indigenous communities, are the arbiters and innovators of real solutions towards mitigating climate change."


As part of their day of action, the Indigenous groups and their allies released a joint declaration, titled Keep Fossil Fuels in the Ground: A Declaration for the Health of Mother Earth (pdf).

"We’re here to present our proposal of kawsak-sacha: the living rainforest, the living Amazon," said Felix Santi, president of the Kichwa community of Sarayaku in the Ecuadorian Amazon. "This proposal respects all living beings and helps achieve a balance of our planet, our Mother Earth. Indigenous peoples live with this wisdom – live in harmony with these living beings, and we’re here to protect the lagoons and the water, the trees and the mountains. We ARE the balance, we LIVE the balance and this is our contribution here in Paris."

The complete text of the declaration follows:

We come together, recognizing the rights of nature and our interdependent and spiritual relationship with Mother Earth.

We honor Indigenous peoples’ spiritual and sacred understanding of Mother Earth and their relationship with her.  We respect their leadership in restoring humanity’s sacred and healthy relationship with the natural world.

We recognize that the extraction, transportation, and consumption of fossil fuels has caused serious harm to the land, air, water, atmosphere and all forms of life, and is a major contributor to our climate crisis and mass extinction. These harms are disproportionately borne by those who do not profit from the economic and political systems that have caused them, bear no responsibility for the crisis, and lack adequate resources to adapt to our changing climate. This includes communities directly injured by the extraction and use of fossil fuels and those on the frontlines of the climate crisis.

We recognize that to avoid exacerbating the climate crisis and to return to a healthy relationship with Mother Earth, the vast majority of the world’s fossil fuels must remain in the ground. Governments must put the needs of people and communities above corporate profits by taking bold and immediate action to end fossil fuel extraction because the natural world can no longer wait. International forums such as the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change’s 21st Conference of the Parties in Paris provide important opportunities for world leaders to strengthen community energy by making ambitious progress towards keeping fossil fuels in the ground.

We strive for a world in which all people and our governments and institutions:

  • Respect the rights of nature, Indigenous peoples, immigrated communities and communities forced to migrate, women, frontline communities and future generations, including the internationally recognized rights of Indigenous peoples to free, prior and informed consent and their right to say “no” to extractive activities on their traditional lands;
  • Repair the damage caused by centuries of colonialism, racism, environmental genocide, and extractive economies;
  • Promote an economy that is based on interdependence with and responsibility towards Mother Earth, remains within ecological limits, and redefines wealth away from financial accumulation and towards sufficiency and well-being; and
  • Make a just transition to democratized, equitable, clean and 100% renewable energy for all.

To achieve this vision we demand:

  • Full recognition and support – including adequate and direct funding – of the rights of Indigenous, impacted and frontline communities, and their informed and effective leadership and participation in developing and implementing this vision;
  • Fossil fuels be kept in the ground by ending exploration and new extraction to protect Mother Earth and remain well in line with Indigenous knowledge and scientifically based climate limits;
  • An immediate end to public funding and other subsidization of fossil fuel exploration, extraction and infrastructure, and investment of the resources necessary to enact a just transition to a clean and renewable energy economy for all, prioritizing frontline communities;
  • An end to the fossil fuel industry’s stranglehold on our political and governance systems at all levels to ensure that energy policies follow climate policies based on equity and science, so that the real interests of all are protected.  To start, the undue influence of the fossil fuel industry in international and domestic policymaking must end, and industry must not be permitted to participate in international climate negotiations;
  • Rejection of false solutions that perpetuate or justify the extraction and use of fossil fuels, or that continue or create new harms to our air, water, lands, communities and climate;
  • Rejection of all market based mechanisms that increase inequality, violate human rights, expedite the destruction of ecosystems or allow polluters to avoid cutting pollution at the source;
  • Provision of adequate financial and other support to ensure that those individuals and communities most vulnerable to Mother Earth’s changing climate are able to adapt;
  • Divestment from activities that support the continued extraction of fossil fuels and the oppression of Indigenous and frontline communities, and investment in activities that empower communities to take control of their energy future; and
  • An immediate transition to a decentralized and democratized clean energy future powered 100 percent by renewable and sustainable energy sources.

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