January 18, 2022 9:50 pm

Climate change threatens a second massacre of indigenous peoples, warns Arhuaca activist from Colombia

The Climate Change Conference, COP26 brings together in the Scottish city of Glasgow, in addition to Heads of State and Government, senior officials, scientists and academics, various civil organizations from environmental defenders and activists for action against climate change. Daniela Balaguera Villafaña, member of Unite for Climate Action is one of them.

Daniela defines herself as a indígena arhuaca from the Sierra Nevada de Santa Marta, a community located in northern Colombia.

“In that mountainous massif we cohabit four ethnic groups. We comprise three departments: Magdalena, Guajira and Cesar, we are within the five thermal floors. Have coastal areas, snowy mountains, wild fauna and flora”, Explains the young woman to UN News.

This area, like much of the Colombian territory, is rich in natural resources that, however, have brought more harm than good to the indigenous peoples who live in it.

“We believe that due to our environmental and cultural wealth we are the target of many mining explorations and many other social problems that also influence the climate change process and that also pollute ”, says Daniela, who is fighting to stop these prospects and defend her lands.

Sacred territories

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Daniela Balaguera Villafaña, a young indigenous activist, is in Glasgow to demand more climate action during COP26.

“Our territories are supposed to be sacred, they are of environmental ConservationBut they are not really being given that treatment and that is where we need to delve. If they are protected areas, they should be given the guarantees and rights that have been recognized but that they are not exercising ”, he adds.

For her, lack of action can mean the end of much of indigenous cultures.

“We are being threatened with the second extinction of our cultural practices, which is extremely worrying because it would be the second massacre, the second annihilation of our people”, He assures and adds that the COP26 forum has given them space to discuss how the environment is negatively impacting indigenous groups. “And this is fundamental because in some way it allows us to launch an alert to the world telling it that what seems like an innocent act to some people in other parts of the world has a negative and strong influence on us.”

Rural and indigenous communities are the most affected by violence in Colombia.  Photo: Charlotte Kesl / World Bank

Rural and indigenous communities are the most affected by violence in Colombia. Photo: Charlotte Kesl / World Bank

Symbolic but not participatory representation

Daniela relates that she joined environmental causes as an indigenous person and as a young person because in Colombia, as in many countries, these groups are taken to some spaces in a “symbolic, rather than participatory” way and it is important that they be taken seriously and they are taken into account in decision-making, the development of financing models, the implementation of public policies and the construction of agreements that benefit their territories.

So far, he sees his presence in Glasgow as an initial process to understand how dynamics work and how governments work. However, he regrets, “we observe how things are made easier for the government so that run the country according to your ideologies more than [de acuerdo] to the needs and realities of the country ”.

And as this is not a unique situation in Colombia, Daniela shares what her message would be to world leaders.

They talk about conservation while extracting resources

“That they comply with the objectives of the COP, that they seek the construction of public policies, international treaties, alliances in favor of the environment and the needs and realities of each of the contexts of their countries and that they give priority to environment, to sustainability, to sustainability, to be more environmentally friendly ”.

It emphasizes that “it’s not about talking of environmental conservation while extractions of natural resources are being made, but of watching over each one of the effects of climate change, due to its adverse effects. And see how they influence other sectors such as the economic, the political, the cultural, which are also quite affected by the environment ”.

Young environmental activists demonstrate during the COP26 Climate Conference in Glasgow, Scotland.

UN News / Laura Quiñones

Young environmental activists demonstrate during the COP26 Climate Conference in Glasgow, Scotland.

Optimism, despite everything

Despite the disappointments I felt at the Conference – “I’ve had ups and downs”- the activist is optimistic because, she emphasizes, young people are beginning to have a certain impact. “They have begun to listen to us, perhaps they are not taking us into account yet, that is another process, but the fact that we have started something is a sign that we are doing it well,” he says.

In this sense, encourages young people around the world to get involved from where they are and according to their specific situation, in the movements of defense of the environment and for the mitigation of climate change.

Environmental activism is essential from many perspectives, from every context and from every possibility. While some are in the streets, others are within these scenarios. But there are also others who are doing something positive within their territories. The important thing is to have conscience, a sense of belonging, common sense and, above all, to understand that we are not looking out for private interests but for a community and that we must always be honest and transparent in the process so that the results are seen ”, he concluded Daniela Balaguera Villafaña.

This Saturday, November 6, is Nature’s Day at COP26.


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