By Leo van der Vlist.
Last night at the UN Headquarters in New York I enjoyed the most beautiful cultural expressions of Indigenous Peoples from around the world. Traditional Meitei folkdance from Manipur, song, music and dance from indigenous peoples from Russia and Mexico, powerful drumbeats and dance from Polynesia and Africa, and more, including a surprise act by Native American poet, writer and artist John Trudell reciting his poem See the Woman.
“…She is sister to earth
In all conditions She is life bringer In all life she is our necessity…”
A true celebration of life in the halls of the UN filled with people in colorful outfits and cheerful faces.
The contrast with the morning session of the UN Permanent Forum on Indigenous Issues for which indigenous peoples gather in New York could not have been more dramatic. The topic on the agenda was Youth, self-harm and suicide. There was an outcry of deep pain, frustration and anger. Many people stood up behind the speakers to show their solidarity and support. Kandi Mossett, a young Native American woman speaking on behalf of the Indigenous Environmental Network and many other organizations could hardly hold her tears when she said:
“…When we see governments, extractive industries and multinational corporations raping and destroying Mother Earth, it simultaneously destroys our hope for the future and diminishes our will to live. […] Our connection to the land is such that when we see mining companies ripping into the land, we find it physically painful within our own bodies. […] The question of whether or not the future is even worth living for in the face of such destruction is put into our minds and hearts and many indigenous youth lose hope to the point of believing that self-harm and suicide is the only way out.”
The recommendations of Kandi, a young mother, included that States adopt a limitation on oil and fossil fuel extraction whereby 80% of all oil and fossil fuel reserves be left in the ground together with legally binding commitments to reduce greenhouse gas emissions at the source by 60-80% as recommended by the UN. She ended her statement with hope and a clear message to the world.
“When I look into the eyes of my 1 year old daughter I see such hope and light for the future and I want that hope to always be with her. This is why our organizations are proposing these recommendations as a next step to help ensure that Indigenous Youth do not fall into the trap of self-harm and hopelessness, but rather, can fulfill the role as joyous and healthy guardians of Mother Earth. In closing, I remind the United Nations that
“We do not inherit the earth from our ancestors, we borrow it from our children.”
It could be so beautiful.