False(?) Presentations of the Inclusion and Recognition of Indigenous Peoples

Written by Sarah Huang

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 Today I attended a panel organized by United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) called “Indigenous Voices and Climate Change: Outcomes of National Indigenous Peoples-Gov. Dialogues”. This panel included five indigenous peoples from Tanzania, Guatemala, Thailand, Vietnam, and Samoa as well as three government representatives from Dominican Republic, Norway, and Guyana. The dialogue that occurred throughout this meeting was interesting in the sense that it seemed to be guided by this relationship of collaboration between government and indigenous peoples, whether there was government recognition of indigenous peoples or not. The goal of these dialogues is to create more equitable spaces by incorporating the views of indigenous peoples in the negotiations. These dialogues will show the impact of climate change on livelihoods that will facilitate a trusting relationship between government and indigenous peoples, a relationship that has been severed in many cases.
While this process of indigenous participation and representation at this so called ‘table’ is encouraging, I think it is really important to be critical to the ways in which indigenous peoples are being invited to this ‘table’, or the ways that the government talks about indigenous representation. For example, one of the government representatives talked about the importance of government to educate local peoples on the effects of climate change and adaptation of climate change. This discourse about educating indigenous peoples undermines the authority and autonomy that indigenous peoples have over their own knowledge systems, but also over their own experiences. It assumes that their experiences are not legitimate in their own right and require governmental intervention and education in order for it to have an authority that is recognizable by government and other state actors.

So when I was trying to write a title for this blog, I was thinking about different ways of thinking about this issue. It seems like a struggle of legitimation, authority, and autonomy, but I think at the heart of it is really this issue of recognition and the right to be recognized. This right for recognition and respect of rights is a demand that indigenous peoples have been pushing for here at COP21, and was definitely lacking in this specific panel presentation from government officials. It makes me wonder about the relationship between recognition and legitimacy and the role that legitimacy may play in the recognition of indigenous rights. Does a recognition of indigenous rights require the legitimacy from government or does the demand for a recognition of indigenous rights from indigenous people create an autonomous legitimacy?

It also makes me think about something talked about yesterday during Africa Day, where many indigenous peoples spoke about false solutions to climate change that result in the displacement of indigenous peoples through development of clean energy solutions (examples include geothermal energy and hydropower). I think this term ‘false’ is an appropriate representation of how indigenous peoples are once again at the short end of a just climate solution that is based on the continuous colonialist discourses that were displayed in this panel session earlier today. The idea of legitimizing indigenous peoples’ knowledges and experiences through an ‘education about climate effects’ is the same strategy of colonialism and imperialism that indigenous peoples have experienced for too long. It is time to advocate for a climate change solution that is recognizes the colonialist history of oppression and proposes a decolonized approach for a just system. And maybe then, we may actually understand indigenous recognition where governments, heads of state, and COP21 delegates have the capacity to understand indigenous livelihoods and experiences in respect their autonomy and rights.

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