Connecting Cultures at COP 21

Written by Scott Benzing

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 Over the course of the past week I have spent a lot of time walking around the civil society portion of the COP 21, and one observation that I have made is how diverse the crowd of people truly is. People from all over the globe have made the journey to Paris, and every single one of them shares a passion for preserving the environment.
Even though this huge variety of races, ethnicities, and religions is present at the COP 21, most of those in attendance are dressed in suits or business casual attire, with the occasional person sporting blue jeans and a light jacket. But for some people, their attire is much more unique and meaningful. There are a number of indigenous peoples attending this conference from all over the world, and many of them have chosen to adorn their traditional clothing to the event. The vivid traditional garb worn by these people provides a stark contrast to the sea of ties and khaki pants, and draws the attention of everyone who passes by. Whenever someone wears a particularly intricate or colorful outfit, it is not uncommon to see a small congregation of people huddle nearby taking photographs.
Indigenous peoples at COP 21 are not limiting themselves to only dressing in their traditional attire, they are also sharing their languages, songs, stories, food, and cultures with everyone in attendance. All of the events involving indigenous peoples are limited to one area of the civil society building, but that has not stopped them from permeating through the rest of the venue.
Today I was fortunate enough to witness an older Russian indigenous woman in traditional clothing perform throat singing to a techno beat that a young French DJ was playing in the middle of the convention. The crowd of people around the stage was huge, and everyone in attendance cheered and applauded this beautiful mixing of cultures. This is just one example of how people have been putting aside their cultural differences here in Paris in order to make connections with others. Regardless of what the policy outcomes of the COP 21 negotiations are, I will leave Paris with a smile on my face knowing that all these thousands of people came together in harmony for at least a little while.
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