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Amplifying the Voices of Indigenous Women Leaders


Strategic Area: Climate
Content Type: Blog
Country: Ecuador

Indigenous women have long been the backbone of their communities, preserving their traditions, culture, and knowledge for generations. However, Indigenous communities across the world are facing unprecedented challenges due to climate change. As the world comes together to address the climate crisis, it is essential that Indigenous female leaders are included in the international climate conversation to ensure that their voices and perspectives are heard. That is why, in the last year, Nature and Culture has supported two of our Indigenous partners in attending United Nations conferences

We are committed to amplifying the voices of Indigenous leaders by ensuring their inclusion in the global climate conversation.

In the past year, Nature and Culture sent two Indigenous female leaders, Lolita Piyaguaje of the Siekopai Nationality and Vice President of CONFENIAE and Josefina Tunki of the Shuar Arutam Nationality, to United Nations conferences. In November 2022, Piyaguaje traveled with Nature and Culture CEO, Matt Clark, to Egypt for the United Nations Climate Conference (COP27) For Piyaguaje, it was “an honor to be in this space giving voice in defense of our territories and the human rights of the people who live in the Ecuadorian Amazon.” Clark and Piyaguaje attended the conference, speaking together on a panel about Indigenous leadership preventing deforestation within the Amazonian province of Pastaza.

Lolita Piyaguaje of the Siekopai nationality and Vice President of CONFENIAE with Nature and Culture CEO Matt Clark at COP27

Josefina Tunki, who just completed her four-year term as the President of the Shuar Arutam Nationality, traveled to the United Nations Water Conference in New York in March 2023 where she and Clark presented on water resources in the Amazon. She is from one of four Indigenous nationalities Nature and Culture worked with to create the 3-million-acre protected area, Tarímiat Pujutaí Nunka. She is fighting to keep her ancestral territory free of mining activities that have devastated her community.

Josefina Tunki standing in front of mining excavators in the Amazon Photo courtesy of Nora Sanchez

Historically, Indigenous peoples have not been included in these critical conversations even though Indigenous territories hold 80% of the world’s biodiversity and Indigenous communities preserve their forests at twice the rate of other protected areas. Nature and Culture is working to change this paradigm and ensure that the voices of the world’s greatest conservationists are heard on the global level.

Indigenous women are often the primary caretakers of their families and communities, and they depend on the environment for their livelihoods.

Climate change has a direct impact on their way of life, as it can lead to food and water scarcity, displacement, and loss of traditional knowledge. For Tunki and the people of the Shuar Arutam, “The forest is our mother, it sustains us.” In the province of Pastaza in Ecuador, “the forest was our supermarket, but now the fish are contaminated, there’s no more medicine, and we can’t eat.” According to Piyaguaje, “We want to live without pollution, without destruction, and, above all, to live healthily with our rights, our identity, our culture, our language.” Sending Indigenous female leaders to international climate conferences ensures that their experiences and concerns are taken into account when developing policies and solutions.

Lolita Piyaguaje shares We want to live without pollution without destruction and above all to live healthily with our rights our identity our culture our language

Indigenous women have a deep understanding of their local environments and the impact of climate change on their communities. They have unique perspectives and solutions that can contribute to the development of effective climate policies. In Piyaguaje’s words, “proposals and projects need to be co-designed with the communities and with our needs in mind. If these policies come from the top, they won’t work.” By including Indigenous female leaders in international climate conferences, policymakers can gain valuable insights that can inform their decision-making.

Clean water is one of the most important resources in the rainforest and extractive activities are the primary threat.

Tunki has long fought for clean water protection for the 47 communities of the Shuar Arutam Nationality. “Ancestrally, we have always known the value of the rivers and freshwater. Historically, our rivers were never contaminated. An uncontaminated environment gives you a healthy life and helps you live with joy, without epidemics. We’re now fighting to sustain the fresh water of the Amazon and looking for the best strategies for protection. We invite the whole world to reflect on the fact that it is us, the humans, that are contaminating the planet. Not the animals, not the birds, not the fish, since they respect nature. It’s the humans.”

Both women agree that the biggest threats to their ancestral lands are petroleum extraction and mining. Extractive activities pollute the rivers and lead to deforestation. They both attest that petroleum and mining companies are not doing enough to mitigate environmental impacts and that the Ecuadorian and other governments are responsible for enforcing mitigation.

For both Piyaguaje and Tunki, being a woman is key to their leadership.

“I feel proud to have worthily served as a woman in my organization, demonstrating that women are also capable of representing an organization on the municipal, provincial, national, and international levels,” says Josefina. Intersectionality and inclusion are key to the future, says Lolita. “It’s important that women participate in these processes, we have to work very hard towards intersectionality. Women should not just be sitting at the meetings, but they should be making decisions.”

I feel proud to have worthily served as a woman in my organization demonstrating that women are also capable of representing an organization on the municipal provincial national and international levels says Josefina