Around the world, indigenous communities share an intimate connection with nature.
Daily, these communities rely on the natural environment for housing, food, medicine and sacred spiritual practices.
For indigenous communities, the natural environment is a central component to their identities and existence.
While these communities have always been nature’s defenders, they are now on the front line of a new fight as the world combats climate change.
Chairwoman of Suriname’s Association of Indigenous Village Leaders, Muriël Fernandes, told Cari-Bois that indigenous people around the world are concerned about climate change.
Now in a race against time to protect their traditional values and norms, Fernandes said many of Suriname’s indigenous communities have reported being affected by an increase in the frequency and intensity of natural disasters.
The International Work Group for Indigenous Affairs estimates the Indigenous Peoples of Suriname account for approximately 20,344 people (3.8 percent) of the country’s total population of 541,638.
During her chairmanship, Fernandes has received reports of unpredictable weather affecting the ability of some of these communities to farm and transport their goods when road networks are continuously being affected by intense floods.
Communities which have built along waterways are also being continuously affected by extreme flooding.
Fernandes claims mismanagement by Surinamese policy makers have led to a rise in illegal gold mining, deforestation and further infringement of land rights of indigenous communities.
Combined, Fernandes laments these factors have only exacerbated the effects of climate change and the rate at which their natural resources have been degraded.
“Indigenous communities are feeling the impacts of climate change individually, at the village level, at the regional level, at the national level and even at the international level.”Muriël Fernandes, Chairwoman of Suriname’s Association of Indigenous Village Leaders
Chairman of Suriname Parliament’s Climate Change Committee, Radjendrekoemar Debie, told Cari-Bois combating climate change will require all hands on deck.
While Suriname is one of only a few carbon negative countries in the world and contributes very little harm, Debie said mitigating climate change will also require the country to play its part.
When it comes to indigenous communities, Debie said humanity must recognise these communities contribute the least to climate change and are affected the most.
As such, people must be more environmentally conscious of how their activities affect others and Governments – especially in Global North countries – must accept some responsibility by helping indigenous communities become more climate resilient.
“Local communities, in this case the Indigenous and the Maroons in the interior, are losing their homes and places where they have sometimes lived for generations.”Radjendrekoemar Debie, Chairman of Suriname Parliament’s Climate Change Committee
Suriname’s climate policy
When it comes to sufficient climate policies, Fernandes said Suriname has a long way to go.
While the country has committed itself to numerous international treaties, she criticises its ability to adequately implement them.
For example, Fernandes explained the country’s indigenous communities lack sufficient support which hinders their efforts to gain official recognition of their right to land and self-determination.
If these communities are to access sufficient funding and support to strengthen their climate resilience, their right to land and self-determination will be crucial.
“The Surinamese government has not recognized the rights of its indigenous and tribal peoples, even though it voted in favor of the 2007 United Nations Declaration on the Right of Indigenous Peoples. Suriname has also not ratified ILO Convention 169, which further shows that the state is unwilling to address the problems of its indigenous and tribal peoples.”Muriël Fernandes, Chairwoman of Suriname’s Association of Indigenous Village Leaders
Debie told Cari-Bois the Surinamese Government is in the preliminary stages of drafting environmental frameworks which consider the recommendations of many stakeholders including indigenous communities.
Some of these frameworks will also seek to reduce deforestation and the use of mercury in mining activities which exacerbates the environmental effects of climate change and further affects the stability of the natural environment.
Debie said a concept law titled the Collective Rights: Indigenous Peoples and Tribal Peoples is pending in the parliament.
In the end, Debie pointed out that solid climate policies are a key core condition for the well-being of everyone regardless of where they live in the world, their origin, ethnicity, income, age or gender.
“We call that climate justice. Unfortunately, this is not always met everywhere. We live in the middle of a climate crisis and some are much more directly or more severely affected by it than others. Working on climate justice is working on solving the climate crisis. This also offers a huge opportunity to work for well-being.”Radjendrekoemar Debie, Chairman of Suriname Parliament’s Climate Change Committee
Still a long way to go
While some progress is being made on the legislative front, Fernandes thinks there is still a long way to go to ensure that the positions, views and proposals of indigenous people are incorporated into national climate policies.
She said it is essential that indigenous communities are closely involved in shaping climate solutions given they have knowledge and experience in devising solutions to the effects of climate change in their immediate environment.
Outside of legislation, Debie said there is an immediate need to strengthen the climate resilience of indigenous communities.
Suriname’s indigenous communities and maroons have built their settlements directly along rivers and creeks due to availability of water.
But with extreme weather events increasing in frequency, these communities have been repeatedly affected by flooding.
“What these indigenous communities have been taught is to build their homes on higher ground. It is of paramount importance that trained people go into the field and inform people in their language with the correct information about the consequences and how they can overcome them in line with finances that must be present and especially manpower.”Radjendrekoemar Debie, Chairman of Suriname Parliament’s Climate Change Committee
Fernandes also wants indigenous people to have direct access to information related to climate change through their own database, with information relevant to them, and in the languages they prefer.