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From Words to Actions: Catalyzing Multi-sectoral Alliances to Co-create Indigenous-led Financing Mechanisms for Inclusive Nature-based Solutions

Indigenous leaders, donors, and NGOs discussed Indigenous-led finance models and funding initiatives at a Climate Week New York event.

Indigenous Peoples and their territories are sources of global solutions to climate change. Respecting the rights of Indigenous Peoples and increasing their participation in climate-based solutions is critical to achieving the Paris Agreement’s goals, fostering climate resilience, and reducing risks to all sectors. 

However, only a fraction of funding for climate and nature-based solutions has directly reached Indigenous Peoples’ organizations and local communities in the past decade. Indigenous-led financial mechanisms are the fuel to safeguard Indigenous customary rights and value their livelihoods and practices as an underlying principle to promote sustainable development and catalyze scalable and long-term climate solutions.

At Climate Week New York, the FSC Indigenous Foundation, USAID, the Coalition for the UN We Need, and GWL Voices for Change and Inclusion organized a panel discussion From Words to Actions: Catalyzing Multi-sectoral Alliances to Co-create Indigenous-led Financing Mechanisms for Inclusive Nature-based Solutions to bring together Indigenous leaders, donors, and NGOs to exchange on existing Indigenous-led finance models and identify ways of integration and collaboration to achieve common goals toward piloting Indigenous-led funding initiatives worldwide.

Francisco Souza, Managing Director of the FSC Indigenous Foundation and member of the Apurinã Indigenous Peoples of the Brazilian Amazon, opened the session with a critical message about the importance of creating and strengthening cross-collaboration among different sectors. He also stated: “The conversation today is about the future, but we need to think about the past, and we need to recognize and respect the past.” Indigenous communities have lived in harmony with Mother Earth for centuries. “Integrating Indigenous communities will help us reduce risks for the future and think together about the solutions; the asset that we bring to the table is the knowledge that we’ve gathered for centuries.” 

Maria F. Espinosa, member of GWL Voices for Change and Inclusion, pointed out that women need to be at the heart of climate action and  Indigenous Women are already taking leadership in helping their communities adapt to the changing climate. She said, “Climate change is a symptom of a broken relationship between society, politics, our economic models, and nature. The call here is for reconciliation between humans and nature, and Indigenous Peoples are key to rebuilding the relationship with nature.

In the first panel, Indigenous Voices, participants discussed how to ensure Indigenous voices are heard at the highest levels of decision-making in climate change mitigation and adaptation policies, climate finance, and how to create stronger alliances to conserve forests and other ecosystems. Aïssatou Oumarou, an Indigenous leader from Chad and Vice President of the Network of Indigenous and Local Populations for the Sustainable Management of Forest Ecosystems in Central Africa (REPALEAC) stated that “REPALEAC helps Indigenous Peoples and Local Communities (IPLCs) in Africa, we support 467 organizations. Our vision is to help Africa provide the great contributions of ICLCs to climate action and to request our participation in decision-making.” 

Kanyinke Sena, Director of the Indigenous Peoples of Africa Co-ordinating Committee (IPACC), stated that “Local communities are not receiving enough funding” in order to implement nature-based solutions to tackle climate change and protect their resources. Participants also called attention to the alarming numbers of environmental defenders that have been killed in recent years for raising their voices.

In the second panel, Donor Perspectives: Investing in the fight against Climate Change, panelists presented the financial initiatives and programs that they offer to support local solutions to global environmental problems and empower Indigenous Peoples in their roles as guardians of nature. 

They all concluded that there is funding available to help solve the problems: “The money is there”, but all interested parties need to strengthen and clearly define good financial mechanisms as well as improved mechanisms for implementation, reporting, and follow-up. It is essential to ensure that climate finance is reaching Indigenous Peoples and Local Communities. 

This productive discussion included: Gillian Caldwell, Chief Climate Officer and Deputy Assistant Administrator of USAID, Andrea Johnson, Advisor, Global and Mexico and Central America Initiatives for the Climate and Land Use Alliance (CLUA), and Yoko Watanabe, GEF Small Grants Programme at UNDP. 

Caldwell from USAID stated, “Indigenous Peoples have been aware since a long time ago that the climate was changing in dangerous ways, and yet they are still sometimes marginalized from climate-related decision-making.” 

Johnson from CLUA called for building trust-based philanthropy and the co-creation of solutions. “CLUA is trying to shift the ways in which the money is channeled.”

Watanabe from the GEF Small Grants Programme at UNDP called attention to the ownership or programs, “It is very important that the decisions are owned and held by civil society and Indigenous Peoples.” She also mentioned that sharing lessons learned is essential. 

The last panel, Indigenous Led Initiatives – Nature Based Solutions, was dedicated to sharing good practices and lessons learned about collaborative conservation projects and nature-based climate change solutions. The two distinguished panelists: Francisco Souza, Managing Director of the FSC Indigenous Foundation (IF), and Gustavo Sanchez, President of the Mexican Network of Forest Local Organizations (MOCAF) and Board of Directors of the Mesoamerican Alliance of Peoples and Forests (AMPB), discussed how we can promote multi-sectoral alliances to co-create Indigenous-led financing for inclusive climate-based solutions. 

Souza stated, “We should be able to think about Indigenous economies and Indigenous businesses” in order for IPLCs to achieve sustainable self-development.  He also mentioned that IPLCs need to evaluate if they can see carbon markets as an opportunity. Indigenous Peoples have the capacity to manage their resources as they have been doing this for centuries, but at the same time, “We should be able to influence different spaces, to negotiate with different stakeholders, to manage the money at different scales.”

On the other hand, Sanchez spoke about global and regional programs they are developing with donors and expressed concern about the slow progress in some aspects. He called attention to the flexibility of programs in terms of priorities that are defined, “Donors need to understand what the other stakeholders require, to actually see the priorities in the territories and not just the priorities that donors have.” He called for action and closed with the statement: “We hope to get to the COP with more facts and not only with promises.”  

Francisco Souza closed the event with a message that we need to think about implementing the $1.7bn pledge made at COP26 to give funding directly to Indigenous Peoples and local communities, but we also need to bring together different stakeholders together to think beyond the pledge. 

View a recording of the webinar here.

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III Guna Women’s Congress

The Congress was a space for dialogue, reflection, empowerment and spirituality among Guna women.

Strengthening and spirituality

Guna women play a fundamental role in the Gunadule society, as guardians of the forests and responsible for transmitting traditional knowledge such as language, collective memory, and traditional practices of planting and medicine based on native plants.

This III Congress of Indigenous Guna Women was held from September 6 to 8 in the community of Gardi Sugdub to be a space for dialogue, reflection, and strengthening among Guna women. The spirituality of Gunadule women and the processes of recovering ancestral knowledge were some of the topics discussed. Participants also reflected on the main socio-economic and environmental problems affecting their communities, in order to generate local development alternatives with a gender approach and from traditional Guna knowledge.

Briseida Iglesias, recognized as a Guna sage and founder of the Bundorgan Women’s Network, Darelis Erhman, leader of the women’s organization Nis Bundor, and Kandra Ehrman, Secretary General of the Guna Youth, were some of the panelists of the congress. Local authorities also participated, such as the Director of the Women’s Institute (INAMU) Nellys Herrera, and prominent members of the Guna General Congress. The words of welcome were given by the Sagladummagan Domitilio Morris, Rengifo Navas and the Argar guide Alberto Vázquez.

There was also space to discuss and evaluate the proposed organizational system of Bundorgan, resulting in the development of internal regulations and their approval in assembly, after three years of being organized among women.

This event had the support of the Rights and Resources Initiative (RRI) and the Indigenous Peoples’ Alliance for Rights and Development (IPARD), financed by USAID and implemented by the FSC Indigenous Foundation as part of the Project to Strengthen the Indigenous Agenda of Panama, which is being developed by the Mesoamerican Alliance of Peoples and Forests, the Mesoamerican Coordinating Committee of Women Territorial Leaders, and the Association of Indigenous Emberá Women Artisans (AMARIE).

Strengthening from the root

The Guna Women’s Congress has been held every year since 2019, when the newly born Bundorgan Women’s Network convened this space. Up until ten years ago, Guna women were not allowed to participate in the General Congresses of the Guna Culture and only attended as companions, without the right to express their opinions. Women like Briceida Iglesias opened spaces so that women could attend the general congresses with voice and vote; promoting the management of their own space.

Thanks to these opportunities, Guna women have been developing a joint agenda of socio-cultural advocacy for the well-being of Mother Earth. Each meeting among Indigenous Guna women is a step forward to strengthen women and transgress the barriers that have historically limited the political participation of Indigenous women in decision-making spaces.

An increasing number of women have become interested and joined the Bondorgan Women’s Network. Forty-nine women attended the first congress and this year the number tripled, with the participation of 150 women from 32 communities of the Gunayala region.

The Bundorgan Women’s Network works for the recovery and preservation of traditional medicine, culture, and ancestral practices of planting and Guna medicine.

Originally published in Spanish on the Coordinadora de Mujeres Líderes Territoriales de Mesoamérica website.

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Indigenous-led tourism benefits communities, economies, and Mother Earth

Native American Tribes and Indigenous Peoples of Latin America discuss successful Indigenous-led tourism models

According to the World Tourism Organization, approximately 370 million Indigenous Peoples in the world are linked to tourism activities. If managed in a responsible and sustainable way, Indigenous-led tourism can increase employment, reduce poverty, empower local communities, spur cultural revival, and allow for a sustained relationship between land, nature and Indigenous Peoples.  

The impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic have had disastrous effects on the tourism industry, impacting all those who depended on it as a source of livelihood. Recovery methods must be inclusive of Indigenous Peoples’ vision for their communities and development.  

Opportunities for Indigenous Peoples: Indigenous-Led Tourism 

With this in mind, the FSC Indigenous Foundation (FSC-IF) and the White House Council on Native American Affairs (WHCNAA) Committee on International Indigenous Issues organized a webinar on July 14, 2022 to highlight the conditions and approaches that have made Indigenous tourism initiatives economic, social, cultural, or environmental successes. The webinar was part of a series that seeks to foster information sharing and connections between Native American Tribes and Tribal organizations in the United States and Indigenous Peoples organizations in Latin America to support Indigenous-led economic development.  

After a welcome by Salina Sanou, IPARD Program Deputy Director and Africa Regional Country Manager, Kathryn Isom-Clause, Deputy Assistant Secretary for Indian Affairs of the U.S. Department of the Interior, provided an introduction to the webinar, highlighting the connection between Indigenous resource management practices and climate and market-based solutions.  

Denise Litz, member of the Tuscarora Nation and Chief of the Division of Economic Development of the Bureau of Indian Affairs provided a context as the world is opening from COVID-19 lockdowns and tourists are looking to explore new places and make connections. Indigenous tourism faces challenges that have now been exacerbated by the pandemic. She stressed the importance of tourism for communities and the efforts of the U.S. Department of the Interior to support tourism recovery.

“Indigenous tourism offers communities an opportunity to generate income, alleviate poverty, increase access to healthcare and education, and conserve cultural and natural resources,” said Denise.  

Indigenous tourism webinar

The first panelist, Sherry L. Rupert, CEO of the American Indian and Alaska Native Tourism Association (AIANTA), shared key research and data on the economic impact of cultural tourism, including the fact that Native American tourism in the United States is a 14 billion USD industry.  

However, Tribes still face challenges to access funding, grow markets and benefit from the national tourism system. She shared some examples of successful Native tourism enterprises including Redwood Yurok Canoe Tours, DX Ranch South Dakota, and the Steward Indian School Cultural Center and Museum

She welcomed Reid Milanovich, Chairman of the Agua Caliente Band of Cahuilla Indians, who noted the critical importance of cultural tourism to Tribal economies. He thanked AINTA for their support in maximizing tourism opportunities and “lifting Tribes to help them share their stories.” 

Indigenous tourism webinar

Seleni Matus, Executive Director of the International Institute of Tourism at the George Washington University spoke about fostering regional partnerships for Indigenous tourism. First, she shared a Toolkit and Model for Regional Development and Management of Native Tourism, developed by Tribal Nations and the North Dakota and South Dakota Tourism Alliances, to inspire new ways of collaboration among Tribal Nations and promote vibrant economies at the state level. The Tribal-led process includes stakeholder consultation, shared vision, capacity development, and forming market linkages.  

Seleni gave an overview of the Indigenous Tourism Collaborative of the Americas, an initiative to inspire connections and exchange knowledge so Indigenous Peoples can determine their sustainable futures. More than 75 organizations are involved in the network, which was born from discussions during the Indigenous Tourism Forum of the Americas. The Collaborative offers an online repository and ongoing virtual dialogues to develop a shared action agenda defined by Indigenous leaders. 

Graciela Coy, Maya Q’eqchi’ and President of Ak’ Tenamit, presented the sustainable tourism network Caribe Maya. The network is composed of community groups and women’s organizations along the Mayan Caribbean coast in Guatemala and Honduras, an area rich in cultural wealth and marine and terrestrial biodiversity. She explained that the planning and organization is managed by the Indigenous, Garifuna, and community groups who make up the tourism network, and that benefits are distributed among the communities to support education and health.   

Caribe Maya connects with national and foreign tourists by leveraging technology and social media and working together to promote the products offered by the different groups. She stressed the importance of strategic partnerships with the private sector and the Guatemala Institute of Tourism.  

Indigenous-led tourism webinar

Coming out of the pandemic, tourism began to increase again in 2021, bringing positive impacts to the communities. 

“We have seen some changes. We have observed the empowerment of communities, women’s groups, and associations and see the participation of women who have a significant leadership role in these community tourism activities,” Graciela said.

Other positive results include stronger enterprises, biodiversity conservation especially of the mangroves, and increased participation in decision-making spaces, for example the Izabal Department Tourism Desk.  

Graciela shared lessons learned, including the need to be resilient and prepared in face of tropical storms and climate change, the importance of strategic partnerships to strengthen community tourism, increasing women’s participation and equal distribution of benefits, and the need to develop contingency plans against any negative impacts of tourism that could arise.  

The question and answer section concluded with agreement on the need to engage a wide range of sectors including government, private sector, and NGOs to support Indigenous-led tourism. All speakers highlighted the importance of collaboration, working and learning together, and building partnerships.  

Alejandro Paredes, IPARD Program Director, gave closing remarks thanking all panelists and attendees, emphasizing the importance of continuing the discussion and strengthening the connections established in this webinar.  

View the webinar recording here.  

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Collaboration to promote Indigenous Peoples’ rights and self-development in Africa 

A conversation with Basiru Isa of REPALEAC on the challenges of Indigenous Peoples’ recognition, rights, and natural resources.

In Africa, Indigenous Peoples are some of the most marginalized populations, face discrimination, and are excluded from decision-making on issues critical to them. They are facing threats to their rights, especially the right to land, and are impacted by climate change that manifests in droughts, floods, and locusts. They lack quality infrastructure and social services, such as education and health. All these challenges are further compounded by the fact there is confusion on the definition of Indigenous Peoples in the African context. 

To work with Indigenous Peoples organizations on the promotion of Indigenous rights and self-development in Africa, the FSC Indigenous Foundation, through the Indigenous Peoples Alliance for Rights and Development (IPARD) Program, is creating a partnership with two major Indigenous Peoples platforms in the Africa Region: the Network of Indigenous and Local Communities for the Sustainable Management of Forest Ecosystems in Central Africa (REPALEAC) and the Indigenous Peoples Coordinating Committee of Africa (IPACC).  

The FSC-IF had a conversation with the Secretary General of REPALEAC Basiru Isa to hear his perspective on Indigenous Peoples and Local Communities (IPLC) in Africa. Basiru has been involved with REPALEAC for more than ten years and is now in charge of the technical and programmatic section of the network. He is based in Cameroon.  

FSC-IF: Could you tell us about REPALEAC and its strategic plan and vision? 

Basiru Isa: REPALEAC is the network of Indigenous Peoples and Local Communities for the sustainable management of forest ecosystems. It was created in 2003 in Kigali, Rwanda and today is a regional network of more than 560 Indigenous Peoples organizations that are members. It operates in eight countries: Burundi, Cameroon, Chad, Central African Republic, the Democratic Republic of Congo, Gabon, the Republic of Congo, and Rwanda. So, REPALEAC has eight international networks that work on a daily basis for the interests of Indigenous Peoples in their countries.  

REPALEAC developed a strategic plan in 2018 that runs from 2018 to 2025. It has three phases: the preparatory phase (2018 – 2020), the operationalization phase (2020 – 2021), and then now the implementation phase (2022 – 2025). This strategic plan has four strategic axes that are supported by operational objectives.  

The first axis is securing land, territories, and natural resources. Under this axis are the recognition of Indigenous Peoples’ land rights and cartography of Indigenous Peoples’ land. The second priority axis is the participation of Indigenous Peoples in decision-making, especially in the management of their lands, forests, and natural resources at the local, national, and international levels. The third priority axis is consolidating economic benefits that are obtained from the sustainable management of natural resources. And the fourth priority axis is the sustainable strengthening of the living conditions of Indigenous Peoples. Finally, there is a transversal axis that deals with capacity building of Indigenous Peoples organizations, especially REPALEAC and its members.  

Group of Black Indigenous in the forest.

FSC-IF: What are the challenges to implement this plan and the challenges facing Indigenous Peoples in Africa? 

Basiru: The challenges are numerous but they are not beyond the international community. The first challenge is the recognition of Indigenous Peoples by states based on the UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples. Today, with the work of REPALEAC we are seeing advances in some countries, for example, the DRC is currently voting on a specific law for the rights of Indigenous Peoples. In Cameroon, there is already a national development plan for Indigenous Peoples. In the Republic of Congo, there is a specific direction at the Ministry of Justice which is dedicated to the rights of Indigenous Peoples. And recently in Burundi, there was the validation of the national development plan for Batwa communities.  

The challenge is for countries to understand that Indigenous Peoples are people who have specificities because their culture and rights need to be understood and respected by states. The second challenge is facilitating social services for Indigenous Peoples that are adapted to their needs, for example, access to schools that are adapted to their agricultural, hunting, or pastoral calendars. How can they reconcile going to school with maintaining their traditional way of living? Another challenge is for Indigenous Peoples themselves to understand their specificities, how they can fight for their rights, and how can we empower them. A final challenge is how we can mobilize resources to achieve our vision.  

FSC-IF: How can we overcome these challenges?  

Basiru: We can continue lobbying and advocacy at the national level for the recognition of Indigenous Peoples. Second, to promote the recognition of their rights, especially the right to education, the right to land, the right to natural resources, and the right to participate in decision-making. If you look at the axes of REPALEAC, we are working in these areas. Third, to work with states and donors to see how we can mobilize resources to ensure that services provided to Indigenous Peoples are adapted to their cultural norms and also empower Indigenous communities. I think these are some of the efforts that we can try to make. 

FSC-IF: How do you envision a collaboration with the FSC-IF in Africa? 

Basiru: I think the FSC-IF is one of the most recent innovative tools that can be used to change the mindset of both the national and international communities, especially in what we call Indigenous National Development Plans. From REPALEAC, we envision a productive relationship. When we look at the three objectives of IPARD, they align with the five strategic axes of REPALEAC. So there is a common vision between REPALEAC and the FSC-IF and I think it is very easy for us to work together. 

FSC-IF: How will this collaboration respond to the challenges facing Indigenous Peoples in Africa? 

With the development of an Indigenous Peoples Development Program in Africa, a lot of effort will be put on advocacy at the local, national and regional levels for the recognition of Indigenous Peoples. Secondly, we can work on activities that can be directly implemented in Indigenous communities. Also, we can see how together we can mobilize resources and build capacities of Indigenous Peoples, organizations, and communities. 

FSC-IF: What are the next steps? 

Basiru: We have had a long-term discussion and a face-to-face meeting in Nairobi. Now the next step is to explore a Memorandum of Understanding and define our next steps together.  

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