Indigenous people teach us a lesson in protecting the planet

In an increasingly urbanised, globalised world, it’s easy to see how we have become disconnected from our natural environment.

According to National Geographic, just five per cent of the world’s population are considered indigenous peoples. This pertains to distinct populations of people located across the planet, all belonging to unique ethnic groups who are rooted to the environment in which their ancestors have occupied for hundreds or even thousands of years before them.

These peoples are also culturally distinct from the remaining 95 per cent of people alive today, and their closer connections to nature give them special insights which the majority of us could all learn from as we try to protect our planet from climate change.

Small but mighty

Indigenous people play an integral role in protecting our planet. Despite representing barely five per cent of the world’s population, 80 per cent of the work carried out nurturing the environment and protecting its biodiversity is performed by indigenous people, as evidenced by the work of the Waorani tribe in Ecuador.

The Amazon rainforest is home to multiple native tribes and civilisations which have a symbiotic relationship to their natural environment. The average Brit is used to a world of concrete, glass, metal and plastic, but the people who inhabit the so-called lungs of the Earth know nothing but trees, flowers, the local wildlife and the changing weather which shapes their world.

Despite its beauty and biodiversity, the Amazon is under threat from logging and mining. It’s difficult for us to imagine having to fight to protect our own homes from complete destruction. The Uru-Eu-Wau-Wau are a tribe of barely 300 people, living in the Brazilian Amazon Rainforest.

Despite insisting on maintaining many traditions which go back centuries, this tribe has had sufficient contact with the outside world, including organisations such as the WWF. With sufficient training, members of this tribe now use drone technology to track and prevent illegal deforestation. Such ingenious ideas help the Uru-Eu-Wau-Wau tribe cover vast distances of their rainforest, keeping a watchful eye and protecting irreplaceable habitats for generations to come.

Without a drone, that deforestation – which was already advanced – would still be unknown to us. The technology today, for territorial monitoring, is very worthwhile

Protection from ourselves

The biggest threats to indigenous people such as the Waorani or the Uru-Eu-Wau-Wau tribes isn’t from the animals, insects or other life forms that inhabit their environments alongside them. The real threat is from fellow human beings, especially those who see no economic value from a group of native tribes and seemingly unused land.

Rainforests may appear unused and without value, but that misses an important point. Almost 300 years of industrialisation have blinded us to the intrinsic value of our natural environments, whether they be rainforests, polar ice caps, lakes, rivers or oceans. For indigenous people, the environment holds a value they would consider immeasurable – simply put, it is the reality they are accustomed to.

Indigenous people carry a heavy burden, performing the bulk of the protection of Earth’s biodiversity, but climate change and human-led activities such as deforestation and pollution make their burden harder to bear. The Indigenous Environment Network (IEN) is a high-profile non-profit organisation accepting donations, which started life as a grassroots movement led by indigenous people in the United States.

By supporting groups such as the IEN, the majority of people in the world can step outside an increasingly industrialised environment and see the world through the eyes of these hard-working people, as they fight to protect not only their rights, but the planet itself.

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