Site Visit to Yurok Nation Spotlights an Innovative Climate Solution
The main climate event of the year in 2018 was Governor Jerry Brown’s Global Climate Action Summit in San Francisco, where hundreds of nonprofit organizations, academic research centers, government agencies and corporations would gather to debate sometimes-competing visions for how to address climate change.
Our challenge was to help indigenous leaders from tropical forest countries take advantage of the moment to deliver a strong message to their own governments, to donor nations and to the scientific community: Based on growing evidence that they are the best guardians of their forests, Indigenous Peoples and other rural communities should be allowed to participate fully in planning and implementing initiatives aimed at conserving forests as a climate solution.
With this goal in mind, indigenous leaders from Indonesia and from 12 Latin American countries partnered with California’s Yurok tribe and with members of civil society groups to build a case for recognizing the rights of Indigenous Peoples.
They proposed doing so by promoting the success of the Yurok, who had negotiated successfully, government to government, for the right to sell carbon credits on the California carbon market and who were using the new income to buy back stolen land and rehabilitate their forests and salmon habitats.
In September, just before the Climate Summit, 30 members of an indigenous delegation from Latin America and Indonesia travelled to the Yurok Reservation, where they built a camp on the eastern shore of the Klamath river, up near the Oregon border. Together we designed a media strategy that would use this setting and the Yurok story to show the world what native peoples could accomplish when they have strong land rights and direct access to climate funds.
We invited an international group of environment writers from major media outlets in the US, Spain, France, Colombia, Brazil and Indonesia to accompany the indigenous leaders to the Yurok Reservation. We worked with the Yurok to set up a number of outings that would take the reporters into the field, using research papers found online and the activities of Yurok technical staff to build stories around the rehabilitation of the creek habitats that are vital to the survival of salmon and other species, as well as around efforts to prepare native redwoods for a warming climate.
The journalists met as well with Yurok legislators and judges to understand the tribe’s governance structure. In the evenings, the reporters joined the indigenous visitors from other countries to witness cultural activities that demonstrated the deep attachment to land and forests shared by native peoples regardless of country or culture.
The reporters then traveled south to San Francisco, where most of them covered an event organized by the Governors’ Climate and Forests Task Force, a group that includes the heads of state of several of the jurisdictions represented among the indigenous delegation. Here, before an audience of journalists and native peoples from California, Indonesia and Latin America, the Task Force announced an unprecedented commitment to respect the rights of Indigenous Peoples in tropical forest countries.
Our indigenous partners tell us the media coverage that resulted from our combined efforts more than met their expectations. In stories disseminated in multiple languages by wire services, including AFP and AP, and in articles by major national outlets, including the New Yorker, Deutsche Welle, El Espectador, El País, A Folha de São Paulo, leaders of philanthropic organizations and national and state governments were reported committing to respect indigenous land rights and treating Indigenous Peoples as partners in combating deforestation in Indonesia and Latin America. At the governors’ task force event, for example, the governor of Jalisco, Mexico, Jorge Aristoteles Sandoval Diaz announced to a global audience: “Today we recognize the essential role of local communities and Indigenous Peoples for the conservation of forest territories and the development of effective climate change strategies.” The New Yorker article in particular told the stories and messages that all our Indigenous, Native American and civil society partners had hoped to communicate, while reporting commitments made by philanthropists, environmentalist groups, national and state leaders from tropical forest countries. The intention of our partners is to use these widely disseminated commitments to demand expanded rights to their lands and a place at the table in determining the fate of the tropical forests they manage.