Protecting Indigenous People & Wisdom

by Zaya Ribeiro

When I look back at the last decades and how far we went in the defense, promotion and integration of the Indigenous cause, I think our first victory in this decades-long fight towards recognition relied on education.

To now have history textbooks all over the world precisely describing without biases what happened to our people throughout the year and how we went from being despised, persecuted and killed to becoming a fully respected culture gives me hope that the next generations will never repeat the words and deeds of their ancestors.

To have entire academic fields dedicated to the study of Indigenous wisdom and culture is a guarantee that the important knowledge that we’ve carried throughout history will never disappear and will serve its main purpose: make humanity a more tolerant, advanced and conscious place.

It has also been a blessing to witness the trove of stories told by Indigenous themselves in books, movies, games, online and offline and how we became a major voice in the unfolding of our own narrative within the last few years. This reappropriation process has been hugely liberating for our people and the pride we take in our history and knowledge. Today, Indigenous languages are spoken throughout the planet and are the living proof of the dynamism and pervasiveness of our cultures.

Following the unanimous decision by the world’s countries to place Amazonia under international control, declaring it a preserved and controlled zone guaranteeing the sustainable future of our planet, we’ve seen a considerable growth of the biomass and the fauna in what is more than ever the beating heart and respiratory system of our planet. This area now contains 50% of the planet’s biodiversity.

It was fascinating, during the transition period that led to the Amazonian Sovereignty Act, to see the shift that many big industrial companies took by starting to integrate Indigenous leaders in their executive committees and basing their strategies on their knowledge of nature and its inhabitants.

It is a relief to see that our role as guardians -not owners - of the land is now being widely recognized from Alaska to Australia and that international institutions deployed legal safeguards to make sure that Indigenous communities around the world are protected and cared for.

Indigenous people are the world’s great survivors. In the face of decades of land theft, climate change and genuine attempts to bring about extinction, Indigenous populations across the globe persevered. The resilience and adaptability of these populations ended up providing vital lessons in survival for all the planet.

Now, the protection and special position from which we benefit is a fair give-back for our pivotal role in making sure that Planet Earth doesn’t lose its inner balance.

It all started with the concept of “Life Plans,” which have been created as key instruments to advance forest conservation. Far beyond a simple land-use plan, they were powerful tools of community reflection, engagement, and self-determination. They have been constructed through detailed bottom-up processes that brought together Indigenous elders, formal leaders, women sages, and the younger generation who stewards their peoples’ future culture and survival. They now serve as blueprints of any local interactions between our communities and countries, industries or any stakeholders which want to take part of the virtuous cycles that the reinforcement of indigenous presence has created.

We have now made our transition from a socio-economic model based on the extraction of natural resources to a regenerative model that puts the respect and reproduction of life at the center of its concern.

I am happy and amazed to see the incredible technological progress that has come from the collaboration between cutting edge scientists and indigenous elders. From biology to medicine or nano-electronics, we’ve seen countless innovations born from the convergence between our millennial cultures, powered by our spiritual connection to the elements, and modern science.

The integration of Indigenous cultures in the collective unconscious has also changed the way we live: we’ve seen the rise of an incredible design movement building on Indigenous philosophy and vernacular infrastructure to generate sustainable, resilient, nature-based technology that defines the homes and cities we now inhabit.

But the most important thing that happened, as we collectively protected, preserved, nurtured Indigenous peoples and Indigenous wisdom, has been a global shift of consciousness: Developing in every inhabitant of this planet an intrinsic spiritual and cultural connection to earth. There is no separation between humans and nature, because we are nature!

My main pride as an activist and the first ever model from the Amazon is to have been able to be a role model for many girls in various Indigenous communities, showing them that everything is possible and to have contributed to paving the way for the recognition, growth and impact of my beautiful culture.

Zaya Ribeiro