From the vision of our indigenous peoples. - Sr. Irene Gallego

From the vision of our indigenous peoples. - Sr. Irene Gallego

[Moderator] Well, you have the floor to speak a little because it is said that the only ones protecting the environment are the indigenous people who know how to handle nature, how to take advantage of it, but also how to usufruct it; instead, today, with capitals, the cities, and all of that, a real attack on nature… you have the floor, then each one will speak, and then we will have a question and answer session.

Good day everyone who are with us, the panelist from the United States, the panelist of Bolivia; I am the Deputy Minister of Indigenous Affairs of the Ministry of Government in Panama, and we were sent a note for us to have a conversation about the new approaches to the preservation and restoration of Mother Earth from the vision of our indigenous peoples. So, let’s have an introduction on when we began to work and why it is called Mother Earth; almost universally in ​​South America we call it ‘Pachamama.’

Since the adoption of the millennium goals by the United Nations, where the states are called to reduce poverty and raise education, and promote sustainable development, we have seen that there has not been great progress in said objectives, for which goals are embedded in the development goals of almost all states of the world. On the other hand, the general agenda launches another challenge adopted in 2015 called the 2030 Agenda, which is a road map on how to react in favor of people, Mother Earth, and prosperity.

In the present summit, as Deputy Minister of Indigenous Affairs and Indigenous Citizens of ‘Abya Yala’ (because we do not say ‘America’ we call it ‘Abya Yala’) it is of utmost importance for me to share the vision of our people and the actions of the Ministry of Indigenous Affairs to promote peace, sustainable development, and prosperity. The multicultural framework: In Panama we are seven indigenous tribes composed of the Ngobe, Bugle, Gunas, Embera, Wounaan, Naso, and Bri Bri, which make up approximately 10 percent of the population, and occupy 20 percent of the national territory. One of the aspects that we consider important as a governing body is respect for indigenous peoples and that is primarily a part of the acceptance that we are a multicultural country where respect to the rights of indigenous peoples is crucial to promoting peace and equality. Hence, the very existence of the Ministry Office is the commitment of the Panamanian State with the indigenous tribes; from there that the cosmology as a vision, custom, and knowledge, the knowledge of Mother Earth, and cultural preservation, constitute not a folkloric discourse, but an interest and obligation of the State, in other words, of all Panamanians.

In the constitutional and legal framework it is a reality that many of our people obtained respect from their governing bodies through our millennial claims; Panama is one of the pioneers in the recognition of the rights of indigenous tribes, and so we have the indigenous regions constitutionally recognized since 1928, where not only was the land recognized, but also the traditional local governments, to the vision of the protection of Mother Earth as a formula of respect for culture, free determination of indigenous communities. To this historic claim was added the respect for the cultural identity of language and collective property, among others. As other states, our nation is a member of the United Nations and OAS; hence, the declarations on the rights of the indigenous peoples of both international organizations have a greater rank more aligned to international law.

In summary, the Republic of Panama has a constitutional and legal framework that offers the guaranteed respect of the rights of indigenous peoples, and in particular, makes possible a new approach to the preservation and restoration of Mother Earth.

The challenge for the preservation and restoration of Mother Earth in the context of economic globalization: I should lead this audience to the reality that the majority of our nations are the so-called third world developing countries and that this economic ideology from the northern countries conspire with Latin Americanism, and obviously, make the other social actors of our state unintelligible to the contribution of indigenous peoples in sustainable development. Mother Earth is only seen as a good for commercial trade; forests are seen as an obstacle to the development; of art, biodiversity knowledge, and our agricultural practices, as things of the past; and good living as a philosophy of life, it is seen as a brake on imagination and innovation. These discriminatory visions have oriented public policies in the last hundred years in our state, and they still exist, but communities continue to struggle and open new spaces in the national and international framework to draw attention: That the development focus that it drives, represents the death of Mother Earth and all human beings which we depend on.

The current development and short-term economic models have generated a global, environmental, political, and economic humanitarian crisis which have irreconcilably pointed out that indigenous peoples have always had a traditional approach to development with respect to Mother Earth, where the “Other” has tried to qualify as sustainable to continue with unsustainability. In the end, indigenous peoples are called to stop the global catastrophe on behalf of our ancestral knowledge. Governing bodies who ignore the indigenous peoples are destined to fail; from there, the importance of the actions of preservation and restoration of Mother Earth, I truly do not see as innovative because they have always been there, hidden. I think it is novel for the “Other.” Restoration is something… we have not seen it as something that is new, we have always been fighting for that. Nevertheless, the development focus looks at it from another point of view.

Actions for the preservation and restoration of the Mother Earth: From there, Vice Ministry of Indigenous Affairs promotes the demand of the indigenous community. One of the first things that we have to see to be able to restore the Mother Earth is the collective title of the land. Indigenous peoples have always lived in their territory. However, at some point, the states tried to give their territory away to companies, especially so that these companies could begin to use what is called the extractive industry in indigenous territory, and they do not have that titling right. In Panama the territories have been titled as collective territories of the indigenous peoples. A territory cannot be protected if it is not ensured adequate protection. It is not only the object of securing the title, rather of declaring it inalienable, and ineradicable to preserve the Mother Earth and the indigenous community. Collective lands have been titled for the indigenous peoples for more than 50 percent, and continue. In Panama, indigenous lands are delimited as indigenous territory by law, the constitution says so, and each region has a law. When someone wants to work or do something in the region, they must first obtain prior, free, and informed consent of those tribes.

Despite the recent adoption of  the prior, free, and informed consent law, a climate change level discussion has been driven by the need for full and effective participation of indigenous peoples in all administrative measures, including the legislative. Forest monitoring is also taking place, despite the existence of collective land invasions have continued, and there is work being done on land sanitation and monitoring of the forests by the communities themselves, with the support of the states. In many cases, despite the fact that the indigenous territories are already delimited, there are companies, that above all, do not respect this and try to penetrate and there have been deaths within these territories.

Forest monitoring: Despite the existence of collective land, invasions have continued and they bring sanctioning through the forest monitoring, in which there has been progress. In September 2006 in the conceptual framework for the global forest monitoring in the indigenous territory, there has been a preliminary document validated by the traditional authorities and the five indigenous congresses. Although there have been satellite monitoring of forest coverage, that is to say, there is a forest drone monitoring program where they are trying to see how many forests there are in the indigenous territories; we are doing it conjointly with the PAHO and the indigenous peoples with prior consent from authorities, it censors the alleged development projects. As state policy, it respects the decisions of the communities, the development plans they want for their community, and without impositions within their land. In Panama from 2012, a development plan has been raised with the indigenous tribes, this means that the very indigenous peoples have said how they want to carry out their development; the government has simply been supporting them in the logistics so that they can meet and can deliberate how they want the development, a 15 year strategic plan has been raised where. At this time, also in Panama, the prioritization plans are also taking place.

In terms of… or other ways of looking at the approaches of Mother Earth, we also see that the traditional indigenous economy is protected through an intellectual property law about art and historical knowledge, in which cultural heritage of the indigenous community was declared. There is an intellectual property and craft law in administrative measure to make the declarations on the rights of the indigenous peoples a reality. In other words, in trying to carry out these laws we are also trying to ensure that the declaration of rights of the indigenous peoples of the United Nations are put into practice.

[Moderator] You have five minutes remaining.

Yes, we are close to finishing. Thank you.

We are also together with the government. Well… they have detected those areas where reforestation is possible, and in Panama, the national government has set a goal of reforesting one million hectares, where indigenous people have said, “Yes.” Also, with respect, and above all, also considering that in the indigenous communities, we want to try to carry out the reforestation with native plants from the area, not with exotic plants, which many times, what they do, instead of improving the soil, what they do is damage it more. In the indigenous community, people have also carried out studies on diversity, the biodiversity of trees and animals, the class and everything, so that we can also try to conserve them.  

Also being carried out, is what is called the intellectual rights law; a law where all the ancestral knowledge of our people is being framed into a law which does not allow it [the ancestral knowledge] to be taken elsewhere without the respective time frame to denounce it.

In Panama, we are always in contact with our indigenous tribes, and I am indigenous myself, of one of the regions, the Ngöbe Buglé, and in Panama to be able to be Deputy Minister or to be within some rank to carry out the programs with the indigenous tribes, those who take the reins must be indigenous,

Thank you very much.