Our partnership with the International Conservation Fund of Canada (ICFC) is being highlighted at the COP 15 on Biodiversity in Montreal as an example of the connection between biodiversity and Indigenous rights. Wounaan Cacique Aulina Ismare shares the following message with the delegates of 196 countries that gathered to discuss the biodiversity crisis:
Indigenous identity, in particular that of the Wounaan people of Panama, is inextricably linked with the biodiversity of their land, which is reflected in their traditional art, dance, medicine, and worldview. Cacique Aulina Ismare asks the assembled delegates to support and respect biodiversity, as well as their traditional knowledge, as "a right of the Indigenous peoples, so that we can conserve our identity now and into the future." She emphasizes the connection between identity and biodiversity, adding: "without this, when there is destruction, we can't conserve and we lose our identity as Indigenous peoples."
Together with Wounaan communities, Native Future and ICFC are focused on protecting 22,326 hectares of tropical forest and wildlife habitat in the Majé Mountains. This area is home to three Wounaan communities and about 200 bird species, including 65 migratory species.
In the above map, you can clearly see the dividing line between Indigenous and non-Indigenous territory in the Majé Mountains. In Panama, deforestation rates outside Indigenous territories is 11.85% while inside they're 1.51%, which is only slightly higher than protected areas (1.42%)*. It is not a coincidence that more than 50% of what is remaining of Panama's tropical forest is in Indigenous land. Indigenous peoples have proven that they are the best caretakers of the land, and the conservation of threatened ecosystems is inextricably linked with their rights.
Unfortunately, the untitled Indigenous communities of the Majé Mountains are not recognized by the Panamanian government and they do not benefit from the same legal protections. Until the rights of these Indigenous communities are recognized, the biodiversity of these areas is threatened by encroachment and illegal logging.
A special thank you to the International Conservation Fund of Canada for their ongoing support in protecting Indigenous rights and globally important biodiversity.
*According to a 2017 report by Rainforest Foundation US.