Global Greens Conference 2022: Indigenous Ways of Life and Megadiversity in the Americas

Environmental activists discuss the importance of Indigenous peoples' approaches to conservation, biodiversity, and food security.

The Global Greens Conference 2022 took place virtually on Saturday, February 5th. Among the many scheduled discussions relating to Indigenous affairs was one led by Venezuelan ecologist Manuel Díaz, titled “Megadiversity in the Americas, its preservation through the vision of native peoples.”

Díaz gave a brief introduction which, above all else, encouraged all peoples to acknowledge traditional and insightful Indigenous ways of living. “Indigenous peoples are foundational and essential in the larger landscape,” he stated, “not only the physical, but the economic, social, and political landscape in the Americas.”

Matilde Baján was the first and only guest speaker. A coordinator of the Green Movement in Guatemala, Baján’s speech highlighted the importance of biodiversity, conservation, and food security.

Baján’s work refers predominantly to Mesoamerica – from Mexico to Costa Rica. She explains how Mesoamerica is one of the most diverse regions in the world: “there are highlands, lowlands, marshes, thick forests, and so much more.” As such, resources are diverse and abundant despite the recent encroaching of big business or government interests.

The conservation of Mesoamerica’s biodiversity, Baján says, is necessary for environmental protection as well as food security in the region. Food security is a top priority for many Indigenous communities in Mesoamerica. Baján, a descendent of Mayans, tell the history of how her people have been practicing sustainable agriculture for centuries, taking only what is needed from their environment. Before the Spanish conquest, the Mayans were an immensely productive society. “The environment was treated with great importance,” she explained, “it was and is engrained in us. The idea of ‘mother earth’ means that all life has symbolic meaning and is treated with a certain conservationist approach.” Despite the presence of many Indigenous groups with varying cultures and energies in Mesoamerica, Indigenous communities implore conservationist ideas in order to preserve the region’s biodiversity and food supply.

Baján continued: “Indigenous communities in Mesoamerica understand the global value that the region possesses. Yet, Indigenous peoples do not receive much help from federal governments. As such, we mostly govern and organize ourselves in conservationist efforts. All of our food, medicine, and traditions are under attack. The governments want to destroy our land. They do not want us to assemble and self-govern. Our conservationist ways and our spirituality are being invaded.”

According to Díaz and Baján, Indigenous peoples understand how to guarantee sustainability. Native peoples are providing real-world solutions to humanity’s self-destructive path. We can combat climate change with traditional forms of agriculture; re-conceptualize the way in which we consider our physical environment in order to preserve the world’s all-important biodiversity; and more, in the name of sustainability.

There are feasible solutions to solving some of the world’s most pressing issues. Indigenous peoples have been practicing them for centuries.

Ryan Dumont

Ryan (Tiohtià:ke/Montréal) is a political science student at Concordia University. His interests in green politics include healthcare reform, feminism, Indigenous affairs, homelessness, education, immigration, asylum-seekers and refugees, drug reform, workers' rights, and more.

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