News / 24 August 2023

Recognition of the transformative work of the ILED Network by GEF

A wave of international recognition is shedding light on the valuable role that indigenous communities play in looking after our planet's most vital ecosystems. Last night in Vancouver, two of our partners won a grant in the Inclusive GEF Assembly Challenge Program: the ILED Network and AIDER (Peru). Our colleague Eva Schmitz was present to receive the prize on behalf of the ILED Network.

Recent news from around the world has demonstrated how the knowledge, practices and activism of indigenous peoples can guide us towards a more sustainable future.

Forest protection victories due to Indigenous Peoples' interference

In a landmark decision this week, Ecuadorians have voted to stop an oil drilling project in the Yasuni National Park, an Amazon reserve known to be one of the most diverse biospheres in the world. The reserve is also home to the Waorani and Kichwa tribes, and the Tagaeri, Taromenane and Dugakaeri, who are three of the last remaining uncontacted tribes in the world. Touted as one of the first countries in the world to stop oil exploitation "through direct climate democracy", Ecuador's historic decision acknowledges the connection between indigenous communities and the climate emergency. The advocacy of local communities in Yasuni has served as a powerful force to save important rainforest habitats.

In Brazil, deforestation rates in the Amazon have experienced a significant drop since President Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva took office. Earlier this month, President Lula met with eight other Amazonian nations in Belém to discuss strategies for protecting and sustainably managing the Amazon. In a 'pre-summit' called the Amazon Dialogues, representatives of Indigenous communities met with other civil society actors to "deliver a voice to the People" to the heads of state as they enter the Amazon Summit. Advocates argued for 80% of the Amazon to be protected by 2025, including 100 million hectares of indigenous land.

However, while the commitment of Amazon countries to work together is considered a critical step in the climate debate, many argue that Indigenous people should be more firmly placed at the centre of the discussion. Indigenous guardianship, deeply rooted in traditional wisdom and understanding of nature, can help to steer the rainforests worldwide towards a more sustainable future.

Indigenous-Led Education Network (ILED): A Beacon of Global Recognition

The Indigenous-Led Education Network (ILED) recognizes this difficult balance as a recent recipient of the Global Environmental Facility's (GEF) Inclusivity Challenge Award. The launch of the UN Inclusive GEF Assembly Challenge Program demonstrates an international commitment to supporting innovative, on-the-ground approaches to pressing global environmental challenges.

ILED is a network of grassroots organizations and indigenous federations aimed at passing on the environmental wisdom to the next generations. ILED supports youth empowerment, community resilience and education programmes, initiated, led and managed by indigenous communities themselves. These vary from tree-planting efforts by Sengwer women and children in Kenya, to a Mobile Forest School in the Philippines and indigenous leadership programmes, weaving together indigenous knowledge and 'modern' insights.

The GEF's recognition of ILED's accomplishments is an acknowledgment of the pivotal role that indigenous youth and their knowledge play in safeguarding tropical rainforests and combatting climate change.

However, members of the ILED Network suggest that more needs to be done to ensure the genuine inclusion of indigenous communities in tackling global environmental issues.

"What is really needed is a transformation where Indigenous Peoples fully participate, engage, and shape educational policies and plans that are relevant for them," says Dr Ellen-Rose Kambel, Director and Founder of the Rutu Foundation, the organisation that hosts the ILED's secretariat.

Snehlata Nath of the Keystone Foundation, another ILED member, agrees. "It has to be the agency of the community... it has to be the youth, it needs to be knowledge that is transferred to the children [...] This is the only way that is sustainable in the long run."

In light of the UN International Decade of Indigenous Languages, launched in 2022, the ILED Network is calling on policymakers worldwide to provide greater recognition and support to Indigenous knowledge and languages. Not only in the development of plans and policies in the field of land and water use, nature protection and climate, but also in education.

Inclusion for a Resilient Future

These developments serve as a powerful reminder of the profound role that indigenous communities play in shaping our environmental destiny. The recognition of indigenous environmental stewardship is a call to action, inviting us all to honor and amplify the voices of those who have safeguarded our planet's natural heritage for generations. As we celebrate the victories of Ecuador and the Amazon, we celebrate a shared commitment to a harmonious coexistence with nature.


Also see the publication "Pass it on! Stories of Indigenous-Led Education from the Grassroots" by the ILED Network (2022).

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