15 Mar.

Statement on the confirmation of Honorable Debra Haaland as Secretary of the Interior of the United States

By Tuntiak Katan

Indigenous Shuar of Ecuador and General Coordinator of the  Global Alliance of Territorial Communities

As an organization representing the Indigenous Peoples and local communities guarding the treasured rain forests of the Amazon, Mesoamerica and Indonesia, we wish to congratulate the Honorable Debra Haaland on her confirmation as Secretary of the Department of Interior in the administration of President Joe Biden. 

We hail your commitment to address environmental injustice and economic injustice and to making sure that “tribal leaders – and all marginalized communities – have a seat at the table.” 

You know as few others do that Indigenous and local communities, from Standing Rock to the rainforests of the Amazon, the Congo, Borneo, Indonesia and Mesoamerica are leading the way in protecting our Earth. A recent article in the New York Times captured much of the research that proves that indigenous peoples – when we are in control of our lands – are the most effective stewards of forests. This is true as well in the United States.  

Yet indigenous environmental defenders worldwide continue to confront criminalization and even death in response to our efforts to stop the destruction of the natural world. You have seen this in Standing Rock, and you will see it in Brazil, Colombia and many of our countries. The tools used against us are intimidation, assassination, fire and the destruction of our homes, caused by exploitation of our resources. 

But we have great hope today. The decision of the Biden Administration to nominate you, and of the US Senate to confirm you, represents a turning point. With your help, we will erase the image of our peoples as obstacles to development. We are instead saviors of what remains of the natural world. Honorable Debra, as I write this note – every second, minute and hour that passes – the jungle is being irreversibly devastated and Indigenous leaders killed without justice.

We are an evidence-based solution to climate change, biodiversity loss and pandemic risk. Approximately one quarter of the world’s forests in low and medium income countries are legally controlled by indigenous peoples and local communities. Yet 26% of forested land still lacks legal recognition, which is demonstrably the best way to protect biodiversity and forest cover in these areas. 

Thus we call for the titling of our territories, based on local capacity and legal systems. Furthermore, we need support with technology to help us monitor our territories and funding mechanisms to implement restoration and reforestation initiatives in our territories.

Today international financial mechanisms are sidelining key allies. Global action to address climate change works exclusively through national governments, which do not necessarily include indigenous peoples and local communities in their plans for combating climate change and deforestation; instead, some governments persecute leaders who oppose the destruction of natural resources in their territories. 

Nonetheless, the United States has a chance once again to assume leadership in the fight against climate change with the return to the Paris Agreement.  

You and President Biden and his team can count on the support of Indigenous peoples and local communities of the territorial organizations of Africa, Latin America and Indonesia in this mission.

We are proven to be the best guardians of tropical forests, and, therefore, your front-line partners in mitigating global warming and in keeping dangerous viruses from emerging from their natural environments.   




The Global Alliance of Territorial Communities represents indigenous peoples and local communities from the Amazon Basin, Brazil, Indonesia, Central America and Mexico, grouped in four territorial organizations: the Alliance of Indigenous Peoples of the Archipelago (AMAN), the Mesoamerican Alliance of Peoples and Forests (AMPB), the Articulation of Indigenous Peoples of Brazil (APIB) and the Coordination of the Indigenous Organizations of the Amazon Basin (COICA), representing forest peoples in 16 countries. 


Photo: If Not Us Then Who