Redefining the future through Indigenous concepts from the Amazon

September 28, 2022
Indigenous community of the reservation participating in one of the SCIOA workshops. Photo: David Jurado/Pact
According to the Coordinator of Indigenous Organizations of the Amazon River Basin, one Indigenous rights defender is killed every two days in the Amazon Basin. Development can be dangerous, even as it aims to bring growth to Indigenous communities. Development can also undermine the authority and independence of Indigenous communities by forcing a certain criterion of what a successful future looks like. But Indigenous Peoples (IPs) and communities have been protecting their ancestral lands for generations, and their protection supports global climate change mitigation efforts. Indeed, there is quantified evidence that involving IPs in biodiversity conservation and supporting their presence in territories improves conservation efforts. Unlike the Global North’s conceptual understanding, for IPs, development is not an end goal but rather a state of being and a relationship with nature, conceptualized as a communitarian being; a subject to describe the relationship between human beings and nature. Development cannot be measured in numbers, such as the number of dollars that represent a hectare allocated to cow ranching versus the value of the same hectare in a forest. Pact, with support from USAID, works to advance an IP approach to sustainable development. In alliance with 18 Indigenous Peoples Organizations (IPOs), the Strengthening the Capacity of Indigenous Organizations Activity (SCIOA) advances more inclusive social-environmental governance of the Amazon basin. Our role is one of attendant companion, supporting IPOs to lead and prioritize strategies they think most appropriate.
Filming an indigenous ritual at a reservation with a mobile phone. Credit: USAID

Three concepts that have been fundamental to IPOs’ approaches under SCIOA are: Buen Vivir, Vida Harmonica, and the Law of Origin. The Buen Vivir concept elevates the community, and community is inclusive to humans, plants, animals, and more. This concept is in constant evolution and tailored to community needs. As such, it cannot be literally translated into English as “Well Being.”  It is linked to the Vida Harmonica which connotes harmonious living between humanity and Pachamama (i.e., Mother Nature). Together they imply living harmoniously and sustainably. The Law of Origin is a broader concept which refers to ancestral wisdom for managing the material and spiritual worlds.

Through these concepts, IPOs have reconceptualized and directed Pact’s capacity development support and other resources to enable Indigenous strategies to come to the fore, contributing to more locally grounded and thereby sustainable outcomes. For example, by advancing intergenerational knowledge transfer from elders to youth and supporting women to join IP leadership in more powerful capacities.

Indigenous women workshop participants. Credit: David Jurado/Pact

Through its engaged communities focus, Pact works to localize aid. The experiences, ideas, and priorities of, and partnership with, the Amazon Basin IPOs – and the many other communities Pact works with globally – have enabled Pact to support more equitable development.

The future of the conservation of the biodiversity of the Amazon Basin, and what it represents for the balance of the world, depends on the decisions that organizations such as Pact and its partners take today to support IPOs in their fight for the defense of the territory and its rights. For this reason, we would like to thank the 18 IPOs with whom we have the privilege of working and learning from, as well as Max Ooft of the Association of Indigenous Village Leaders in Suriname whose thinking has guided us throughout. Let´s rethink development as a process of supporting Indigenous communities to lead us to el Buen Vivir.

On September 19, Pact presented on its approach to sustainable development at the International Conference on Sustainable Development. For more information on the work of the IPOs and SCIOA’s approach, check out our presentation and recording. A paper on the approach these 18 IPOs have taken with SCIOA is also available.