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Participants from around the world joined the training aimed at providing mentorship for Indigenous youth leaders to engage in the global climate debate.

Participants from around the world joined the training aimed at providing mentorship for Indigenous youth leaders to engage in the global climate debate. Photo by Fala/Thais Lazzeri /Akiko Nishimoto.

December 8, 2023

COP28: Indigenous Guardians Engage in Training to Advocate for their Rights

The initiative, supported by Nia Tero, empowers the next generation of Indigenous leaders to influence global climate negotiations.

"I will return to my community to discuss adapting to climate change and the impact of these changes in our lives.” - Jacinta Sajila (Maasai), Kenya, IMPACT Trust

For the first time, Jacinta Sajila (Maasai, Kenya), an Indigenous sociologist and political scientist from Kenya, had the opportunity to bring stories of resilience from her homeland to COP28. During the climate conference in Dubai, where stakeholders from all over the world were discussing the future of climate politics, she emphasized the significant role of Indigenous guardianship in protecting Earth from the climate crisis.

To ensure emerging Indigenous leaders like Jacinta succeed in their efforts at COP28, Nia Tero has supported a training initiative by the Indigenous Livelihoods Enhancement Partners (ILEPA) in partnership with ELATIA, Tebtebba Foundation, and the United Nations Voluntary Fund (UNVF).

The final phase of the training, aimed at mentoring Indigenous leaders worldwide, took place on November 30th, the first day of COP28. This marked the culmination of a series of global virtual training sessions.

"Learning is a process. This training was very informative for me and it will help build resilience in our communities," said Jacinta. "Many of these terminologies, like carbon credit, are new to me. But we are already experiencing the impacts in the community. I will take all this information with me to amplify the impact of our action."

Multiplying Indigenous Voices

The overall goal of the initiative is to support future Indigenous leaders, including Indigenous women and youth, who are equipped with a clear understanding of their rights and skills to engage in sustained advocacy with governments, participate in key global processes, and take the lead in actions that strengthen and develop their Indigenous communities and organizations.

"Decisions made in spaces like COP impact the lives of communities, and part of the training is to illustrate this scenario. Our work is to support and empower the next generation of leaders for participation on the global level," said Valeree Nolasco, Policy Consultant at Nia Tero. "Each leader brings with them a network, which is their community and territory. So, it's a multiplier project."

While attending the conference, Jack Halbert Collard (Whadjuk-Ballardong Citizen of the Nyoongar Nation, Australia) felt as if his community fellows and ancestors, who, in his words, had fought for their rights in his homeland, had come with him to Dubai.

"Being surrounded by brothers and sisters who are fighting for their spaces in their journeys is inspiring and gives hope for the future. When we are together, it is powerful”, he said.

For Jack, the training supported leaders as they encountered new terminologies and mechanisms impacting Indigenous territories. "We have the tools that come from our territories, but the training updates us and provides a perspective on how to strategically use these tools.”

Face to Face With Governments

One of the most valuable lessons from the training is to seize every opportunity since global events like COP provide easier access to governments.

"We never meet our [national government] leaders when we are at home, but when we are here, we have the chance to talk face to face, whether in a coffee shop or on a panel. New leaders need to be prepared for this," says Grace Balawag (Kankana-ey Igorot, Philippines), one of the mentors of the training.

"Training the next generation of Indigenous Leaders is a priority. We bring in new people every year, and we see that those who have undergone this training are now helping shape new groups. It's really learning by doing”, she said.

For Eileen Mairena, also a mentor and member of the Misquito Indigenous community in Nicaragua , the training means protection. As a lawyer and climate finance specialist, Eileen is part of the Center for Autonomy and Development of Indigenous Peoples, one of the organizations that make up ELATIA.

"The world has changed. Our lives need information that is no longer only within the villages. The interests in our territories come from outside, from the global level. We need to participate in the climate debate now,” said Eileen.