By Kate Vogel
On Friday, December 6th, I had the opportunity to join one of the world’s largest climate strikes ever: the 500,000 people strong march in Madrid, Spain. As I was sitting in a restaurant eating tapas, I wasn’t thinking about what the next eight hours of my day would look like. Rather, I was just watching a group of people across the street adjust their headdresses, paint signs and talk with people walking by.
As more people started coming though I realized what day it was: Friday. Climate strike day. #FridaysforFuture day. Not only was it a Friday, it was a Friday in Madrid, where COP25, the United Nations Climate Change Conference was being held. That’s when it hit me: right in front of me I had the opportunity to finally join a climate strike, in one of the largest cities, during one the largest climate conferences in the world.
I left my dad and crossed the street. “Are you joining the climate strike today?” The man with the microphone chuckled and said yes, he was. “The climate strike? The one Greta Thunberg will be at?” Laughing even more now at my naivety, “there is only one climate strike here today,” he informed me. I was promptly handed a pin, “defensores del cielo” it read. The rest of the night followed in this awe-inspiring, energetic blur.
The group I joined was none other than the Mapuche, the largest native group in Chile, where the conference was supposed to originally have been held. Walking with the group were young women from Spain and France, who in some capacity, had all worked with the Mapuche and other indigenous groups around Latin America previously. Men and women, children and elders from Bolivia, Columbia, Brazil, and more lead our way to the front of the protest as people cheered for the Indigenous peoples to lead the way. Rodrigo Andrade, the Climate Reality Project Latin American leader, marched with us as well. He is from Santiago, Chile, and as we waited for the official march to start, he told me of the struggles of the Mapuche people, which quickly became evident as one of the main themes of COP 25. The sign we held read “saberes tradicionales al servicio de la humanidad vs cambio climático”. Translated it read “traditional knowledge at the service of humanity vs climate change.” This is what Rodrigo told me about. This is what COP25 needed to address, and failed to address.
The Mapuche march because they are being wronged. Indigenous peoples, especially in coastal, developing countries, are arguably the most vulnerable to the impacts of climate change, due to their intricate relationships with nature and dependency on the land. They march to fight for their homes, their families, their children… their future. Indigenous peoples have a wealth of knowledge about the land, traditional ecological knowledge (TEK) is what we learn about in our classes. They march to fight for the inclusion of TEK in climate change conversations, to fight for their rights, to fight to have a voice, a seat at the table when it comes to conversations about how their concerns will be addressed. They march to raise awareness, and at COP25 they sparked curiosity and fire in us as they called to our souls to connect to the land again. To appreciate where we come from and how we are able to continue to survive because of the land, hoping that by learning to appreciate the land we will become more empathetic beings again, and change our ways to reduce the impacts of climate change on these beautiful people and communities. COP25 negotiators failed to give Indigenous peoples the assurances and protection they need, but outside of those negotiating walls change happened. A fire was started.
I am forever grateful to the Mapuche I met during the climate march, to Rodrigo for answering all of my questions, and to the brave women who spoke at COP25 about their real and lived struggles and the dire need to change our ways.