Indigenous peoples have long argued that they have done little to contribute to climate change but that they’re the most affected and are expected to make steep sacrifices to fix it. Funding for green energy projects continues to skyrocket despite clear and growing threats to Indigenous peoples’ lands and rights. Indigenous leaders persistently express concern over global conservation programs that remove communities from their traditional territories, while record numbers of environmental, Indigenous, and land defenders are killed.

That context is sure to inform conversations at this year’s United Nations Permanent Forum on Indigenous Issues, or UNPFII, which opens its 22nd session today in New York with a key thematic focus: Indigenous peoples, human health, planetary and territorial health, and climate change. An advisory agency with the United Nations since 2000, UNPFII is one of only three U.N. bodies that deal specifically with Indigenous issues, with a major focus on advocating for the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples, or UNDRIP, a nonbinding resolution that affirms international Indigenous rights but is irregularly followed or applied by nations, and sometimes even by U.N. agencies. UNPFII offers Indigenous peoples, leaders, organizations, and allies an opportunity to raise specific issues to the agency in the hope of winding those issues through the international system to world leaders and policy makers.

“We are going to the U.N. because in our countries they are not hearing us,” said Majo Andrade Cerda, Kichwa member of the Global Indigenous Youth Caucus from Ecuador. “It’s a way for us to say we are still alive, because we don’t know when the states and the extractive industries are going to kill us. We are threatened every day.”

With COVID-19 restrictions continuing to loosen around the world, the forum will be conducted completely in person for the first time in four years at the United Nations’ headquarters in New York. And while travel costs can be immense for many Indigenous leaders, forum members say that in-person is generally more productive as many communities have struggled with poor internet connections. It also offers a rare chance for collaboration and networking among Indigenous peoples around the world. More than 2,000 participants have registered to attend this year.

Read the full article about Indigenous leaders gathering by Joseph Lee at Grist.