Minga Indígena – Voices from the frontline struggle for climate justice
Today is Diwali, NewYear for many of Sikh and Hindu origin. It is the bringing of light, the possibility to start anew. This forthcoming year feels particularly weighty and significant. It is a sacred time for motivating and energising change. It feels apt that I am in the bonnie green place that is Glasgow and am one of many folks from the Shields who are lucky enough to have the opportunity to welcome La Minga Indigena guests to share my home. For the last few days I have been honoured to have from Peru, representatives of the Inca and Wanka peoples – AdriÁn Huaman, a messenger from the sacred Inca peoples, Gersom and Mariella Paredes from the Wanka peoples and, also from Abya Yala (the Americas), Francisco Sanchez of the Apache and Comanche peoples.
The Minga Indígena is a collective of groups, organizations and communities from indigenous nations throughout Abya Yala. Minga is the collective noun for the coming together of indigenous people when there is a common calling.
In the West End of Glasgow we have the cavalcades and police roadblocks and the usual suspects jetting in to perform at COP26. Over on the Southside of Glasgow another gathering is taking place. The leaders of Indigenous Minga come from communities in the Andes, the deepest forests of the Amazon, faraway islands, the deserts, the northernmost territory in Alaska and southern Patagonia. They have laboured to come to help humanity remember what it is to be ‘human’ and to invite them to join the cause for climate and biocultural justice from a new perspective.
My guests arrive late at night after a long, arduous journey. Flying from Lima, via Amsterdam to Scotland. I am struck by how open, ready and willing they are to connect and share, despite their exhaustion. I would definitely be ready for my bed after such lengthy travel but I am met with warm curiosity and kindness. The sharing of food, tea and experiences flow until at 2am Gersom, who is a dentist and teaches dentistry, goes off to teach an online class, live from my child’s room, direct to students in Peru.
In the morning, despite little sleep all four set off to gather and organise at 8am and don’t return until late at night. Gersom, I now realise, teaches his class every night. I don’t believe that work and production should be a measure of our success or usefulness to society but I am in awe of how dedicated my guests are to offering their labour, knowledge and experience to the struggle for climate justice. It shouldn’t matter how they use their time but for the Daily Mail minds let me say that none of La Minga are here on jollies. No one is here on holiday. No one is behaving like a politician. No one is leading with ego.
What I see and have experienced is act after act of generosity and kindness. Of a nurturing of hope which is so direly needed. Of late I am not easily encouraged but these beautiful strangers in my home bring a light and energy that is uplifting and much needed. Their love for life and our planet Earth is so clear, genuine and true, it is humbling to witness. As is the defiant joy and dignity they maintain as an act of resistance in the face of the destruction of their homelands.
I hear news from behind the scenes at the official COP26 Green Zone. A friend who is working in catering messages in disbelief at the immense waste they are witnessing. Of food and endless plastic. Of plates and plates of untouched food which are thrown away each night. My friend suggests that the food is distributed to those in need but is berated by their supervisor and told that on no uncertain terms that all food must be thrown in the dump bins outside the venue. The description of piles of uneaten endangered tuna sandwiches particularly made me wince.
Francisco Sanchez, from the Apache and Comanche peoples, is a youth delegate and is part of the La Minga social media messaging team and is a videographer for the gathering. He tells me of delegates’ frustration of being met with obstruction at every turn and how impossible it is to get a real seat at the table.
The barriers they face begin before they land on Scottish soil. Authorisation and accreditation required to access COP26 is facilitated through each country’s government. This system fails La Minga Indigena as many are in active struggle and conflict with their government. They are placed in the position of approaching their local oppressors to access a vital dialogue about climate justice that they are at the frontline of, in order to participate in a conversation with their global and corporate oppressors. It’s a bizarre, yet familiar structure of oppression.
The failure of the organisers COP26 to recognise the layers of oppression faced by indigenous people means that La Minga manage to gather but they are unable to engage in active discourse and be part of any official change-making process. The passes that have been distributed relegate these delegates to ‘observer’ status. Most have been issued ‘overflow’ passes, which offer no meaningful access. In short, it is an act of greenwashing and whitewashing and no one from La Minga Indigena has access to the rooms where real decisions are being made.
When the La Minga make it to COP26, they are met by staff who only speak English and don’t understand Spanish. It makes me think of my limited British education in modern languages,the unsaid expectation that most of the world knows the English language so there is no need to really invest in another tongue. We are no longer part of Europe, but perhaps we think we are no longer part of the world? We would appear to have no need or desire to host international conferences that are truly international and welcoming.
Many delegates were stopped at European and British airports and faced harassment and difficulty on top of an already stressful journey. Immigration and visa access is extremely difficult for the group to navigate and the support and solidarity of local Scottish and European activists is vital.
When they finally arrive, as well as being met with appreciation from local activists, they are also met with speaking and touring engagements where they are often listed literally as a ‘performance’. Francisco tells me that he has experienced official photographers at COP26 shouting to La Minga Indigena, instructing them ‘to dance’. Being met as a circus act or performing troop hardly bodes well or makes a positive impression and is obviously disrespectful to peoples who have been trustworthy custodians of our planet for time immemorial.
Yesterday the official La Minga Indigena march took place from Glasgow Green to the COP26 Green Zone. On the night before the organising group from the delegates met again with Police Scotland to check the situation and to clarify permissions to march on the road. They were told clearly that they didn’t require permission as long as they proceeded in an orderly fashion. On the actual morning of the march when La Minga Indigena proceeded to march, they were stopped by Police Scotland and informed that they could not walk on the road but would have to stick to pedestrian pathways along the Clyde. My mind flits to the Orange order marches I see in Glasgow regularly which takeover the roads with ease.
Francisco, who is an organiser in Minneapolis, Minnesota and part of the BLM campaign for justice in the wake of the brutal murder of George Floyd by the police, tells me that when this order was given, the group didn’t know how to challenge this due to language issues, worries about immigration status and fear of police intimidation. What ended up taking place was a silent, single file walk along the river. Francisco is clear that this was a way of making sure that they weren’t seen – “Because we were single file on the sidewalk, no one could see us. Had we been on the road as promised we would have made more impact.” Francisco goes on to say that, “…we had no autonomy even, over the speed of the march – it was almost like a performance for COP26 officials.”
Once the march finally made it to COP26, despite having all verifications, including Covid tests, being in order, a mere 2 delegates were able to enter an overflow area and the official scheduled window of opportunity to meet the previous COP president (the current president refused to meet the delegates) swiftly closed with a handful of delegates finally making it through to the scheduled meeting area.
Furthermore, delegates’ sacred items were deemed a security threat and seized. This was distressing for the delegates. My conversation with Francisco makes clear that these sacred items were seen as ‘props’ and not as living aspects of their culture, tradition and faith. What is also clear is that the white gaze can’t discern or value the significance of these items and applies its own values to cultures it has no understanding of.
Yesterday a sacred fire ceremony took place at the Tramway. It was a moving and extraordinary experience which embraced both the local community, Scottish activists and the La Minga Indigena. However, the fire, which is supposed to be kept intact and watched over, was nearly extinguished by the invigilators who had presumed that the fire was just symbolic and unimportant. Health and safety concerns displaced any connection with what was actually taking place – a resurrection of hope that needed careful tending to.
Custodianship of the fire was eventually taken on by GalGael and Govan Free State, who tended to it for three days and nights. But this cultural insensitivity could have been avoided by simple communication and a willingness to understand what was taking place. This is not a performance. This is actually a sacred ritual and invocation. It holds meaning and carries significance. However, in western society we are so used to words and actions holding no value that, when faced with a culture which still recognises the importance of ritual in life, there is dire lack of appreciation and a tendency to undervalue and be dismissive.
Last night I invited my guests to share their thoughts and I was moved by how all the speakers took the time and grace to ‘ask for permission’ before they spoke. Permission not to utter speech but because what is spoken from the mouth holds weight and one must take responsibility for what is said. It makes me consider the nonsense that our politicians speak on our behalf and with pre-supposed permission from us. If they were genuinely held accountable for the lakes, rivers, hills and mountains and soil – would they be less careless and more honest?
I am privileged to bear witness and share their words here today:
Gersom Perades speaks –
“We call upon our Gods and everyone, everything that will speak through us in this conversation.
We call on the sky, the land and the water.
We call on the spirit of the sun, moon and the stars, the water and stones.
We recognise that everything has life, everything vibrates with energy.
We are happy to be here, in this house with you.
This dialogue is the start of our connection.
We are now connected and I am happy for us to be connected.
We are happy to be here with you.
We are happy to be here in Scotland and we bring the message of resistance.
We bring the message and the spirit of resistance from the huge hills and mountains.
We bring resistance from the big lakes and rivers.
We bring the resistance of my people to the people who plunder and rape my land – resistance to the people who mine to take the silver, gold and everything good from the earth
We bring resistance to them who destroy everything
We bring resistance to mining and extractivism.
They destroy the land and make money and nobody in the community benefits.
They don’t give anything to the people who look after the land, the people who are of the land they take from. They give us nothing. They are destructive, they are destroyers
We come here with resistance and we come to say stop it. Stop it.
It must stop now. You have taken enough.
In Peru there is a lot of mining where they blow the earth open.
They do not care what they destroy and hurt to get access to the silver, gold and everything the earth holds.
They do so much harm.
Rivers are destroyed.
The earth is destroyed.
There is also carbon extraction which burns and destroys the air and destroys the earth’s atmosphere.
We are here to resist and to share with the world’s people so that they can fight for mother earth.
So that they can join us with our fight for our mother earth.
I believe that if we all work together there will be laws that say you can’t continue raping and plundering the earth.
Laws that make clear that this is wrong and must not happen.
Law that says no, you can’t hurt our mother earth
Law that says no, you can’t destroy mother earth
Enough is enough.
At the same time we bring another message –
Sometimes the traditional fight is to rise up and scream and fight but there are many forms of struggle.
My people believe a lot in portals.
We put a lot of energy into opening portals through ritual and ceremony.
Rituals that offer love and respect to the earth.
Rituals of the mind so that you can communicate with the sun and with the birds.
But this is not valued in this world and this is why we are but a few.
This is not valued but we know that this is the true and real way to be with the earth.
I want to know how we can protest in a good way and not use violence.
because this is what the portals urge with their message and ritual.
And from those ancient messages and rituals, portals are opened that are more powerful than any billionaire or nikola tesla could create
These portals are called ‘sekhay’ and they are all over the world.
We value them with our spirit and we, my people, know how to communicate with them.
Through this connection and communication we know that life’s purpose is all about happiness. That we should be happy. Even when our bodies are in struggle we must continue to find and be present to happiness.
This fight for mother earth is divided from the left to the right but we believe this is just a distraction.
We have friends in the west who are great leaders in the struggle and we respect them
but we also say that the struggle for justice could be better.
We work on energy, with all the energy centres in the body and in the earth.
It is very close to what in India they call chakras.
We also feel very close to and are inspired by Satyagraha and Gandhi’s salt protests challenging British colonial rule. We think perhaps this type of protest is necessary for our mother earth. Perhaps by this kind of protest we could embarrass and shame those who destroy our planet.
We also come to offer ‘samurkoski’ – a way of life, a philosophy of how we can create a place where we all share and love each other.
That is the only way to free mother earth.
We bring the message that people from all around the world need to return to and practice our sacred, ancestral ways.
We believe that having that connection with ancient ways will make hearts happy although physically we may try to resist this connection.
The great internal fight is to sing and sing inside yourself and maintain happiness whilst in struggle.
You must do it so often that you do it in your sleep. You must do it so often that it becomes your way.
And then those you struggle against will realise that you will keep your ground, keep your stand because how can you not? – This is your way and you are your way.
That’s the message
We call it ‘samurskoski’ – it means to be present in beautiful life and to live well.
This is what I want. This is what my people want
This is what any human should want and need but not at the expense of the earth, but with the good grace of mother earth.
This is the way of life we should all help to keep and share.
But today we weep for our mother earth because she is being destroyed.”
AdriÁn Huaman, a messenger from the sacred Inca peoples speaks –
“ I ask permission to speak from the earth, I ask permission from the ancestors.
Unfortunately in Peru it is a very sad and desperate situation.
Mining companies have come to my communities with lies. They say that in exchange for our land that they will educate. They say they will give my people cars, houses and things.
But it’s all lies.
They tell them all these things, and they make them sign documents and then fail to deliver. Unfortunately in my community very few can read and write and the mining companies take advantage of this.
The western world is something new to us and unfortunately some of my brothers and family believe that an easy life is a better life.
If you accept that easy life you are affecting your people and your home in a negative way, you are part of the damage.
The tricks they use are easy and plenty – the promise of education, sometimes they bribe with cars but in the end we are left with nothing.
It takes some people too long to realise because the miners leave immediately and deny that they never promised you anything like education, cars and things. But they remind you that you did sign away your land.
We have been hoodwinked. Who will come to our aid?
My communities end up with nothing.
The mining companies even take our water. They pollute it with the mining and make it undrinkable.
Because gold and minerals are in the mountains and that’s where they mine, that affects our water system.
They contaminate the streams, rivers and lakes.
And their actions are also melting our glaciers.
We know global warming.
We know it too well. Our mountains used to be white with snow and now the mountains are small and exposed.
We used to wear layers of heavy ponchos but now we have no need because the temperature has changed. We wear thin clothes now.
It’s like this also because of more cars on the road and the exhaust is polluting the air.
I know that a car can be useful for a person but if you understood the effects of the car surely you wouldn’t use it.
If you can make the connection with the car and how the mountains are being destroyed then sure;y you wouldn’t use it?
And then of course the factories create pollution from burning material.
This is creating fractures in our atmosphere. Holes are emerging and the atmosphere is torn open.
Hopefully the message is received, even if it’s one person it still is significant.
That received message is what I believe will change things.
I believe we are at a time where we can change things.
And the way to make change is to share our experiences with others.
Along with listening to indigenous nations, because they carry the life and the knowledge of the ancestors.”
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*Many thanks & photograph credits belong to Francisco Sanchez.
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