How Indigenous Leadership Can Help Our Relationship with the Earth


A young Native American man and woman wear hard hats as they install rooftop solar panels as part of the Tribal Solar Accelerator Fund initiative.
Photo credit: Tribal Solar Accelerator Fund

Every year, we celebrate the International Day of the World's Indigenous Peoples. As the United Nations says, "Indigenous Peoples are inheritors and practitioners of unique cultures and ways of relating to people and the environment." The Bezos Earth Fund is deeply humbled by the extraordinary environmental and social contributions of Indigenous Peoples across the globe. Their stewardship is essential to the health and well-being of our planet. According to the International Fund for Agriculture Development, 80 percent of the planet's remaining biodiversity is located in Indigenous Peoples' lands.

Indigenous communities have deeply rooted histories of living in their homelands, with customs and practices that have been proven through the test of time. In the United States, despite a tormented history, Native communities have persevered, and because of their tenacity, some of our most important ecological assets have been saved. 

The examples are numerous – protecting salmon, preventing the extinction of the buffalo, defending against destructive extraction, building resilient ecosystems – and the list goes on. Celebrating International Indigenous Day is about honoring this legacy.

But it is also about the future. At the Earth Fund, we proudly support Indigenous Peoples' work, building upon their legacy in this extraordinary time. As we know, the impacts of climate change are all too real.

And as we assemble all our collective moral and intellectual reserves to develop solutions that will mitigate the most pressing environmental problem in our human history, we must learn from those who have shown what it means to be in good relations with nature.

Understanding and valuing what it truly means to be in a good relationship with nature is a lesson that Indigenous Peoples teach us. Earth Fund grantees are doing this every day. They support resilient and climate-sustainable communities, Indigenous food systems and practices across the country, building solar and other renewable infrastructure and protecting sensitive and threatened biodiversity. They support youth to become strong leaders for the next generations and ensure that Native culture and language remain vital in our world.

A core common principle across the diverse Indigenous Peoples worldwide is respect for all life on Earth. 

Of course, the benefits of Indigenous and tribal stewardship are beyond calculation. Support for Indigenous Peoples is fundamentally about our responsibility to all life on Earth. 

It is also perhaps, just perhaps, how we may protect our precious Earth. Celebrate International Day of the World's Indigenous Peoples – and carry it with you throughout the year.

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