Joan Carling (Kankana-ey Igorot, Philippines) has been fighting for Indigenous peoples’ rights, social justice and sustainable development for over 30 years. As co-founder and global director of Indigenous Peoples Rights International (IPRI), Joan is keenly aware that violations of Indigenous peoples’ rights are escalating all over the world, despite international protections. She shares how she navigates dealing with those in power, why it’s essential for the survival of the planet to support Indigenous land guardianship, and how she draws inspiration from the past and the future to continue the important work she does.
Host and lead producer: Felipe Contreras. Story editor: Jenny Asarnow.
Seedcast is a production of Nia Tero, a global nonprofit which supports Indigenous land guardianship around the world through policy, partnership, and storytelling initiatives.
[00:00:00] Felipe Contrera...: Hey, hey everyone. Welcome back to Seedcast. This is Felipe Contreras talking to you from the homelands of the Coast Salish peoples. [singing] This season we are focusing on stories about indigenous guardianship. Indigenous peoples inherit right and responsibility to govern and manage collective territory using their own laws and values, language, and traditional practices. [singing]
[00:00:58] Before we had environmentalism or conservation practices, we just had values rooted in society. Values of reciprocity and balance where communities took as much from the land as they gave. Prioritizing a healthy environment where people lived in harmony with the planet, then colonizers came to Indigenous lands with a hunger for resources and society changed.
[00:01:29] The colonizers brought violence against Indigenous peoples discouraging their ways. And in many places, the lands became unhealthy. So the colonizers created laws and initiatives to protect certain areas from their own actions, but this often restricted Indigenous peoples, and that is still happening across much of earth.
[00:01:53] Indigenous communities remain under threat from those who seek to protect the very place Indigenous peoples call home. So today we hear about people working to protect each other for the benefit of all people's and their shared home. [singing]
[00:02:16] In this episode, there are conversations about death and murder. So we acknowledged the entire episode might not be suitable for all audiences. In 2020, a new organization was created.
[00:02:35] Joan Carling: Indigenous Peoples Rights International is an Indigenous led organization working to, to reduce and prevent criminalization of Indigenous peoples and the violation of indigenous people's rights with impunity.
[00:02:52] Felipe Contrera...: Indigenous Peoples Rights International was founded with the support of Nia Tero and Ford Foundation. And formed by Victoria Tauli-Corpuz, who you might recognize from our previous episode of Seedcast and Joan Carling.
[00:03:07] Joan Carling: I am Joan Carling. I am an Indigenous activist from the Cordillera Philippines and I fight for human rights and indigenous peoples rights, social justice, and, uh, sustainable development for all.
[00:03:25] Felipe Contrera...: Joan is extremely passionate about her work and it's carried her through it for over 30 years.
[00:03:31] Joan Carling: And what really brought me to this is the strong sense of, uh, of the need for social justice, the need to protect and assert and respect, uh, the dignity of Indigenous peoples that we may be different, but we are, uh, equal to anyone else. And we deserve to be treated, uh, with respect and, and that our rights are also respected and protected.
[00:03:59] Felipe Contrera...: We were fortunate enough to interview her in November of 2021 at the United Nations climate talks in Glasgow. Joan mentions that there are protections in place meant to prevent Indigenous peoples from violence like the United Nations declaration on the rights of Indigenous peoples, but that is not working everywhere.
[00:04:20] Joan Carling: Unfortunately, that violation of Indigenous people's rights is still escalating all over.
[00:04:27] Felipe Contrera...: Joan and Indigenous People's Rights, International work hard to fight against those violations. How do they do it? Well, they listen.
[00:04:36] Joan Carling: We work closely with the communities, bring their issues at the global attention and try to influence policies at the global level. So that, that situation on the ground will change.
[00:04:49] Felipe Contrera...: Her organization works from a very micro level to a macro level. And they work with Indigenous communities all over the world.
[00:04:57] Joan Carling: So it's, it's local to global, global to local.
[00:05:01] Felipe Contrera...: But they are different. They don't compete with other grassroots organizations that are working on the same issues. Actually, they support them and work with them.
[00:05:12] Joan Carling: Because we're indigenous. And we work with Indigenous communities. The, the solidarity is already there. We do understand each other, and that, that there's trust and respect in the way we, we work together.
[00:05:28] Felipe Contrera...: Joan and her organization work on a number of different issues relating to violence and criminalization. Sometimes it's against violence from corporations and governments. And sometimes it's against conservation efforts. You see, many Indigenous peoples have been able to stay and steward their lands since time Immemorial, but many indigenous communities still don't have legal rights to do so.
[00:05:53] Sometimes that's a result of an attempt to "protect nature." That model of conservation has a name it's called fortress conservation. It is designed to protect nature by restricting an area from human activity. It was a model that has displaced 100s of thousands of Indigenous peoples. Many conservation organizations have simply moved away from it. But in some cases it's still happening.
[00:06:22] Joan Carling: We are being criminalized. When we take care of, of nature, because we don't have the legal right over this land and resources, we do not have the legal, uh, right to do our traditional occupations.
[00:06:38] Felipe Contrera...: For many Indigenous peoples. Their lands and environment are essential to their health, to their culture and to their ways of being so restricting access to their resources is harmful. But in many countries, it's the law.
[00:06:54] Joan Carling: Thailand has a law. Even Nepal has a law that taking, uh, forest products is a criminal act for doing our traditional occupation that is not harming the environment because we are only taking what we need and not abusing because long as you, you, you take what you need and you don't abuse it. That, that's how a nature thrives.
[00:07:25] Felipe Contrera...: That's something Indigenous peoples know around the world. Last October, Joan testified about this in a United States Congress hearing on protecting human rights in international conservation. Joan shared a story.
[00:07:40] Joan Carling: One leader that I met personally in Thailand, was killed for getting honey from the forest.
[00:07:48] Felipe Contrera...: His name was Mr. Porlajee or Billy for short. He was an Indigenous leader who went into the national park to harvest honey in 2014 and arrested by forest guards. Joan told Congress while the forest guards claimed they released him, he was nowhere to be found. Joan said there was hostility between Billy and these forest guards because they had burned down his village. That was in the national park. She told Congress the body of Billy was later found in an oil barrel in the forest five years after he went missing. [singing]
[00:08:34] Joan's years of experience and activism and in the policy world have allowed her to bring the issues from communities to mining companies and dam builders and government agencies. It has allowed her to realize quite a lot when learning how to deal with the big power players.
[00:08:52] Joan Carling: One of the things that has.... that really I realized is that when dealing with those in power, uh, like companies, for example, or even those in government, they really have a different, um, view of things. There, there is an inherent contradiction because they want to take over our resources for their own vested interest. And we want to take care of our resources for the future generations.
[00:09:25] Felipe Contrera...: Joan has the ability to navigate those contradictions, bringing awareness, the problems and solutions to address them solutions that prioritize the safety and wellbeing for the people in community. Her skills are much needed, but the work is not always easy.
[00:09:43] Joan Carling: We're not saying eye to eye. It's always like we're talking in, in different directions. And so that made me realize, well, how can we reach out to these people? How can we, uh, try to, to make them understand where we are? Right. So, and also trying to understand where they're coming from. So this whole notion like you, uh, putting your, your foot into their shoe, tell them to put their shoe in my shoe. Right. And, uh, and in that sense, it's like, how do you bridge that, that human connection somehow?
[00:10:21] Felipe Contrera...: They bridge by facilitating conversations with indigenous leaders, to organizations like The United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization, The International Union for Conservation of Nature, to better work with communities and their needs.
[00:10:39] Joan Carling: So with, with this, they feel like they're being heard. And that's what they say. Well, finally, we feel like we're being heard.
[00:10:50] Felipe Contrera...: Joan's work became even more global in 2014. From 2014 to 2016, she was appointed to The United Nations Economic and Social Council as an Indigenous expert and served in the United Nations, permanent forum on Indigenous issues. [singing]
[00:11:17] This year, there'll be a number of political gatherings like The United Nations Permanent Forum on Indigenous Issues in New York, the United nations climate talks known as COP 27 in Egypt, and several others where world leaders and organizations will be talking about how they can protect biodiversity better in hopes of stopping the climate catastrophe for a rich and diverse future planet.
[00:11:46] If you wanna learn more about this, I would recommend you go back in the Seedcast archive and listen to an episode called how traditional land stewardship can save life on earth. Indigenous peoples, including Joan will be involved in these policy discussions with their voices at the table, using their platform to stress that any conservation measures need to include the protection of an Indigenous rights.
[00:12:13] Joan Carling: And if we're again, be thrown out of our, of our territories in the name of conservation, then we are going to exacerbate social inequity and social injustice and massive human rights violations. That would be the result right? Now. It's also an opportunity to do it the right way. And what I mean in doing the right way is first respect and protect the rights of Indigenous peoples through policy reforms, through clear measures on the ground and to partner with Indigenous peoples it's partnership based on our rights and respect for our dignity that is needed. A part... that partnership will then be instrumental because we are already protecting. We are already protecting different ecosystems. The biodiversity, we are already protecting it.
[00:13:16] Felipe Contrera...: Joan wants to see stronger protections for earth.
[00:13:21] Joan Carling: But if they're doing again in the name of fortress conservation, then we are... it's really going to be another form of genocide for Indigenous peoples.
[00:13:35] Felipe Contrera...: Let's sit with how serious that is and why we can't go back.
[00:13:40] Joan Carling: If we are moving for equality and, and social justice, if we are making the word more humane, then Indigenous people should be part of it. If, if we're not part of this, uh, humanity has failed. Humanity has failed.
[00:14:01] Felipe Contrera...: By part of she means not only the decision making, but the solutions.
[00:14:06] Joan Carling: We also live for the future. Sometimes you feel like you are, uh, you're facing a dead wall or you're talking to a dead tree, but we just have to persist, right? Because, because we have, uh, we always have to have hope that things will change eventually, because I do believe that our ancestors are guiding us in, in moving forward. [singing]
[00:14:43] Felipe Contrera...: Normally I'm not a big believer in doom storytelling. We've all seen it and heard it alert, alert. The ice caps are melting. Let's save the polar bears, ah, the wildfires, whatever the issue is, people have been shouting for change for long enough for it to go in one ear and out the other. And hopefully you'll hear this because this story to needs to be heard. So to me, to move forward, we need intention and a collective voice. We need to pay attention and listen, because it can't just be organizations like Indigenous Peoples Rights International or Nia Tero. It can't just be people like Joan talking about this. And I'm not saying we all need to present in the front of the UN or work for an NGO that missions aligns with these issues, but have a conversation with a friend. We can all pay attention and not let these injustices go.
[00:15:45] These particular injustices are both wrong as are all injustices with the added damage and suffering and jeopardizing the wellbeing of groups who uphold identities and territories essential to the wellbeing of all of us. [singing]
[00:16:18] Thanks for listening. Nia Tero is a Seattle based nonprofit. We're both indigenous and non-indigenous people with a mission to secure Indigenous guardianship for vital ecosystems. That means we provide support to Indigenous people's go who are protecting their homelands from colonization and destruction. Their practices are one of our best guides for making earth livable for humans and other species for generations to come. Here at Seedcast, our guests represent themselves. They don't necessarily reflect the views of the Ni Atero. We honor their honest and lived experiences, and we'd love to hear yours. Email us Seedcast@niatero.org, or find us on social media at Ni Atero. We'd love to hear from you. You can learn more about Seedcast and about our work at Ni Atero on our website niatero.org Special. Thanks to my colleagues, Tracy Rector and David Rothschild for the work in producing the interview with Joan Carling.
[00:17:21] This episode was produced at mixed by me, Felipe Contreras, and edited by Jenny Asarnow. Our host is Jessica Ramirez. Our consulting producer is Julie Keck executive producer is Tracy Rector fact checker, Roman Lee Johnson. Theme song by Mia Kami. And we look forward to sharing more stories with you all very soon. [singing]