Thunberg takes climate stance in solidarity with young indigenous people

Native American says the ‘system continues to value corporate profit over indigenous lives’

Sweden’s Greta Thunberg (centre) with representatives of indigenous people  at the COP25 climate conference in Madrid, Spain. Photograph: Pablo Blazquez Dominguez/Getty Images

Sweden’s Greta Thunberg (centre) with representatives of indigenous people at the COP25 climate conference in Madrid, Spain. Photograph: Pablo Blazquez Dominguez/Getty Images


Greta Thunberg turned a spotlight on the struggles of the world’s indigenous peoples when she appeared at the UN climate conference alongside young campaigners experiencing the consequences of an overheating world first-hand.

The Swedish teenager, who arrived at COP25 in Madrid after crossing the Atlantic by catamaran, said she was availing of “some media attention” to give a voice to people whose stories needed to be listened to, including those from Africa and places where climate activism is actively suppressed.

She stayed largely silent during her first official appearance at the summit to allow a young Native American, a Chilean, a Pacific islander, a Russian and a Filipino to speak.

“Their rights are being violated across the world, and they are also among the ones being hit the most and the quickest by the climate and environmental emergency,” she said.

Their testimonies indicated the emergency was not an issue for today’s children when they grow up, Ms Thunberg said. “People are suffering and dying from it today.”

Rose Whipple of the Santee Dakota, native to Minnesota in the US, said: “The climate crisis is a spiritual crisis for our entire world. Our solutions must weave science and spirituality and traditional ecological knowledge with technology.”

She described the decline of the Mississippi, a “sacred river that fed people for thousands of years”, and her people’s failed attempt to halt a Limetree oil pipeline in the courts. She said “the system continues to value corporate profit over indigenous lives”.

Burning out

“While countries congratulate each other for their weak commitments, the world is literally burning out,” said Chilean activist Angela Valenzuela.

She said the people of Chile were not protesting about 30 pesos but 30 years of governments “that failed to protect us and fuelled the climate crisis for the benefit of a few”.

She said it was unacceptable that the Chilean government came to COP25 to clean up its reputation when human rights violations were being committed every day.

The low-lying Marshall Islands was the first nation to comply with a requirement in the Paris Agreement to scale-up its planned emissions reductions in 2018 – a move bigger emitters are under pressure to follow by next year.

Carlon Zackhras, representing the atoll nation, said rising sea levels threatened his home, which is only two metres above the waterline. “We are having to deal with issues we did not create.”

He said two weeks ago the island had its latest inundation, while infectious diseases such as dengue fever and measles were being made worse by global warming. “Migration is the only plan B.”

Arshak Makichyan from Russia said a year ago he knew nothing about the climate crisis. When he heard Thunberg say “the world is on fire” he believed it was a metaphor. Seeing fires in the Amazon and Congo last summer proved otherwise.

He has been arrested for protesting in solidarity with the global Fridays For Future movement and detained for a few days but that did not bother him. It was an action he expected to be repeated.

He said people stood up against Adolf Hitler “who almost invaded the world”.

“People stopped him for their children’s sake,” he said, suggesting a similar global effort was now needed to address the climate crisis.


The Madrid meeting was supposed to be a “blue cop” to underline the importance of oceans, but negotiating nations had not brought the issue centre stage, said Kisha Erah Muana from the Philippines.

As a consequence the colourful coral and rich marine life “is a playground I once knew” that no longer existed.

At the conclusion of the briefing, Thunberg said indigenous people had lived in balance with nature for many hundreds of years, and had valuable knowledge that needed to be taken on board “in this crucial time of crisis”.