RISING FROM THE ASHES - Bringing Dayak voices to UN

Emmanuela Shinta, a young Indigenous activist from the Dayak group and founder of the Ranu Welum Foundation, opened a plenary on REDD+ – a U.N. program on reducing emissions from deforestation and forest degradation – on a personal note. In a moving story, she shared how her native landscape in the Indonesian Borneo went from being a biodiversity hotspot and life-giving sanctuary for her ancestors to being dubbed one of the world’s most polluted places in recent years.

Emmanuela Shinta is giving her speech. Credit photo : GLF Mutimedia

Emmanuela Shinta is giving her speech. Credit photo : GLF Mutimedia

Here is her full speech.

(mimicking the sounds from the forest)

I still can remember clearly the memories from 20 years ago. I woke up each morning because of that sound. At first I thought it was the sounds of bird, but my grandma told me later it was the sounds of gibbons singing. I loved to explore the forest with barefoot and collect the wild fruits. I also liked to climb the roof of my house. I would sit there toward the forest in our backyard and enjoy the green view. It was so peaceful.

One day, when it was only my mom and I at home, my house was caught in the fire because of electrical short circuit. It was 3 a.m when I saw my mother and I managed to escape from the blazing flames that engulfed our wooden house and also all my favorite things. I was just a little girl wearing pyjamas, weeping and saying, “ My clothes, Mom! My clothes!”

It’s not okay to see your home burned.

The fact is the same thing is happening right now. Our planet, our home, is burning in the fire.

All the excellencies and distinguished guests from all across the world, my name is Emmanuela Shinta, a woman from Dayak Maanyan tribe.

My homeland Kalimantan, Indonesia, is the real habitat of orang utans, ones of the ancient rainforest which is more than 140 millions years old. It has wonderful biodiversity and rich natural resources. My people, Dayak indigenous communities, are the first people of the land, We have more than 400 different sub tribes, speak 400 different languages, and have beautiful culture. Kalimantan once was dubbed as the lung of the world and the emerald of the earth. But, I am doubt if the title still fits in.

In 2015, Kalimantan had been the hottest and the most polluted island in the world. It was caused by huge forest and peat fire that destroyed more than 800,000 hectares area in Kalimantan. I have gone to areas where fires burned three to five meters under the surface of the ground, and produced a thick haze which contained an amount of carbon emission that could make you collapse in less than a few minutes. In 2015, carbon emissions released by peat fires exceeded the entire US’ economy emission at the same period. The air pollution was equal to smoking 672 cigarettes a day. I saw our elders and children were dying, even I lost my voice for three weeks because of smoke inhalation. And I want you to know it has happened not for one year. Not for a few years. It has been happening since 1997.

It never feels okay to see your home burned.

Now I’m recalling my talk at Global Landscape Forum two years ago in Jakarta, when I was talking about the very same issue. Hurt, sorrow and pain are so real.

But, we haven’t given up.

I believe the ancient wisdoms are the key to save this planet. Those are the wisdoms have been keeping our forests for thousands years. It cannot be replaced by technology. However, technology can be a very effective to support the restoration of ecosystem and to enhance our responsibilities as human. This is where my generation has to play the role. The indigenous wisdoms that we receive from our ancestors and from nature, combined with skills, knowledge and experience that we receive from education can be very powerful to make a change and create a better future.

Three years ago, together with other fellows young people in Kalimantan, I started an indigenous initiative-based organization named RANU WELUM FOUNDATION, which means Living Water, and launched YOUTH ACT, a movement that call for all indigenous youth to speak on behalf of their people, stand to defend their rights and act to protect the forests.

We create the first haze protection shelter in Indonesia.

We use videos and films to bring our stories out and be heard by government and global audience.

We train young people to be activists that use their platform to speak about climate change and human rights.

We replant the trees and forest the have been burned.

We speak in national and global forum, bring wisdoms from our elders and demand the policy makers to involve the local communities in policy making. “Don’t bring the alien concept only to justify your project!” That’s what we say.

We educate next generation, pass them the teaching of ancestors and connection to mother earth, because we believe the children maybe only 27% of the world’s population now but they are 100% of the world’s future.

Ladies and gentleman,

There are many times I want to give up, feeling hopeless and helpless. But every time I want to quit this battle, I am thinking about my sisters, my brothers, fathers, mothers, elders, and the most important is, the generation that will come after me. What kind of future that I want our children to have? While there is an uncertainty, one thing that for sure, it must be better than what I have today. Then, I clench my heart once again, gather all of my strength to stand before you all, and even though my feet are trembling and my voice is shaking, I want to say the same words like what Greta Thunberg always says, “We have to act as our house in the fire. And the fact is yes, our house now is in the fire.”

This is a message from me, Emmanuela Shinta, a Dayak woman from the jungle of Borneo who wants to wake up in the morning and listen to gibbon singing once again.

I believe in the collaboration and partnership. REDD+ can be one of the key solutions to climate change mitigation and adaption provided that it respects and aligns with indigenous and local communities’ rights, needs and interests. This can only be done through bottom up approach by fully involving and giving leadership to the community.

Each of us has a role to play.

Where is the best place to start? Here.

When is the best time to act? Now.

Me. You. Us. We are the power.

Tarima kasih hene, tabe salamat penah anrau.

Full article of GLF Kyoto can be read here.