Environmental Hero: José Gregorio Díaz Mirabal | One Earth
Environmental Hero: José Gregorio Díaz Mirabal

José Gregorio Díaz Mirabal, General Coordinator of the Coordinator of Indigenous Organizations of the Amazon Basin (COICA). Image credit: Courtesy of COICA

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Environmental Hero: José Gregorio Díaz Mirabal

As the General Coordinator of the Indigenous Organizations of the Amazon Basin (COICA),  José Gregorio Díaz Mirabal wants to make it clear that Indigenous Peoples of the Basin have lived in balance with nature for more than 10,000 years. When it comes to the Amazonia, Gregorio states that the Indigenous peoples have been able to preserve nature by respecting it, not just conserving it. They feel nature is both their family and their home. However, by having this close relationship with the environment and its resources, it’s tribe communities like these that bear the brunt of the direct consequences of climate change. Their forests, rivers, and biodiversity are being abused by tens of thousands of illegal miners, who flood Indigenous territories with no response from the government. 

Gregorio and his team at COICA represent 511 Indigenous communities living in the Amazonia, protect 66 isolated tribes, and serve as a voice for human rights, natural resources, international relations, education, family, and health. The main purpose of the organization is to support Indigenous peoples in their fight for legal recognition and the protection of their territories. Their seat in the Climate Alliance Executive Board ensures the interests of the Indigenous peoples. The Amazonia is also the world's largest rainforest and is an exceptional environmental resource taking up 25% of the world’s carbon dioxide that is absorbed on land and hosts some of the largest forms of biodiversity. By protecting Indigenous rights, the forest is protected, and climate change is mitigated.  

Image credit: Courtesy of Coordinadora de las Organizaciones Indígenas de la Cuenca Amazónica (COICA).

Due to the fact that rainforests are under siege like never before, Indigenous Peoples of the nine countries of the Amazonia put their lives on the line daily to mitigate illegally set fires, legal and illegal mining operations, and the invasion of cattle ranches and plantations of timber, palm oil, and soy. COVID-19 has caused more concern by wiping out a large portion of their elder community, whose education on the environment is priceless and passed down orally from generation to generation. The lack of recognition of Indigenous ownership by both government and corporations is not new, rather has been going on for years where a large part of Indigenous territories have to deal with oil and mining companies that turn a blind eye to the fact that the Indigenous peoples live there. 

However, in June 2021, the first collaborative global study of its kind highlighted the crucial role of Indigenous Peoples and Local Communities (IPLC) in protecting nature and biodiversity globally.  Informed by approximately 30 conservation experts, Indigenous peoples, and rights organizations, the study recognizes how paramount it is to respect the rights and conservation efforts of the IPLC as the true custodians of their lands. It provides indisputable evidence that global biodiversity goals will be unattainable without the involvement of Indigenous Peoples, whose lands cover at least 32% of the planet’s terrestrial surface with 91% of their lands still considered to be in good or fair ecological condition today. What Gregorio and COICA are asking for is a dialogue where the legal rights of the Indigenous peoples are reviewed, where they have the right to prior consultation and territorial autonomy when it comes to what happens on their land. By keeping the Indigenous peoples out of the conversation, we endanger all the ecosystems that they protect, which will affect the entire global community. 

Indigenous peoples are resilient, Gregorio believes. They were once 80 million strong and have been reduced to 3 million, but he knows their resistance is their power because they live with nature and know how to conserve their territories. But the day the Indigenous peoples disappear, he warns, Amazonia and humanity will also disappear. Gregorio brings a message of urgency but also of hope. He believes a global community will join the mission to protect the Amazonia and that it’s important to note the Indigenous peoples do what they do in exchange for nothing, they just want to protect what they love and what is rightfully theirs.

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