Last Monday, October 12, The Guardian published a letter written by Nemonte Nenquimo, “a Waorani woman, a mother, and a leader” who lives in the Amazon rainforest. She is also co-founder of the Ceibo Alliance and one of Time’s 100 most influential people in the world. Ms. Nenquimo addressed her missive to the presidents of the nine Amazonian countries in South America and to all world leaders who share responsibility for the plundering of the rainforest.
Her powerful introduction states:
I am writing you this letter because the fires are raging still. Because the corporations are spilling oil in our rivers. Because the miners are stealing gold (as they have been for 500 years), and leaving behind open pits and toxins. Because the land grabbers are cutting down primary forest so that the cattle can graze, plantations can be grown and the white man can eat. Because our elders are dying from coronavirus, while you are planning your next moves to cut up our lands to stimulate an economy that has never benefited us. Because, as Indigenous peoples, we are fighting to protect what we love—our way of life, our rivers, the animals, our forests, life on Earth—and it’s time that you listened to us.
She speaks clearly and directly, calling Western leaders and corporate powers ignorant. She highlights the oil companies’ role in destroying the sacred forest. Every single line of Nemonte’s brief letter is potent, and we highly recommend reading it in its entirety—and sharing it widely. It is long past time for we citizens of Western societies to wake up.
My elders are my teachers. The forest is my teacher. And I have learned enough (and I speak shoulder to shoulder with my Indigenous brothers and sisters across the world) to know that you have lost your way, and that you are in trouble (though you don’t fully understand it yet) and that your trouble is a threat to every form of life on Earth.
Her message is strikingly similar to that of a man who could scarcely be more different from her, demographically speaking: a 94-year-old British naturalist and broadcaster. David Attenborough’s voice is familiar to anyone who has watched one of his numerous BBC nature documentary series. His most recent 2020 documentary film, David Attenborough: A Life On Our Planet is his personal witness statement of his life and the future. It was released on Netflix on October 4.
Coupled with footage of his expeditions across the planet since the 1950s, the filmmaker identifies actions that could combat climate change and biodiversity loss. His key message is that to restore stability to our planet, we must restore its biodiversity. He promotes bringing countries out of poverty, providing universal healthcare, improving girls' education and investing in renewable energy. He also urges people to change their diet to eliminate or reduce meat in favor of plant-based foods, which would enable land to be used much more efficiently.
Nemonte concludes her letter in a way that Attenborough would surely endorse: “This forest has taught us how to walk lightly, and because we have listened, learned and defended her, she has given us everything: water, clean air, nourishment, shelter, medicines, happiness, meaning. And you are taking all this away, not just from us, but from everyone on the planet, and from future generations.”