Our work with Native and indigenous peoples has always drawn the connection between indigenous land rights, environmental protection and human rights. When indigenous peoples are deprived of their ties to the earth and their ways of life, they suffer. The effects of poverty, poor health, discrimination, and grave human rights abuses have many Native peoples and cultures at risk of disappearing completely.
The most important thing we can do to help them is to help them protect and hold on to their lands – lands they need to survive physically, culturally, and economically. This is why we work to assist Indian communities, especially in Mexico and Central and South America, to get strong legal rights to their lands. If Indian communities can be sure of holding on to their lands, they have a much better chance of improving their health and their lives and carrying on their cultures and their traditional ways of life.
Helping Indian peoples get strong legal control of their lands will also to a great deal to protect the forests and the other environments where they live. Experts agree that Indian ownership and control is the most successful way to protect and preserve forests and other natural ecosystems. There is also wide agreement that getting lands under the control of Indian communities or peoples is one of the best ways to slow down climate change.
There are millions of Indian people today, making up thousands of Indian communities throughout Mexico and Central and South America, trying to hold on to and use their ancestral lands. They need help – mostly help from experts such surveyors, mappers, lawyers, and historians who can help them prove their rights and get secure land titles.
We are making plans now to provide the needed experts on a much larger scale so that hundreds of Indian communities and millions of acres of land can be legally protected from invaders, land grabbers, and others who want to destroy Indian communities and cultures. We want to make these experts available on a permanent basis for Indian communities for years to come.