IPEN International Pollutants Elimination Network

“Our Mother Earth is Sick”: Indigenous Leaders Speak Out

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Every year, Delbert Pungowiyi’s community comes together to clean up the trash on the beach of his small island in Alaska.

“Name a country, any country. Their country washes up on our beaches,” Pungowiyi, a Yupik elder and leader from Sivuqaq, said at an international plastics treaty press briefing in Ottawa on Thursday.

“Plastic pollution, all kinds, from all over the world,” he added. “The oceans are in serious trouble, our Mother Earth is sick.”

The Arctic is a “hemispheric sink” for chemical and plastic pollution that arrives from all corners of the world, according to a new report from IPEN, an organization campaigning to end toxic chemical pollution.

Rapid global warming caused by greenhouse gases linked to fossil fuels is causing the region to warm at about four times the global average. This increases the speed of plastics travelling from other regions of the world. Warming also hastens the melting of permafrost and glaciers, which is releasing higher concentrations of chemicals in the Arctic.

Vi Waghiyi, environmental and justice program director at ACAT, is on the front lines in the Arctic. She speaks about how Arctic Indigenous Peoples across Alaska eat ancestral foods for spiritual and cultural health despite the risks of higher chemical and plastics pollution.

That’s why she calls the plastics and chemical crisis “environmental violence,” given their high accumulation in the ancestral Arctic food system.

It has led to higher rates of miscarriages and cancer. Waghiyi herself is a cancer survivor and has had three miscarriages. Now she campaigns, advocates and conducts community research that she presents worldwide.

Within negotiations, the Indigenous caucus is demanding the inclusion of the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples, Indigenous knowledge systems and a production cap on existing plastics followed by production reductions, leaders told reporters on Thursday.

Read the full story from the National Observer.