Wednesday, August 9, 2023

Washington, DC

[Remarks as Prepared]


I want to thank the members of USAID’s Inclusive Development Hub, especially those of you who work every day to shine a light on the issues facing Indigenous Peoples. 

Stephanie Conduff, who you’ll hear from throughout today’s program; Nikki Enersen, Vy Lam, and Sandra Lazarte – these folks, and many others, are helping us transform the way we engage with Indigenous communities, and we are grateful for their leadership.

I want to begin by acknowledging a USAID partner and Indigenous leader in the El Valle del Cauca region of Colombia who should be joining us today, and celebrating this occasion with his people. 

From an early age, Luis Eduardo Timaná began acquiring the knowledge and building skills to become a leader of the Nasa people who, for centuries, have resisted the destruction of their lands for profit and whose peaceful resistance, for centuries, has been met with violence. 

Cauca is home to the majority of the Nasa people and is one of the deadliest regions for Colombia’s Indigenous leaders, with armed groups regularly seeking to seize control of Nasa territory through direct attacks, abductions, and killings. 

Yesterday, we learned that Luis Eduardo fell victim to an act of senseless violence – the same violence he worked his entire life to address and help his people overcome. He previously served as governor of the Kwet Wala reservation, where USAID works with the Nasa people to address the mental health challenges facing survivors of the conflict and violence that has plagued Colombia for decades. 

Luis Eduardo was a key partner who strengthened USAID’s relationship with the Kwet Wala community through a program called “Weaving Lives and Hopes,” which improves access to psychosocial services, supports community-driven initiatives through grant funding, and strengthens the financial skills of small rural producers, artisans, and micro-entrepreneurs. 

These activities – and the partnerships that serve as a foundation for peaceful coexistence – are only possible because of courageous leaders like Luis Eduardo.

On behalf of all of us at USAID, I want to extend my condolences, sympathy, and love to his family, and to the entire Kwet Wala community – as well as a reminder that we will never cower in the face of senseless violence against defenders of human rights. 

We will continue to work with partner governments and communities toward greater peace and justice. And we will honor Luis Eduardo through our efforts to help all Colombian people in their pursuit of freedom and opportunity. 

Today, as we mark International Day of the World’s Indigenous People, we honor the rich history and significant sacrifices of communities that have inhabited nearly every corner of the world for time immemorial. 

It is both a solemn occasion to recognize the violence and marginalization that Indigenous populations have endured, but also a celebration of the resilience, ingenuity, and contributions of these communities – contributions that, as a development partner, USAID has not always appreciated fully.

Speaking yesterday outside of Grand Canyon National Park, while designating nearly a million acres of sacred Indigenous land as a newprotected national monument, President Biden reminded us that, “Only with truth comes healing and justice.”

What’s true about USAID is that for too long we have ignored the power and wisdom of Indigenous and local communities, especially in the fight against climate change. 

The truth is, we can’t meet a single one of our climate objectives if we do not learn from those who are lightyears ahead of us in practicing nature-based conservation. Or, as they would likely put it, in simply respecting nature.

Indigenous Peoples and local communities that rely on the environment for their livelihoods, for sustenance, and for healing, have been adapting to climate change for decades. Their stewardship bears proof, on lands Indigenous Peoples and local communities legally control, deforestation rates are lower and the amount of stored carbon is higher than on neighboring lands. 

And, a quarter of the world’s above-ground carbon is stored in tropical forests on land managed by Indigenous Peoples. 

USAID has made important strides in recent years to bring Indigenous communities – particularly women and youth – into the heart of our environmental programming, honoring their need to make a sustainable living, while following their lead in conservation. 

In the Democratic Republic of the Congo, we worked with Indigenous Peoples and local leaders to advance forest tenure rights and achieve recognition of their role as guardians of their lands. 

In Ethiopia, we supported a project, co-created with Indigenous communities, to develop eco-tourism as a sustainable activity that enhances conservation through partnerships with the private sector. 

And to facilitate a just energy transition for the Indigenous Wayuu people of La Guajira, Colombia, USAID is partnering with Colombia’s National Training Service to plan, design, and pilot a job training program to equip young leaders with the skills needed to enter the energy labor market and stimulate economic growth.

These partnerships represent a heavy focus on environmental issues, and for good reason. But a broader shift across the Agency to center local voices and to empower local decision making is helping us become more responsive to our local partners, whether they’re seeking access to new markets for their harvests or in need of stronger mental health services for youth and survivors of regional conflict or domestic violence.

Throughout today’s program, you’ll hear more about our co-creation efforts, and the internal and systemic burdens we’re tackling that have stood in the way of USAID being more effective in supporting locally-driven development.

I hope you are feeling and seeing the shift in our model toward working with you as true partners as you empower your communities. 

Thank you so much for your time today.

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