Photo courtesy: Charitie Ropati
By Lyndon Taylor
Arctic Youth Ambassador and Girl Rising Fellow Charitie Ropati has called on global leaders to take action and do what needs to be done to transition away from fossil fuels. Delivering one of the keynote presentations at the opening session of the 2024 UN Partnership Forum organized by the United Nations Economic and Social Council (ECOSOC), the activist and ecologist of Yup’ik and Samoan heritage recalled that in 1967, her grandfather and other men moved their homes 11 miles with rope, a small tractor, and dog sleds because they knew that the ground underneath their previous home was sinking due to thawing permafrost.
According to Ms. Ropati, who hails from Kongiganak, a tiny village in south-west Alaska, this was done without any help from the federal government, state organizations, or outside aid, pointing out that Indigenous peoples often rely solely on themselves to ensure the survival of the next generation amidst a changing climate. She told the delegates that her people have subsisted from the land and ocean along Alaska’s west coast for thousands of years and stressed: “Our people were never poor because the land always provided, and we took care of her.” She said that this bond brought joy, which is how her people define their wealth. But underscored, however: “Fossil fuels are killing us – what more am I to tell you? – what more do you need to understand?”
In a heartfelt keynote from Ms. Ropati, recipient of the WWF-US 2023 Conservation Leadership Award, she remarked that the act of assigning value to land and commodifying its resources directly contradicts the principles of harmony she learned growing up, “Our salmon are disappearing from our rivers, our sea ice is melting, permafrost is thawing, sea levels are rising, land is sinking, my people are dying. What more do you need to know?
She adds that Indigenous peoples make up less than 5 percent of the global population. However, they protect 80 percent of global biodiversity. Despite that dedication to preserving the land, she said, entire ecosystems are dying because global leaders are unwilling to do what needs to be done — “a just, immediate transition away from fossil fuels.”
Ms. Ropati challenged global leaders to invest in communities that have continuously adapted to climate change — like her own — adding that decisions should not be made about such communities without them. “We need to be at the table, in rooms like the one we are in today,” she stressed. The Arctic Youth Ambassador told the rapt audience, “Stop pretending this crisis is not happening and take direct action.”