In an encyclical about climate change that has received widespread media attention, Pope Francis has acknowledged indigenous peoples’ strong connection to their lands and their role in conservation.
In "On care for our common home," Pope Francis wrote: “It is essential to show special care for indigenous communities and their cultural traditions. They are not merely one minority among others, but should be the principal dialogue partners, especially when large projects affecting their land are proposed.
“For them, land is not a commodity but rather a gift from God and from their ancestors who rest there, a sacred space with which they need to interact if they are to maintain their identity and values.
“When they remain on their land, they themselves care for it best. Nevertheless, in various parts of the world, pressure is being put on them to abandon their homelands to make room for agricultural or mining projects which are undertaken without regard for the degradation of nature and culture.”
The Pope further stressed that indigenous peoples should be listened to when it comes to tackling environmental problems: “Ecology, then, also involves protecting the cultural treasures of humanity in the broadest sense. More specifically, it calls for greater attention to local cultures when studying environmental problems, favouring a dialogue between scientific-technical language and the language of the people.”
In the letter, the Pope criticized governments’ failure to protect indigenous peoples’ territories or to consult them over developments that will affect them. He called for actions from “local individuals and groups” to hold governments to account.