Te Ipukarea Society: International platform for young Cooks woman

Saturday July 06, 2019 Written by Published in Environment
Charlee McLean speaks in Bonn. 19070442 Charlee McLean speaks in Bonn. 19070442

Charlee McLean, an environmental intern at Te Ipukarea Society, told the Global Landscape Forum in Germany that “we are only caretakers”. 

More than 600 people rallied behind a more inclusive and sustainable future, focused on the recognition of indigenous communities’ rights and their irreplaceable role in combating the climate crisis. 

Alongside the Bonn Climate Change Conference, indigenous leaders and representatives stood shoulder-to-shoulder with scientists and youth in commiting to the rights of the world’s 350 million indigenous peoples, whose ancestral lands contain 80 percent of the world’s biodiversity and nearly 300 billion metric tons of carbon. 

As the sole representative of the South Pacific, Charlee conveyed a different perspective of indigenous culture and tradition, sharing her story on the effects that development has had on our landscapes, seascapes and lifestyle.

“Tourism has become one of the most important economic activities in the Pacific islands,” she said. “For us Cook Islanders it’s our largest income-earner. As a result of tourism our communities, environment, traditions, social structures and cultural practices are faced with multiple challenges.

“One of many is waste management. Rarotonga has only an area of 67.19 square km … Our landfill is reaching its maximum capacity and the island is running out of space.

“We are torn between the needs of our people and the needs of our land.”

The message at the forum was clear: Indigenous rights are an important solution to climate change. This forum was the first to focus on rights, through sessions on land tenure, activism, gender inclusion, traditions, landscape sustainability and more.

Charlee’s presentation highlighted the importance of valuing and integrating traditional Cook Island knowledge and custom.

“Our forefathers, pre-colonisation, lived a simple sustainable lifestyle growing their own food and using natural resources from the land to build their homes. They planted by the moon growing root crops such as taro, kumara and maniota, using natural fertilisers. They practiced natural medicines using plants. They fished the reefs freely without depleting the lagoon observing the customary practice of Ra’ui. 

“We don’t own the land, we are only the caretakers.”

-Te Ipukarea Society

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