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Lewis Cardinal & Zaya Guarani Introduce the IRI Dialogue with Indigenous Leaders

Lewis Cardinal and Zaya Guarani opened the assembly “An Urgent Call to Protect the Amazon: An Interfaith Rainforest Initiative Dialogue with Indigenous Leaders” at the 2023 Parliament of the World’s Religions in Chicago, USA.

Lewis Cardinal – Good Evening to everyone, esteemed members of the Parliament of the World’s Religions, dear participants – those here in Chicago participating live – and those participating online from all over the world.

My name is Lewis Cardinal, I am from the Woodland Cree from  Treaty 8 territory in northern Alberta, Canada. As a communicator and educator, I have dedicated my life’s work to creating and maintaining connections and relationships that cross-cultural divides. 

It is in that spirit, and within my capacity as Trustee and Chair of the Indigenous Task Force, Parliament of the World’s Religions, that I am pleased to be here and moderate this important gathering this evening along with Zaya Guarani.

Zaya Guarani- Good Evening esteemed members and participants to the Parliament of the World’s Religions.

My name is Zaya Guarani, I was born and raised in an Indigenous community in the remote Brazilian Amazon, and I belong to a line of strong women from the Kamurape and Guarani Mbya ethnicities, who have led their communities as both shamans and spiritual guides. 

Growing up in the Amazon, I shared the journey of many fellow Indigenous: running away with my mother and my grandmother seeing the villages being destroyed one after another by loggers, my relatives killed, or displaced, and the beautiful natural ecosystem surrounding being burned.  

Not many people can imagine what it is to live as a child and teenager in a constant state of fear for your life and the ones that you love. 

But beyond the destruction of our forests, what we are seeing is also the extinction of a complex and ancestral spirituality: In the Indigenous cosmovision and way of seeing the world, there is no separation between us and nature, between who we are and the spirits of the elements.

I had the chance to be able to escape this violence in my life at the age of 15, when I earned a scholarship in Rio de Janeiro, before entering the Art and Fashion world by founding the first-ever Collective of Indigenous Creatives in Brazil.

This journey led me to become the first Indigenous fashion model raised in the Amazon rainforest, in which I remain committed to raising awareness about the ongoing global struggle for Indigenous rights and climate justice. 

Lewis Cardinal – We gather here tonight for a special event called “An Urgent Call to Protect the Amazon: An Interfaith Rainforest Initiative Dialogue with Indigenous Leaders” 

The Parliament of the World’s Religions is a founding partner of the Interfaith Rainforest Initiative (IRI), a United Nations-convened alliance that is bringing moral urgency and faith-based leadership to global efforts to halt and reverse tropical deforestation and protect the rights of Indigenous peoples.

As part of this commitment, The Parliament and IRI are committed to fostering new relationships between religious leaders and Indigenous peoples, and to have you, the religious leaders from across the globe, learn and understand first-hand about the relationship between Indigenous spiritualities, traditions, and cultures and the protection of forests, particularly in the Amazon.

In service of this goal, today we facilitate this opportunity for us to hear firsthand from Indigenous peoples about their struggles, their cultures, and spiritualities, as well as the shared moral responsibility across faiths to protect the Amazon and the rights and cultures of Indigenous peoples and traditional communities.

During this event, we will hear from several of the Amazon’s most prominent Indigenous leaders and draw links between the sacred wisdom and cosmologies of Indigenous peoples and the long-term protection of the world’s forests.

Zaya Guarani- The importance of this topic cannot be overstated. The world’s rainforests are a sacred trust and irreplaceable gift to humanity. 

Having grown up in the rainforest, I have seen the endless generosity of this Majestic ecosystem to support all living beings by providing water, air, medicine, food and everything we need to live and prosper in peace with nature. 

I have also seen and experienced firsthand the violence and greed that is affecting the survival of the forest and the Indigenous peoples that have lived in it for thousands of Years – maintaining their cultures, ancestral knowledge, and ways of life intact to the benefit of their communities and humanity as well.

We are seeing a global deforestation crisis, and respecting the rights of Indigenous peoples has become more urgent than ever.

In light of this urgency, the incoming president of my country, Brazil, Luis Ignacio Lula da Silva, has just last week convened the Amazon Summit, bringing together the presidents and authorities of all the Amazonian countries to call for a new way forward, in which we combine sustainable development with the protection of the Amazon Rainforest. 

This plenary session will offer us the possibility to learn more about the outcomes of the Amazon Summit, as well as the call that was issued by the Interfaith Rainforest Initiative (IRI), along with religious leaders from Brazil, Colombia and Peru to protect the Amazon and the rights of Indigenous peoples.

All of us here will have the opportunity to endorse and amplify this call, standing in solidarity with Indigenous peoples and all people of good faith and to work together to safeguard our planet Earth.

Lewis Cardinal – Over the next two hours, we will cover the following important topics.

First, acknowledging that we are gathered here in Chicago, are coming together on the traditional Indigenous territories of the Potawatomi, the Odawa, the Menominee, the Ho-Chunk/Winnibego, Piankashaw, the Wea, the Miami, the Meshwaki, the Iowas, the Illini confederacy, the Otoe, and the Missouria, we will start with a land acknowledgment of a local Indigenous representative. 

We will then hear opening remarks from an Amazonian Indigenous leader, as we then hear an “Overview of the importance of rainforests and Indigenous peoples rights” by a Senior Advisor of UNEP’s Interfaith Rainforest Initiative, as well as the Minister of Indigenous Peoples of Brazil.

We will then learn more about the ongoing work of IRI in the Amazon region, as well as the outcomes and Calls to Action that were part of the Amazon Summit.

Afterwards, we will have a distinguished panel of Indigenous leaders from Brazil, Colombia, and Ecuador, to learn more about their struggles and messages to the religious leaders of the world. 

This will be followed by a respondent panel of distinguished leaders from the Native American community and the global interfaith community. 

This will then allow us to conclude with a global prayer for the Amazon rainforest, a collective Call to Action, and a reception.

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