By Ingrid Fernandez
For the resilience they have shown in protecting their lands and managing the natural resources they inhabit, the Maya Leaders Alliance (MLA) was awarded the Equator Prize 2015 in Paris France, last week.
The MLA was selected from among 1461 nominated groups for the Equator Prize this year. It is awarded in recognition of outstanding local achievements in advancing sustainable development solutions for people, nature and resilient communities.
The Equator Initiative, which awards the prize, said: “This coalition of Maya organizations and leaders collectively work to promote the long-term wellbeing of the Maya people and to defend collective rights to their territories.
“The alliance achieved a landmark legal victory in 2015, which affirmed that the 39 Q’eqchi and Mopan Maya indigenous communities of southern Belize have rights to the lands that they have historically used and occupied.”
Cristina Coc, spokesperson for the MLA, commented that the recognition highlights “the efforts of the Maya leaders to secure rights to our customary land tenure as a way of sustainable development recognizing that indigenous communities are using traditional knowledge to manage their wealth of natural resources.”
Coc noted that the award acknowledges that wherever indigenous people are found, natural recourses are better managed, more forested and better conserved.
“We have lived in these forests for generations we have learned to adapt when there are changes. We have learned to create a sustainable livelihood, we depend on the forest for our food, for our shelter, for everything and we have learned to use it in a very sustainable manner.
We have learned to manage it for ourselves now but also for our future generations,” Coc said .
The MLA representatives joined many other indigenous organizations which advocate for better use of natural resources and against exploitation by multinationals and corporations.
These threats, commented Coc, is what organized the Maya people and like other global indigenous organizations that have stood to defend the integrity of their lands, the Maya people too have stood to defend the lands they inhabit from these imminent threats.
Apart from a monetary prize of $10,000.00 US, the Equator Prize also gives access to the winners to join the climate change conference taking place in Paris that week.
Coc explained that she, along with Alfonso Cal, president of the Toledo Alcalde Association and Pablo Mis, MLA Program Cordinator were able to engage in forums and panel discussions that dealt with the impact that climate change has had in indigenous communities. They offered their concerns and recommendations – namely that the indigenous communities and land be protected when plotting the way forward.
Coc commented that this recent award solidifies the Maya people’s standpoint when protecting their land, which has caused them strife with the Government of Belize. Coc commented that they hope the government will show some goodwill in working together for this cause.
Coc commented that the investment of the monetary prize will be decided upon by the alcaldes in all 39 communities.
The Equator Prize 2015 is facilitated by the UNDP and was awarded to 20 outstanding local and indigenous initiatives.
Nominated groups are selected based on the criteria of impact, indigenous and community empowerment, innovation and transferability, empowerment of women and social inclusion and resilience, adaptability and self-efficiency.