“Honour our knowledge… or get out of the way.”

Stefan Simanowitz on a new platform for Indigenous voices ahead of COP and the Brazilian elections

At the opening session of the UN Climate Summit in Glasgow last year, Maori activist India Logan- Riley laid down a challenge to delegates:

“Learn our histories, listen to our stories, honour our knowledge…or get out the way.”

A year later, as COP27 kicks off in Egypt, it is important that these words – ignored by policy makers for too long – are heeded. It is time for us to listen to Indigenous leaders, not because they need our help, but because we need theirs.

Indigenous communities have conserved and sustained our planet for thousands of years and are the true experts at protecting biodiversity. Their cultures are inextricably connected to their lands and they have lived sustainably with their ecosystems for generations. And yet, once again Indigenous voices will be largely shut out of Blue Zone and excluded from meaningful participation and inclusion in COP’s decision-making processes.

It is for this reason – a week before COP27 kicks off in Sharm-el-Sheikh and on the day the polls open in Brazil in an election that may determine the fate of the Amazon  – Rainforest Island is launching this Sunday.

A triangular traffic island outside the Brazilian embassy in London will be been transformed into a tropical rainforest, the first of many ‘Rainforest Islands’ to spring up around the world.

The island – a cornucopia of trees, plants and forest creatures – will be used as a platform to amplify the voices of climate activists and Indigenous People who have been unable or unwilling to make journey to Sharm-el-Sheik.

With the fate of the Amazon and the fate of the world hanging in the balance, the need for urgent climate action rooted in climate justice has never been more necessary. A programme of activities will kick off with music, performances and talks by political and cultural figures as well as Indigenous leaders. There will be memorial events for Dom Phillips and Bruno Pereira, murdered in the Amazon earlier this year, as well as the 1,733 environmental activists killed over the last decade.

An invitation has been extended to Greta Thunberg who will be in London on Sunday, launching her latest book a stone’s throw from Rainforest Island.

A “redemption ceremony” will be held where British and European people will offer their apologies to Indigenous leaders for what our ancestors did to their ancestors: for what our nations did to their nations. But whilst contrition for what has happened in the past is vitally important, the urgent work lies in the future. Speaking to me last year’s COP, Manuela Dahua an Indigenous leader from Ecuador said:

“Don’t close your eyes. Don’t bite your tongue. Look at what is happening and raise your voice. Because each one of us is responsible for looking after our planet.”

Rainforest Island is intended as imagined space for inspiration and mobilisation. It is a place to reforest our thoughts, our hearts and our actions. It is intended to send a message to our leaders that Indigenous people can be excluded but their voices and their message cannot be silenced.

A year ago in Glasgow, I met Waorani Enqueri, an Indigenous leader who had travelled from Ecuador to be at COP.

“The wind carried me here across the ocean like a bird,” she told me. “I have not only brought with me the hearts and souls of my community. I have also brought a message. The message that we are the solution to the problem.”


Rainforest Island will be launching on Sunday 30 October.

WHERE: Traffic Island by Trafalgar Sq. (Pall Mall East, Cockspur St). SW1Y 5BL

WHEN: 11 – 6pm Sunday, 30 October