“Nature is our lifeline”: A young indigenous Surinamese woman speaks during Caribbean Tree Planting Week

Caribbean Tree Planting Week (July 5 – 11, 2021) was diverse, vibrant, packed with valuable information, and full of youthful energy. Two sessions per day for a week, it covered a great range of topics – centred on nature-based solutions and climate action in the form of tree planting.

One of the participants on the first day was Shylina Lingaard, a young woman who feels passionately about threats to her own culture in Suriname and to the forests that her people depend on.

Another problem is that indigenous knowledge and way of life is “fading – slowly but certainly” – especially among the youth, many of whom do not speak their native language. “Development” is happening – not always good development, said Shylina. She feels that indigenous people are “slowly disconnecting” from their culture. And a critical part of that culture is the connection with Nature.

The connection of Indigenous Peoples in Suriname with Nature 

Shylina Lingaard, a member of the Association of Indigenous Village Leaders in Suriname.

To Indigenous Peoples in Suriname, Nature is our lifeline. It connects us culturally, traditionally and spiritually. 

We need it to survive, to exist and have a lot of respect for it. We use what we need, it has been so for centuries. 

Nature is where we hunt and fish for our food, water, medicine from the trees and plants, it’s our way of life. 

There are 52 Indigenous villages in Suriname, all different tribes spread all over the country. 

But we face the same problem, this also keeps disconnecting Indigenous Peoples with nature. 

Indigenous Peoples do not own the rights to their land. 

Several governments have failed to pass the law and rights for Indigenous Peoples to their land. 

This has several causes, such as giving out land for economic activities such as (gold) mining and logging that also attracts illegal workers. A lot of times without information and consent from the Indigenous Peoples living in those areas. Such activities cause a lot of destruction to nature and the livelihood of Indigenous Peoples. Life in the villages has become more uninhabitable, the water and fish are polluted and the trees are disappearing. 

The Association of Indigenous Village Leaders in Suriname, which fights for the legal land rights in Suriname, has recently presented once more another verdict to the current government who has promised to enact and pass the land rights. 

There has been a “gold rush” in Suriname as the price of gold has soared over the last decade. This has resulted in the destruction of forests across the country and in neighboring countries, as well as the pollution of major rivers with toxic chemicals. All of this threatens the indigenous way of life.

Indigenous Peoples are leaders in conservation. Saving the trees and replanting to conserve nature will not only be beneficial for the Indigenous Peoples’ but for the entire Suriname’s nation. 

Simply because as humans we need oxygen/trees to breathe… 

Shylina Lingaard 

Employee of the Association of Indigenous Village Leaders in Suriname.

Vereniging Inheemse Dorpshoofden Suriname (VIDS) 

Surinamese women singing the Opening Prayer at the beginning of Caribbean Tree Planting Week.

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