Our Letter to the Editor: New York Times

Protect Indigenous Land Rights to Protect the Environment

To the Editor:

A Refuge for Orangutans, and a Quandary for Environmentalists” frames a critical dilemma; is it blood money or magnanimous sanctuary when corporations fund ecological interventions?  What’s happening in Borneo is not just an “environmentalist” quandary – it’s also about human communities, indigenous rights, and a predatory capitalism that pushes social and environmental initiatives into the corner, leaving few options to address massive systemic problems.  

The noble orange apes pull at heartstrings, and they are utterly worth fighting for, but the impacts of deforestation go far beyond one species: indigenous communities also take a devastating hit when their forests disappear; disease and poverty skyrocket, livelihoods evaporate and rivers are polluted beyond repair.

Granting land rights to indigenous communities is a proven way to protect forests, animals and the people who have lived in them for millennia.  It’s also a demonstrated tactic to combat climate change. Through my organization’s 25+ years of experience in Malaysian Borneo, we’ve learned that environmental programs that address community needs are the most successful. The Baram Peace Park in Borneo is one hopeful proposal addressing the intersection of community, ecosystem, and planetary health. People and the environment are not separate entities, and real solutions address both ecological and community wellbeing.

Jettie Word

Executive Director, The Borneo Project