Grantees Recognized for Exposing Environmental Threats Facing Indigenous Communities 

woman interviewing a man with a video camera at a water body

Grantees Recognized for Exposing Environmental Threats Facing Indigenous Communities 

In May of 2021, Indigenous journalists from 13 countries received EJN grants to investigate environmental threats facing their communities and highlight the role of Indigenous Peoples in stewarding biodiversity and protecting cultural heritage. Since then, grantees have produced stories looking at everything from commercial farming displacing traditional agriculture in the Philippines to damaging mining operations in Uganda to how native medicinal plants in Lesotho are facing extinction. 

With funding from Nia Tero and support from EJN mentors, grantees have had the opportunity to grow their skills, network with other Indigenous journalists and produce quality reporting that highlights some of the myriad challenges Indigenous communities are confronted with today. Keep reading for some highlights from the project so far, including an award-winning story from Zambia. 

From grantee to COP26 Fellow 

The experience working with Indigenous Mentor Stella Paul catapulted one grantee, Elfredah Kevin-Alerechi, into a new experience: She will be traveling to Glasgow, Scotland through EJN’s Climate Change Media Partnership (CCMP) as a Fellow at COP26, this year’s climate change conference.  

As high-level discussions about global climate financing and policies take place at COP26, it’s critical for under-represented groups – like Indigenous Peoples – to have a seat at the table.  

“[Indigenous Peoples] are badly affected by the daily activities of companies who give little or no attention to the concern of the people … I believe if Indigenous Peoples’ issues are covered, it will reduce the impact of greenhouse gases and oil pollution, if all parties kept to their promises,” said Kevin-Alerechi. 

She reported on the environmental damage caused by oil companies in Nigeria’s Niger Delta communities under the Indigenous project. After publishing the piece in Nigeria’s People’s Gazette, Kevin-Alerechi was able to build on her experience and was awarded the CCMP fellowship shortly afterward. In just a few weeks, she will join 21 other Fellows at the conference for 10 days of intense climate reporting.  

“During my fieldwork for the Indigenous reporting story sponsored by EJN, I was asked by a community leader: ‘What is the international community doing to salvage … the Niger Delta?’,” the journalist said. “Attending COP26 would give me the broad knowledge to answer this … and help Indigenous Peoples to hold their government and companies accountable.” 

Videos share Indigenous EJN journalists’ perspectives 

In September, Internews Europe CEO Jodie Ginsberg moderated a panel for the Bristol Natural History Consortium’s annual environmental communication conference. The panel highlighted the threats that environmental journalists face while doing their jobs, and two of EJN’s Indigenous grantees were invited to contribute to the conversation.  

Gerson Merari Saleleubaja, from Indonesia’s Mentawai community, and Francisco Santiago Navarro, from Mexico’s Mixteca community, recorded videos sharing their experiences as Indigenous environmental journalists.  

Hear from an Indigenous Journalist in Mexico 

In Navarro’s video, he explains the challenges journalists face when dealing with the two types of ‘codes,’ or languages, that are used in Mexico: The collective language and culture of Indigenous Peoples, and the institutional, development-focused language of governments and companies. Knowing how to speak them both – and how to help others do the same – is an important part of his role as an Indigenous journalist.  

“Understanding these two types of language and two types of thinking allows us to approach the information we handle in a responsible manner,” Navarro said in the video, translated from Spanish. 

Navarro’s story on an infrastructure project in Mexico that would infringe on Indigenous land rights is forthcoming. It will be published in Avispa Media. 

Hear from an Indigenous Journalist in Mentawai, Indonesia 

Saleleubaja discussed media literacy and trust as two major challenges he faces in his Mentawai community in Indonesia. Over the last decade of his career, he’s seen his community learn how to use journalism to empower themselves in their fight for land sovereignty and security. 

“After 10 years of being a journalist in Mentawai, I see now that the Indigenous people are more aware of the importance of media,” Saleleubaja said in the video, translated from Bahasa Indonesia. 

Saleleubaja’s two-part series was recently published in Mentawai Kita, the only media outlet serving the Mentawai community. The story chronicled their history and ongoing fight against development in the region that is threatening their way of life.  

Grantee wins media award 

In Zambia, grantee Cindy Sipula investigated declining fish stocks in Lake Tanganyika, one of Africa’s biggest freshwater lakes. The use of unsustainable fishing practices, the increase in fishers and the effects of climate change are threatening Indigenous peoples’ livelihoods in the region, leading many to take action to find solutions. She published the story in The Times of Zambia in early August.  

Last month, Sipula learned she had been nominated for this year’s Media Institute for Southern Africa (MISA) awards, in the Zambia chapter. MISA is the largest journalism award organization in the region. At the ceremony on Sept. 24, Sipula was awarded the Golden Print Media Award, which is given to an outstanding print journalist, in recognition of her work on the Tanganyika story. 

“I want to thank the Earth Journalism Network for the opportunity they gave to me,” Sipula says in the below video. “This opportunity has broadened my knowledge of my profession and it also gave me the chance to network with journalists at other media institutions.” 

Hear from an Indigenous Journalist in Zambia 

Journalist joins World Federation of Science Journalists 

Journalist Pascalinah Kabi received a grant from the Indigenous reporting project to cover traditional medicinal plants in Lesotho, which are facing extinction due to overharvesting and climate change.  Following the publication of her story in Public Eye News in August, Kabi was invited to join the World Federation of Science Journalists (WFSJ), one of the largest professional science journalism associations in the world. 

She was also featured in WFSJ’s Science Journalist of the Week, which highlights science journalists from around the world. In the post, she discusses the importance of human-interest stories when talking about science and why it’s crucial to spotlight Indigenous voices.  

“Science journalism brings science to the people,” she wrote in the post. 

In October, her story was also included in the European Journalism Centre’s Freelancer’s Guide to Reporting on Climate Change as an example of an article that uses a strong main character to explain a scientific issue.  

You can read more about the project and browse the completed stories here. Stay tuned for more EJN-supported Indigenous reporting in 2022! 

Banner image: EJN Indigenous Grantee Cindy Sipula interviewing Willien Colenbrander, the Lake Tanganyika Development Project Natural Resources Management Specialist / Credit: Cindy Sipula.  

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