Through groups such as the International Indigenous Peoples’ Forum on Climate Change, Hindou Oumarou Ibrahim helps to represent the world’s many indigenous peoples in global climate change negotiations. (© Conservation International)
Editor’s note: Hindou Oumarou Ibrahim grew up in an Mbororo indigenous community in south-central Chad. Now, through affiliations with groups including the International Indigenous Peoples’ Forum on Climate Change, she travels around the world speaking up for the rights of indigenous peoples and women. In December 2015, Vogue named her one of their 13 “climate warriors”; on April 22, she will speak at the U.N. signing ceremony of the Paris Agreement in New York.
In a recent conversation, Ibrahim — a former Conservation International (CI) indigenous leaders conservation fellow — shared what motivates her to keep leading the charge on this important work.
Question: How did you make the leap from your community in Chad to the global stage?
Answer: I never stop thanking my mom. When I was young, my mom had a friend who was sick; one time the woman drank medicine and got sicker. When my mom took her to the hospital, the doctor said that she could have died; the medicine wasn’t for drinking, but because she couldn’t read, she didn’t know. My mom realized this since she was also illiterate, this could have happened to her, too. She decided then that this would never happen to her kids. So she sent all of us to school: my three brothers, my sister and myself. The people in her community thought she was crazy, especially educating girls.
Every time we had a school vacation, we returned from the capital of N’Djamena to my mom’s community. She didn’t want us losing our culture, but she also didn’t want us to miss out on the value of Western education. For many years, she worked incredibly hard — never sleeping, selling cows to pay all our school expenses.
As I got older, I became more aware that across the world, indigenous communities are among the most marginalized populations. In my efforts to create a community organization that would protect indigenous and human rights and encourage environmental protection, I eventually was invited to attend a meeting about indigenous women in Cameroon in 2000; that was the first time I got involved internationally.