This Op-Ed was originally published by The Hill.

For many, the recent celebration of  Mother’s Day was a chance to reconnect with our love for life and  reflect on that which binds us together as human beings. And now more  than ever before in human history, we need to take moments such as  Mother’s Day and the upcoming World Environment Day on June 5 to express  our gratitude to our collective mother: Mother Earth.

“Mother  Earth is crying for her human children… she has lived for billions of  years, and she’ll live for more. It’s a question of whether or not we  human beings are going to live,” says "Kuuyux" Merculieff, Alaskan  Unangan leader.

For thousands of years,  Indigenous communities have referred to Earth as our "mother" because  the Earth nurtures life. They have based their stewardship of, and  heartfelt connection to, the natural world on the idea that if you take  care of the Earth, the Earth will take care of you.

For  example, the Kogi tribe from the Sierra Nevada region in Colombia  refers to humankind as “the younger brothers,” and they say that “the  younger brothers are abusing Mother.” What was previously a reciprocal  relationship advanced by all Indigenous Peoples has turned one-sided,  leading to the rapid deterioration of our natural world. Today, there is  no better evidence of this disastrous shift than the pandemic we’re  currently facing.

COVID-19 has highlighted the huge risk the exploitation and destruction of  Mother Nature poses to our health — and how climate change compounds  that risk. The wild animal trade that led to the pandemic is just one  element of a far bigger problem: our devastating assault on  biodiversity. According to new research,  infectious diseases that originate from animals and infect people now  comprise the majority of recurrent and emerging infectious disease  threats.

We also know that  biodiversity loss and the rise in global temperatures are deeply  intertwined; however, more often than not, they have separate  narratives. In fact, the destruction of biodiversity is not simply a  consequence of climate change — it is a driver of climate change.

Recently published research from the Harvard School T.H. Chan School of Public Health shows that  when we destroy biodiverse ecosystems, they are no longer able to  regulate the dispersion of pathogens, and we contribute to the climate  crisis because natural carbon sinks are no longer available.  Additionally, if the destruction of those ecosystems is due to fires,  then the release of carbon into the atmosphere makes the climate crisis  even more severe. Scientists predict that the climate crisis itself will increase the likelihood of these pandemics,  with zoonotic and vector-borne diseases like malaria rising, for  example, as mosquitoes and ticks expand their range. We’ve already been  listening to the scientific community, and some of us have been  respecting their findings, but not enough of us are acting.

So  how can we solve the crisis in nature and save the Earth’s most  biodiverse places? Indigenous Peoples have taken care of the planet for  thousands of years, and it is time to embed their philosophies into our  daily lives, be it in urban or rural settings.

Indigenous Peoples make up less than 5 percent of the global population, yet they inhabit 80 percent of the most biodiverse regions.  They have long practiced land management and conservation methods that  scientists now say are crucial for tackling the climate crisis and  enriching biodiversity. Innovative technologies alone are not enough to  address the climate crisis, and we cannot reach the 1.5 degrees Celsius  target set by the Paris Agreement without the inclusion of Indigenous  conservation methods, as well as an intergenerational and holistic  understanding of the natural world. Nature’s own systems offer the  greatest climate solution because they draw down atmospheric greenhouse  gases. It is a tried-and-tested method from Mother Nature herself that,  when coupled with Indigenous ways of preserving ecosystems like forests,  wetlands or savannas, can greatly contribute to solving the climate  crisis.

A 2016 study by the Rights and Resources Initiative,  the Woods Hole Research Center, and the World Resources Institute (WRI)  found that, “Titled Indigenous lands in three Amazon countries had two  to three times lower deforestation rates over a period of more than a  decade than lands the state hadn’t formally recognized as Indigenous  forests.”

But while the tide has been  turning toward greater recognition of Indigenous knowledge for a couple  of decades, it isn’t happening fast enough — or at the scale we need. By  listening to the leadership of these communities and integrating their  methods of protecting vital carbon sinks and biodiverse regions, as well  as by learning from their experience of managing forests and  agro-ecological systems, we can greatly improve our chances of warding  off infectious diseases and run-away climate change.

Initiatives such as the Global Landscapes Forum are  considering Indigenous communities in forest conservation and  management, but only because long term investors need their involvement  based on corporate terms and interests. This is problematic because the  Indigenous way of life in the forest may become surveilled and  discouraged, and because forest composition may be forced to change to  accelerate carbon sequestration. Agendas based on carbon markets, lack  of transparency among stakeholders, and lack of involvement of local  governments and industries can produce much greater stress on ecosystems  than if, instead, incentives were to be given to national, local and  traditional governments, allowing ecosystems to naturally regenerate.

Ultimately,  if we fail to act quickly enough on the climate crisis and ignore  Indigenous knowledge to protect biodiversity, we will not only destroy  nature — which includes ourselves — but we’ll also unleash many more  public health nightmares.

The response  to COVID-19 has shown how many individual actions put together can  amount to systemic change. As climate activists mobilize online through  actions such as The Re-Earth Initiative,  we remain optimistic that our generation can help create a less  destructive global society. However, as we work to achieve a more  harmonious relationship with Mother Earth, we must start by recognizing  that Indigenous Peoples are the best guardians of not only their own  lands but of all nature. Their wisdom is essential to reestablishing a  reciprocal relationship with our planet. A failure to understand this  fact will lead to the eventual destruction of humanity — simply put, we  cannot take the natural world’s consideration for humanity for granted.

As  we reflect during this pandemic, the words of Mindahi Bastida, director  of the Original Caretakers program at the Center for Earth Ethics and  General Coordinator of the Otomi-Toltec Regional Council in Mexico, are  more important than ever: “We need to remind everyone to live with  Mother Earth, not from Mother Earth, to live in peace, harmony and  dignity. We need to remember that we are the little ones; we are her  children and we need to behave.”

Protecting  our Mother’s biodiversity and taking the lead from Indigenous  communities as her caregivers should not be seen as altruistic. Our  active involvement in the recovery of Mother Earth’s diverse ecosystems  and Indigenous communities inhabiting them is essential to ensure a  livable planet for at least seven multiples of seven generations. The  questions are, how do we understand active involvement and how do we  make sure that our actions are indeed enabling the regeneration of  Mother Earth.

Mother Earth has been here  for 4.5 billion years and will continue to exist. The question is, will  we continue being her little ones?

Xiye Bastida is an 18-year-old indigenous climate activist based in New  York. She is a recipient of the Spirit of the United Nations Award, a  lead organizer of Fridays for the Future, and a member of Peoples Climate Movement-NY’s core committee.

Julia Jackson is the founder of,  a non-profit organization working to identify and accelerate the most  impactful solutions to ensure a livable planet. Grounded convenes  scientists, policymakers, world leaders, investors and front-line  organizations to share transformative ideas and co-invest in innovative solutions to address the climate crisis.