Hindou Oumarou Ibrahim is one of 14 National Geographic Emerging Explorers for 2017. This group is being honored for the way its members explore new frontiers and find innovative ways to remedy some of the greatest challenges facing our planet. She is working to collect indigenous knowledge about natural resources in Chad as part of a 3-D mapping project, while also representing her community in climate discussions at the United Nations.
As a child Hindou attended school in the capital city of N’Djamena and tended cows among family in the Mbororo. Now she bridges the gap between the indigenous people who intimately know their land and the governments making decisions many miles away.
“I got a chance to go to school because my mom and my dad settled in town in N’Djamena, Chad’s capital. When my mom sent us to school, she got rejected from my father’s family and from her own family. She decided, “My kids can go to school, but they can never forget their culture.” So during all the holidays she took us back to the Mbororo community. I know how to milk. I sold milk and took care of the cattle and did everything that other kids did in nomadic life, too.
I got the chance to go to school, but other girls do not have any other choice but to get married. So my first project was to protect girls and create a business activity for them.
The second was asking how I can I protect the right of all my communities to the land, and advance the environmental protections that we all need as basic human rights? I cannot talk about human rights without talking about environmental rights. That’s normal for us, it goes together.
My focus is environmental rights because this is about the survival of my people, the survival of my identity. For me, we cannot talk about environmental protection without talking about people’s protection, because my people are living in this environment and we have to protect it and their rights. That’s always my focus. The rest can come as complementary—we need education, we need health, we need development. But the climate change fight is the first thing I’m focused on, and I will focus on it forever.”