Right Livelihood Award champions environmentalists and rights activists

Freda Huson, a female chief from the Wet’suwet’en people in Canada, was a recipient of the award. (Credit: Right Livelihood)

An indigenous rights activist, a Russian environmentalist, a Cameroonian gender and peace activist and an Indian environmental organisation were named the winners of the 2021 Right Livelihood Award on Wednesday.

Freda Huson, a female chief from the Wet’suwet’en people in Canada, is joined by Marthe Wandou, Vladimir Slivyak and the Legal Initiative for Forest and Environment (LIFE) in receiving the prestigious award, also known as Sweden’s alternative Nobel prize.

Huson was awarded for her “fearless dedication to reclaiming her people’s culture and defending their land against disastrous pipeline projects,” the Right Livelihood Foundation said in a statement. She has been a leading advocate for indigenous communities reconnecting with their land and reclaiming control over their territories, including the construction of a pipeline project through her own ancestral territory in British Columbia.

Fellow recipient Wandou has been working to fight sexual violence against children, particularly girls, and care for survivors in her native Cameroon since the 1990s, emphasising a community-based approach to child protection.

Through her organisation Action Locale pour un Développement Participatif et Autogéré (ALDEPA), she has supported the wellbeing of more than 50,000 girls through education, psychosocial care and legal assistance, including refugees and people internally displaced by the Boko Haram extremist group in the far north of the country.

“The Right Livelihood Award will give us the courage to continue what we are doing,” said Wandou following the announcement.

Slivyak, one of Russia's most prominent environmentalists, has been spearheading grassroots campaigns against environmentally harmful practices for decades despite growing opposition from the Russian authorities.

His organisation Ecodefense has led the campaigns against fossil fuel exploitation, nuclear power and coal use, and the shipment of radioactive waste from abroad.

He was honoured for his “defense of the environment and for helping to ignite grassroots opposition to the coal and nuclear industries in Russia”, connecting local communities around the country and spurring on a new generation of green activists.

The fourth recipient of the award, the Legal Initiative for Forest and Environment (LIFE), is an organisation working to protect the environment in India through the creative use of law and legal processes. LIFE works with communities through a grassroots approach, assisting vulnerable populations to stand up against powerful interests and have a voice in the decision-making process.

Founded in 2005, the organisation has helped communities fight against some of India's most significant environmental threats, from preventing deforestation to making industrial polluters pay for the damage caused to the environment and public health.

LIFE co-founder Ritwick Dutta said the award would help the organisation “increase the impact of our work, empowering more people to protect nature and livelihoods”.

“It takes a lot of courage to do this kind of work,” said Ole von Uexkull, Right Livelihood's ex6ecutive director. “All our laureates display amazing courage. But when others see that this is possible, more and more people become active. ”