Known around the world as the "alternative Nobel Prize" to honor and support "courageous people solving global problems," the Right Livelihood Award was granted Wednesday to three activists from Cameroon, Canada, and Russia as well as a legal group in India.
Right Livelihood has recognized nearly 200 laureates from more than 70 countries since its founding over four decades ago. This year, the Stockholm-based organization considered a record 206 nominees from 89 nations, executive director Ole von Uexkull said during a press conference.
The 2021 laureates are:
- Marthe Wandou, "for building a model of community-based child protection in the face of terrorist insurgency and gender-based violence in the Lake Chad region of Cameroon";
- Vladimir Slivyak, "for his defense of the environment and for helping to ignite grassroots opposition to the coal and nuclear industries in Russia";
- Freda Huson of the Wet'suwet'en people in Canada, "for her fearless dedication to reclaiming her people's culture and defending their land against disastrous pipeline projects"; and
- Legal Initiative for Forest and Environment (LIFE), "for their innovative legal work empowering communities to protect their resources in the pursuit of environmental democracy in India."
"The 2021 Right Livelihood Laureates are courageous mobilizers who show what peoples' movements can achieve," von Uexkull said. "In the face of the escalating climate and environmental crises, senseless violence, and blatant human rights abuses, they successfully engage for a better future through solidarity and organization."
"These grassroots activists are not just resisting," von Uexkull added, "but actively mobilizing entire communities to claim their rights, becoming agents of change where governments fail."
In addition to a cash prize of about $115,000 for each recipient, the award secures laureates long-term support to "highlight and expand" their work. According to the organization, "Right Livelihood is a megaphone and a shield for the laureates: raising their profile, providing them protection when their lives and liberty are in danger, and educating people on their innovative solutions."
Past recipients have included American whistleblower Edward Snowden, Swedish climate campaigner Greta Thunberg, Congolese gynecologist Dr. Denis Mukwege, and Belarusian pro-democracy activist Ales Bialiatski, as well as Viasna, the human rights center he established.
The first person from Cameroon to receive the award, Wandou has long worked to prevent sexual violence against children, especially girls, and care for survivors. She founded the organization Action Locale Pour un Développement Participatif et Autogéré (ALDEPA) in 1998.
"The Right Livelihood Award will give us the courage to continue what we are doing," Wandou said. "It will also help us have visibility and call on more people to join us in supporting victims and promoting women's and children's rights."
Slivyak, co-chairman and co-founder of the group Ecodefense, has advocated against fossil fuels and nuclear power in Russia as well as the shipment of radioactive waste from abroad.
"I've spent my life in the environmental movement, and it's really a big honor for me to get an award like this," said Slivyak. "The Right Livelihood Award provides more resources for the environmental and human rights protection work that my organization is leading."
Huson has been a leader in the fight against the Coastal GasLink pipeline in British Columbia, Canada. She joined with fellow Wet'suwet'en hereditary chiefs in 2010 to establish the Unist'ot'en homestead, which they call "a peaceful expression of our connection to our territory." The camp now includes a healing center for people impacted by colonial trauma.
"The work I've been recognized for is teaching people our ways, which we are taught from a very young age: to take care of the land that sustains us," she explained. "What this award means to my people is that it's going to be more powerful to join forces with many others around the world with the same goal: to protect the land, protect the environment, and make sure that people are treated fairly."
Legal Initiative for Forest and Environment (LIFE)
Founded in 2005 by lawyers Ritwick Dutta and Rahul Choudhary, LIFE provides legal and scientific support to communities across India taking on projects and corporations that threaten the environment and public health.
Dutta said that "we are extremely thrilled" to receive LIFE's first international prize.
"It means a lot to us and to all the local groups across India that we are supporting," he added. "The award will help us increase the impact of our work, empowering more people to protect nature and livelihoods."
Photos of the recipients engaging in work and protest actions were provided by Right Livelihood.
This content originally appeared on Common Dreams - Breaking News & Views for the Progressive Community and was authored by Jessica Corbett.