'We're not just somebody to look at.' Sidelined groups complain of racial tokenism at COP26 climate talks

Updated 1035 GMT (1835 HKT) November 9, 2021

Glasgow, Scotland (CNN)There's a small desk right at the back of the largest room at the COP26 conference in Glasgow. It sits well behind the rows of seats reserved for world leaders and international organizations, right underneath a huge EXIT sign, behind observing journalists.

The label on the desk reads "Indigenous Peoples Organizations."
The United Nations Conference of the Parties, or COP, is supposed to be an inclusive forum on climate, bringing together global leaders, NGOs, activists and civil society groups. The UK, which is hosting the summit in Scotland, promised "the most inclusive COP ever."
But to some of the Indigenous people and members of other underrepresented groups that are attending, those claims ring hollow.
CNN spoke to more than a dozen people from underrepresented groups from different parts of the world, including Indigenous people and those from the Global South, and they all said the same thing: The conference doesn't reflect the real world and doesn't feel inclusive.

'We're working in a colonial framework'

Ruth Łchavaya K'isen Miller is part of the Native Movement delegation at COP26 summit in Glasgow.
Ruth Łchavaya K'isen Miller, a Dena'ina Athabaskan and Ashkenazi Russian Jewish woman who is part of the Native Movement delegation, said the UK's pledge of inclusiveness is "quite hypocritical and simply a lie."
"It feels really deeply and profoundly lonely," she told CNN.
She said a lot of people from civil society groups, particularly from the Global South, had struggled to get to the conference because of the difficulties brought by the pandemic, but she also complained that participating virtually was limiting. A lot of virtual sessions mean people can watch, but they can't raise their hand and get involved, or ask questions.
"We see low numbers of participation from civil society, members of the Global South, particularly from Indigenous communities," she said.
People who have been unable to get to COP26 can participate in some sessions online. But Miller said that in many cases, the sessions did not facilitate those attending virtually to actually ask questions or join in on the discussions.
The way Miller sees it, conferences like COP26 perpetuate structures of power that run along racial lines. Indigenous people's struggles to attend COP26 are not the result of anyone deliberately trying to exclude them, but are an example of everyday struggles these groups face in access to decision-making generally, according to Miller.
"COP ... has not done enough to break down those barriers to entry," Miller said.