My name is Norbu Tenzing. I live in San Francisco, in the United States of America with my wife and daughter.
I was raised in Darjeeling, India, as my father, Tenzing Norgay Sherpa moved there to find mountaineering work on expiditions. He went on to accompany Sir Edmund Hilary to the summit of Mount Everest on May 29th 1953.
My family are originally from Nepal and Tibet. I return to Nepal at least twice a year to visit the projects and partners of the American Himalayan Foundation.
What was your main interest in coming to the World Indigenous Summit?
I came to share the story of the Sherpa people who live on the shoulders of Everest. To bring attention to the issues, risks and injustices they face.
Many people go to climb Everest, but very few ever seek to understand it.
I’m also very taken with what the Maori people have managed to achieve in terms of the stewardship of their lands, their language and their culture. Maori have a deep understanding of their identity, even their rivers have a respected identity and ultimately, that’s what we want as Sherpa for ourselves and for our Mountains.
What does it mean to be a Sherpa?
Sherpas are an ethnic group who migrated from Eastern Tibet some 500 years ago. We are Buddhist and our Sherpa language is like the Tibetan language.
Sherpa is also a term used to describe the guides who lead climbers up Mt Everest.
The word “Sherpa” is commonly used as a metaphor and a brand in businesses which identify themselves as “those who guide others” on their ventures.
In your presentation, you said that being a Sherpa on Mt Everest is the most dangerous job in the world. What should be done to both care for and compensate Sherpa’s for the risk they take?
This is already happening, but there needs to be increased opportunity and investment in the training of the Sherpa climbers, so that they are seen and respected as skilled professionals.
I think that life insurance coverage should increase to $50,000USD from the current $15,000 which barely pays for the cost of funeral. And that the Nepalese government take a genuine stand for the well being of Sherpa and set enforceable policies that benefit both the mountain and the people.
Lastly, Everest is seen as extreme climb and a transaction, it should not be a luxurious physical challenge. It is this attitude that increases the risk of harm to the Sherpas. But most importantly its the client who wants to go up the mountain that needs to work with operators who compensate their Sherpas well and take care of the family well being in case of death.
Seeing as Everest is a huge global draw card, what responsibilities do we have internationally to both the mountain and the people?
Mount Everest is a world heritage site. That means that globally, we have a responsibility to the care for and protect it.
People also need to be savvy when choosing an operator to guide them on the climb. Do your research. Are they reputable? Do they pay the Sherpa fairly? It is the same concept as avoiding clothing made by child labourers in China. The market dictates fair trade. The biggest change will come from people making their choices based on these values.
Everest is more than a mountain to climb, people need to come with the right intention, attitude and motivation. If you come with greed or ego, well let’s just say, nothing good will come of that.
There is a long-standing relationship between NZ and Nepal, and for you, a close familial tie. What does this mean to you?
New Zealand feels like a second home to me. Naturally we’ve shared a long history due to the relationship my father had with Sir Edmund Hillary and now I have my own relationships here, especially with the Maori people.
In your presentation you said that the view from Everest is optimistic, in your greatest dreams, what is the future for the Sherpa people?
To have been here these past two days and having learnt of the deep connection the Maori people have to the mountains, to the rivers and the passion to be good stewards is the dream that I have for the preservation of Everest.
You said you had never been to the summit but come from a family of climbers, do you have aspirations of making the summit?
No, not me. I have my own mountains to climb. We always said that my father did, so that we wouldn’t have to.