Indigenous knowledge critical to addressing climate change

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Indigenous peoples are “not mere victims of climate change,” asserts researcher and conservation biologist Gleb Raygorodetsky in Why traditional knowledge holds the key to climate change, one of the articles in the latest issue of Media Development, WACC Global’s international quarterly journal. The issue explores the theme, Traditional Knowledge and Climate Change: Bridging the Gap.  

While Indigenous peoples comprise only 4% of the world’s population, (between 250 to 300 million people), “they utilize 22% of the world’s land surface. In doing so, they maintain 80% of the planet’s biodiversity in, or adjacent to, 85% of the world’s protected areas,” writes Raygorodetsk, who has worked with Indigenous peoples for decades. He is an adjunct research fellow with the Traditional Knowledge Initiative of the UN University’s Institute of Advanced Studies and a Research Affiliate with the POLIS Project on Ecological Governance at the Centre for Global Studies, University of Victoria. 

Indigenous peoples are “excellent observers and interpreters of change in the environment,” adds Raygorodetsk. They are keepers of community-based and collectively-held knowledge offers valuable insights, complementing scientific data with chronological and landscape-specific precision and detail that is critical for verifying climate models and evaluating climate change scenarios developed by scientists at much broader spatial and temporal scale.”  

In Tending the garden, Dr. Lila Pine, a Mi’gmaw New Media artist and Indigenous thinker draws a contrast between Indigenous and Western views of the environment.  

“Our Creation Story teaches us to live in harmony with the land and with all of creation. It teaches us about the interconnectedness of things. It teaches us reciprocity,” writes Pine. “Our worldview, informed by our Creation Story and embedded in our language, stands in stark contrast to the Western worldview, the one whose Creation Stories teach domination over nature.” 

Pine, who teaches Indigenous Media and New Media courses at Ryerson University in Toronto, notes that Canada, these two disparate worldviews are on full display in a standoff, clashing over climate change, pipelines and sovereignty. 

In his editorial, WACC General Secretary Philip Lee notes that while Indigenous ecological knowledge has been recognized as a major resource for climate change adaptation, they are not being used consistently in response to the climate crisis.  

“A vital part of Indigenous identity is linked to the natural world,” writes Lee.  Indigenous peoples’ views about life and death, natural resources, “and the intimate and intricate relationship they have with land, ought to offer pertinent answers to pressing questions of mitigation, adaptation, and survival,” he adds.  

In The heartbeat of Southern African Indigenous peoples, Shaldon Ferris (KhoiSan), offers an intimate account of his interactions with Indigenous people as part of his work as Indigenous Rights Radio Coordinator for Cultural Survival. Communication with Indigenous Peoples runs much deeper than copper cables, cell phone masts, radio transmitters, gravel or tarred roads. It is spiritual, without a doubt,” he writes. We connect on a level that is higher than us. Sometimes we do not even know how, and maybe we do not need to know – we just feel the connection, and embrace each other on that level, and that will always be enough. 

Other articles in the issue include:  

  • For water justice, Churches ought to become “blue communities!, by Dinesh Suna 

  • Indigenous Peoples’ efforts to impact global climate agreements, by Linda Etchart 

  • Environmental practices of South Africa’s Indigenous ‡Khomani Bushmen, by Julie Grant  

  • Comunicación para una vida alegresencilla y sostenibleby  Oswaldo Martínez Flores 

Media Development is  dedicated to the theory and practice of communication around the world. Many contributors write from the perspective of the South, highlighting social, cultural, and spiritual values. Subscribe here now.