Indigenous Peoples have been protectors, interpreters and friends of the earth since time immemorial. Their traditions and cultures are closely tied to nature in ways that have resulted in a deep understanding of the needs and requirements of the land.
Indigenous-led conversations about climate change could allow for better solutions and improved insights into how we can save and protect the nature we have left. Here’s why:
1. They Possess Generations of Environmental Knowledge
Indigenous Peoples have observed and protected the environment and passed down their learnings for generations. Across Canada, Indigenous multigenerational knowledge has been used to identify and adapt to the negative effects of climate change in ways that would not be possible otherwise.
In the Yukon and Northern British Columbia alone, Indigenous-led projects are helping communities adapt to the challenges posed by climate change through climate-monitoring programs.
2. They are Some of the Most Impacted by Climate Change
As agriculture production decreases and freshwater becomes scarce due to the negative effects of climate change, some Indigenous communities will be among the most adversely affected. This is due to their reliance on local biodiversity for food security and lifestyle, which when disrupted could put whole communities at risk.
For example, Arctic and Subarctic Inuit communities have already reported that changing ice patterns and unpredictable weather have led experienced harvesters to change their hunting strategies. For Indigenous communities that rely on transferred knowledge, these changes represent a threat to their way of life.
As these communities bear the brunt of climate change, it’s increasingly important that we include them in discussions that so directly affect them.
3. Their Unceded Territory has Been Used to Contribute to Climate Change
It is unfair and unethical to exclude Indigenous Peoples from the bigger environmental discussion while they lose their homes in the name of profit while being on the receiving end of systemic environmental racism. Since the start of colonialism, Indigenous communities have been pushed off their lands–their unceded homes made into grounds that contribute to climate change and drive the world further into crisis.
Aamjiwnaang First Nation, located in Sarnia, ON and in extreme proximity to “Chemical Valley”, has experienced higher rates of respiratory illnesses, cancer and productive diseases as a result of pollution from Canada’s largest petrochemical complex. These facilities have contributed to 32 major spills and 300 minor ones into the St. Clair River between 1974 and 1986 alone.
4. Their Traditions are Beneficial to the Environment
Indigenous cultures are rich with information and efficient practices that help serve the environment. From controlled fires and water management to farming and land management; Indigenous communities have been recognized time and time again for their successful and sustainable ways of life.
To learn from the traditions and practices of these communities is an extremely reliable and beneficial way to help protect the earth and deal with its changing climate. In British Columbia, wildfire experts have acknowledged that controlled fires akin to how Indigenous communities traditionally managed forests can mitigate the risk of the huge blazes we’re seeing today.
5. They are Interpreters of the Earth
Although Indigenous Peoples represent only 4% of the world’s population in Canada and internationally, their land contains about 80% of the world’s biodiversity. With collective knowledge of the sky, sea and land, Indigenous Peoples are extraordinary observers and interpreters that understand the needs of the earth.
The community-based knowledge offers invaluable insights to better understand and help heal the environment. It’s campaigns like Land Needs Guardians, which focuses on environmental research through both Indigenous and western knowledge; that should be prioritized over commercial gain.
Listening to Indigenous leadership in conversations about the environment will give all living organisms a better quality of life and a secure relationship with the earth. Climate change and its effects are becoming more obvious daily and need action immediately. Working with Indigenous communities will be imperative to restoring the earth—their knowledge and leadership must be central as we tackle the dual crises of climate change and species loss.
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