Tuesday, July 09, 2013

Healing the Earth: Indigenous Peoples and Climate Change

By Gleb Raygorodetsky

For Indigenous peoples climate change is not a political slogan but an inescapable reality of their daily life. In a new series for the Ecologist, Gleb Raygorodetsky explores how different communities are responding to the challenges of climate change.
“What do we do when we are sick?” asked Ms. Carrie Dan, a respected Elder and a spiritual leader of the Western Shoshone Nation in the United States. She was addressing an audience of over 300 Indigenous delegates from around the world who came to Anchorage, Alaska, in the spring of 2009 for an international summit of Indigenous peoples on climate change. “We take the fever away,” she replied. “Now we have to do this with the Earth. The Earth won’t get healed until someone takes care of her.”
My journey in search of answers to the question of what it would take to help heal our ailing planet, began long before the Anchorage gathering. As a project manager for an international conservation NGO (non-governmental organization) and then a program officer for a private grant-making foundation, I had learned about the real impacts of climate change on traditional communities.
I came to realize that for Indigenous peoples like Ms. Dann, climate change was not a political slogan, a theory, or a fundraising strategy, but an inescapable reality of daily life. While they have contributed the least to climate change, the Indigenous peoples and traditional communities have experienced the brunt of its effects, paying for the carbon-gorged lifestyles of people like myself in developed countries.
Despite their predicament - of which climate change is but one challenge - Indigenous peoples refuse to be mere victims of the unfolding climate crisis. Instead, they are becoming a growing creative force behind local, regional, and global responses to the threat of climate change. And whilst their particular ecological and social conditions differ, their approaches to dealing with climate change are surprisingly similar.
Indigenous peoples are convinced that “silver-bullet” or “cookie-cutter” solutions arising out of the dominant economic and development models are not the right path forward. They believe that any efforts aimed at dealing with the challenges of climate change must be firmly rooted in Indigenous traditions of relating to the Earth with respect, reciprocity, and reverence. Read More