Harnessing Indigenous Knowledge to Protect Nature


In the Democratic Republic of Congo, for example, the Bambuti-Babuluko community is helping to protect one of the last tracts of primary rainforest in Central Africa. In Iran, the semi-nomadic Chahdegal Balouch watch over 580,000 hectares of fragile scrubland and desert. And in Canada’s Far North, Inuit leaders are working to restore caribou herds, whose numbers have been greatly reduced.

In places like Australia and South America, the management of indigenous lands, including deliberately ignited, smoldering bushfires, is seen as key to preventing large-scale wildfires, which in many many locations may become more common as the climate becomes hotter and drier.

“Indigenous fire is about burning in a way that supports a healthy culture, ecosystems and society,” says Oliver Costello, director of the Jagun Alliance Aboriginal Corporation in Australia. “More socio-political change and investment is needed to properly implement Indigenous fire and land management in Australia and beyond to realize the potential of Indigenous custodianship and knowledge in practice.”

Local communities are stewards of their environment and are key to promoting sustainable alternative livelihoods. Photo by UNEP

Tend to traditional knowledge

The United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples, adopted in 2007, requires all entities to obtain the free, prior and informed consent of indigenous peoples before engaging in activities that affect their rights, survival , their dignity and well-being. The statement posits that interactions must occur within the timelines of Indigenous peoples and in Indigenous languages.

To that end, 2022 marks the start of the United Nations Decade of Indigenous Languages, which highlights the importance of fostering Indigenous languages ​​in justice systems, media, work and health programs. Given the importance of oral traditions in transmitting environmental management practices and indigenous knowledge, experts say the preservation of language and customs is of the utmost importance.

At the resumed fifth session of the United Nations Environment Assembly earlier this year, member states adopted a key resolution that emphasizes deploying nature to find sustainable development solutions[MRT1] . The resolution calls on UNEP to support the implementation of such solutions, which protect the rights of communities and indigenous peoples.

UNEP also has a policy that aims to protect environmental defenders by exposing attacks, torture, intimidation and murder while advocating for better protection of environmental rights.,

Recognition and respect

“The traditional knowledge of indigenous peoples has helped bring the environment they live in into virtual balance so that it can continue to provide essential services – such as water, fertile soil, food, shelter, medicine – to all forms of life,” says Drissi. “It must be preserved and improved.”

The Stockholm+50 conference in early June strongly positioned indigenous peoples, who produced a declaration calling for “effective and immediate integration of [indigenous] scientific knowledge in all relevant decisions and actions to face the triple planetary crisis of climate change, loss of nature and biodiversity, pollution and waste.

The declaration also highlights the plight of indigenous women, who experience particularly high levels of poverty, limited access to health and economic services and often suffer from institutional, domestic, political and sexual violence.

“Indigenous women face a triple risk: being a woman, being indigenous and being a conservationist,” Drissi said. “They preserve the biodiversity of our ecosystems and transmit ancestral and indigenous knowledge, languages ​​and worldviews. However, indigenous women and girls are too often stigmatized, harassed, criminalized, tortured or killed for defending their lands and rivers, their cultural heritage, life on their territories and beyond.

Tarcila Rivera Zea, a Quechua activist from Ayacucho who has dedicated more than 30 years to the defense and defense of indigenous cultures and peoples, says stronger action and recognition of the rights of indigenous peoples are needed.

“It is critical that Indigenous women be recognized in our full capacities, especially as knowledge bearers and in our role as producers within Indigenous families,” says Rivera. “The violence that comes from outside has a lot to do with the denial of our collective and individual human rights.”

According to experts, such integration requires the development of real partnerships.

The Norwegian Agency for Development Cooperation (Norad), a professional body that ensures that Norwegian development aid funds contribute to global development, was among the participants in discussions with indigenous peoples at the Stockholm conference +50.

“Indigenous peoples must be at the center of the table in climate and environmental debates, because indigenous peoples are the real experts,” said Stig Ingemar Traavik, director of climate, energy and environment at Norad. “They already have many of the solutions we’re looking for, and we need to listen and learn.”

The Dushanbe Declaration, adopted this year as part of the International Decade of Action on Water for Sustainable Development, confirms the essential role of women, youth, indigenous peoples, local communities and other major groups stakeholders in water governance at all levels.

“We need to increase recognition of these practices and foster respectful dialogue in an ethical space between science and policy spheres with Indigenous peoples,” says Drissi. “This ethical space is where Indigenous knowledge can be appropriately shared and carefully processed and received. If this space is never created, the erosion of indigenous knowledge will continue.

But increased recognition must be complemented by action. For Rivera, this takes the form of training a new generation of Indigenous women leaders.

“There’s still optimism and a lot of hope for rights-based respect, and we’re putting our all into it,” she says. “With information, training and access to the right tools, I’m sure the next generation will achieve greater things and understand that global decisions have implications in local contexts.”

Contact information: For more information, please contact Siham Drissi


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