Wed. Nov 30th, 2022

It was a historic moment in 2007 when the Secretary General Ban Ki Moon stated out loud for the world in slumber and despise to hear: “I am convinced that climate change, and what we do about it, will define us, our era, and ultimately the global legacy we leave for future generations. Today, the time for doubt has passed.”

A thick treacherous cloud for many had vanished back then.

While many primitive misnomers around Climate change have eluded the human world, yet many challenges remain to be discussed, worked upon and conquered, one of the biggest being the belittling of Indigenous people in this prelude to Climate Action.

Due to their intimate and direct association with the environment and its intricate systems, these communities are the first ones to fall prey to life-threatening impacts of climate change.

In lieu of certain countable changes like species alteration or inaccessibility of traditional food sources, inability to predict weather using indigenous and local knowledge (ILK) accurately or the safety in traveling on constantly thinning ice, apart from increasing health issues, their simple survival remains at stake.

If we are to believe in global numbers, there have been an estimated 370 million indigenous individuals who have witnessed their livelihoods being toppled by climate change.

Despite this selective hit by Nature, they continue to struggle with anthropogenic difficulties too like political marginalization, loss of forest rights and its resources, economic restrictions, human rights violations, ethnic discrimination, unemployment etc.

Recently, the Odisha chapter of Campaign for Survival and Dignity (a tribal and forest dwellers’ group) and Gram Sabhas of nearly 18 tribal-dominated districts in the state have raised a concern over rejection-without-reason of around 150,000 registrations claiming forest rights.

“Such massive rejections of IFR claims were without any intimation to the claimants or Gram Sabhas prescribed under Rule 12A (sub-rule 6,7,10) of Amended Rules 2012. The violation of the procedures in the processing of the claims is common in all the districts”, as told by CSD to DTE.

“The implementing authorities have taken a fully biased approach towards OTFDs, even though Parliament itself has vested its complete faith in them when enacting this law and given OTFDs the same rights and powers as forest dwelling STs under FRA”.

What makes this even more devastating is that many of these vulnerable communities have been only left with the least productive or most delicate ecosystems, all thanks to the social, historical, political and even economic exclusion.

Additionally, their isolated existence leaves policies and consequent government actions coercive with their cause.

The mentality that troubles:

These direct impacts further cause indirect vulnerability amongst the Indigenous individuals, as per certain researches conducted and published successfully, indicate building up of unique intangible losses like anxiety out of land attachment, culture, food security, socio-economic biases etc.

Though the results were drawn from specific regions with selective studies but they clearly emphasize on engaging with these communities in gaining a better perspective on climate change, bringing-in both qualitative as well as quantitative methods to frame adaption strategies.

Are indigenous communities the first line of Defense too?

Though their greenhouse emissions contribution to the world is the least, it is indeed wonderful to note how their existence is crucial for many ecosystems in preserving, regulating, restoring as well as imbibing overall resilience in these interdependent systems.

While at times, they may perish or migrate to other regions, there have been instances when these aborigines respond and conserve the ecosystem in creative ways, feeding on their highly revered and believed traditional knowledge that influences complete human society at large.

Intergovernmental panel on Climate change (IPCC) paired with UNESCO and several indigenous scholars has highlighted and recognized the vital role that the Indigenous Peoples’ and local communities’ knowledge systems can play in stabilizing our future.

They named this study “Intangible Cultural Heritage, Diverse Knowledge Systems and Climate Change” and it quotes: “Although Indigenous knowledge and local knowledge systems continue to be politically marginalized, the recognition of their role in climate governance is essential.” 

There is a scope that this underappreciated-underexploited potential can help unravel solutions to food insecurity that will be triggered with climate change, especially in African continent.

A scholar explained to Mongabay: “It is indeed marvellous that indigenous communities, which are sometimes denigrated simply as being poor, rather teach the profligate and so-called ‘developed’ rich about the interwoven nature of frugality, modesty, contentedness, spirituality and sustainability”.

Their gradual inclusion can bring in diverse perspectives of a looming trouble and help transform climate governance.

Case studies from the world for change:

This indigenous treasure has become a significant parameter in the success of policies aiming at adaptation in certain parts of the world.

Why? Because in indigenous cultures, identities and consequent survival of hunters or farmers remain intimately associated to transition in rains or wind patterns, that can further help monitor wildfires, droughts, floods, plague or disease etc.

Amidst the hi-tech culture of proving, exercising greater control and strong autonomy in decision-making, their voices are rather unheard.

As the Masai leader explains: “We have moved from just being a stakeholder in the governing instrument to being a constituency that has a dedicated policy”, who also runs Indigenous Livelihoods Enhancement Partners in Kenya.

The Afar (Danakil) tribe residing on the Horn of Africa like Djibouti, Eritrea, Ethiopia, is using their traditional knowledge in grasping the biophysical changes and making observations that could trace the temperature trends better with technology at hand.

Similarly, the Borana subgroup of the Oromo people are successfully practicing the collective resource management systems, governance in traditional social insurance and safety-nets, based on changes alignment of stars, animal behavior and their bowels for adaptation to drought-prone lands.

Endorois people have turned their vulnerability to food security with the help of climate-smart agroecological production systems involving cultivation of drought-tolerant cereals, vegetables, oilseeds etc.

The Mirriwong people of Australia, for example, can use the surrounding fauna and flora for monitoring seasonal changes, for instance when the Woolegalegeng (Melaleuca argentea) flowers, thunderstorms are likely to happen.

A Researcher who is also member of a tribe explains it all: “Aboriginal knowledge is an important aspect of climate change, because we’ve been here for 60-plus-thousand years. We know and understand the country — in terms of song, our dance, our performance — that’s in our language”.

The Malaysian communities of Sarawak like Saban, Penan can study sky-color changes or moon phase change or animal migration patterns to identify climatic changes.

But as difficult policies are coined, often these groups are pressurized to maintain their unique land-use and tenure systems, but with unfavorable and truly evolving climatic conditions, these methods are seen to accelerate degradation like slash & burn form of agriculture that was considered healthy until the land could remain fallow to regain fertility.

And as per several reports, these indigenous methods now lie at the risk of being ‘side-lined, marginalized or even lost’ forever.

A perfect blend for an ailing planet: Science & Traditional knowledge

IPCC has currently partnered with United Nations University’s Traditional Knowledge Initiative (UNU-TKI) to promote a careful incorporation of traditional knowledge and the crucial role that can be potentially played by the indigenous people in policy framing and development.

Though this is laudable, it is however needed to ensure faster adaptation and so a faster means to deal with this impactful resource on the planet.

By Alaina Ali Beg

I am a lover of all arts and therefore can dream myself in all places where the World takes me. I am an avid animal lover and firmly believes that Nature is the true sorcerer.

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