by Indigenous Climate Action staff
At Indigenous Climate Action (ICA) we believe that Indigenous peoples are the keepers of valuable knowledge necessary to address the climate crisis and that by investing in our people, knowledge and culture we can inspire a new generation of climate justice leaders.
Colonization, through forms of neo-colonialism and extractivism, has already severely impacted our communities water and food security, and our ability to continue our traditional governance systems. Presently, man-made climate change is accelerating these impacts, altering our ability to continue our land-based lifestyles and live in accordance with our natural laws, putting us at risk of losing vital Indigenous Ecological Knowledge.
Currently, Indigenous peoples represent approximately 5% of the global population with our recognized lands and territories representing 22% – 65% of the world’s land surface. Indigenous peoples are recognized as the original inhabitants in over 90 countries and our recognized territories hold approximately 80% of the world’s biodiversity.
As the world embraces modernity our communities continue to model low carbon, sustainable lifestyles. We are people of the land – our culture, traditions and way of being intrinsically tied to place, woven into our creation stories and into our languages. Currently, there are over 6,000 Indigenous languages globally, and these languages reflect biodiversity, our values, and principles of stewardship.
Throughout the last year, ICA has hosted and attended various Indigenous peoples gatherings on climate change to assist in developing an Indigenous Worldview Climate Change resource kit. Thus, we have witnessed some of the most remarkable lessons in the power of Indigenous knowledge and languages. ICA team member, Andrea Bastien was privy to such a lesson during her attendance at the Indigenous Food Sovereignty Gathering held on the Tkaronto Islands this past October.
From Songs Seeds Grow
When Andrea attended this gathering she met Tayohseron:tye/Nikki Auten, a Mohawk woman from Tyendinaga. Nikki shared a beautiful lesson she learned during her Masters of Arts in Sustainability Studies at Trent University. One of the projects she worked on was with Farms at Work as the manager of the Flint Corn Community Project, a project to revitalize Haudenosaunee Flint Corn. As part of her work, they learned that Haudenosaunee Flint Corn seeds had been saved by a local nunnery and been in cold storage for more than 20 years. Their task, to see if they could get them to grow again.
The first round of germination used western science methodologies resulting in a moderate 40% germination rate. While the results were better than expected, Nikki shared that she became curious about traditional Indigenous methods of seed germination.
After some research, Nikki was able to reintroduce traditional songs, medicines, and plant kin as part of the germination process. By using Indigenous knowledge, culture, language and song as a method the corn seeds flourished and jumped to a 90% germination rate.
This lesson demonstrates the importance of Indigenous methodologies, culture and language. Over the last year, ICA has heard countless stories of communities drawing a direct connection between the protection of culture, knowledge systems and languages as critical pathways for protecting the planets rich biodiversity.
Caring for the planet and caring for our languages
Of the 70 Indigenous languages spoken in what is now known as ‘Canada’, over two-thirds of them are endangered, and the remaining are at risk of being lost. Many Indigenous peoples no longer speak their languages due to lasting intergenerational effects of residential schools, the 60’s scoop, racism and white supremacy, institutionalized and systematic oppression that creates shame and trauma for our people. This is all effectively stopping language transmission from being passed onto the next generation.
ICA has witnessed a massive movement toward Indigenous language revitalization in the country. With many communities concerned that losing languages means the loss of knowledge for caring for the land.
2019 is the year of Indigenous Languages and is also an urgent time to finding solutions to the climate crisis. The world has come together making bold commitments to address the climate crisis as outlined in the UN Paris Agreement – the first UN Convention since the UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples (UNDRIP) to recognize Indigenous rights, yet we continue to fail to uphold tenets of UNDRIP, including Article 13 which states:
Indigenous peoples have the right to revitalize, use, develop and transmit to future generations their histories, languages, oral traditions, philosophies…
States shall take effective measures to ensure that these rights are protected…