When many of us think about Climate Change, and how to mitigate it’s effects we often view it through somewhat conventional lenses. For example, we look at how world leaders can affect change, how corporations and even social media can provide effective tools in facilitating that change. However, we may be missing out on something vital, by not taking into account the ways in which those who have lived off of, and in many cases continue to live off of the land. I am referring to Indigenous communities, who are still thriving all over the globe today, and are truly at the forefront of understanding nature, and how the environment operates, and has evolved over time. At this year’s Social Good Summit in New York City, three Indigenous change makers opened up the dialogue on the relevance of Indigenous knowledge on this issue, and how vital their voices and presence can be when it comes to discussions of Climate Change at a higher level. Pita Taufatofua, Amy Cordalis, and Hindou Oumarou Ibrahim provided us with a wide array of lessons from different Indigenous perspectives, but you may notice that all three perspectives share the common Indigenous connection with the Earth as a whole, and keeping in balance with that perspective.
Pita Taufatofua kicked off the discussions, sharing from his personal experiences being of Tongan heritage. He has a degree in engineering and has mad an impact with his notable achievements as an Olympian, via his Taekwondo, and Skiing expertise. In 2018, tropical storm Cyclone Gita devastated Tonga beyond any levels of damage it has seen in upwards of 60 years. Cyclone Gita brought damage to vital crops on the Island, electricity lines, homes, and other buildings, destroying approximately 50% of all infrastructure on the Island. Pita put this into perspective for the audience by noting that, if 50% of New York City suddenly disappeared overnight due to a tropical storm that gained it’s strength via the extreme warming of sea surface temperatures, how would the world react? Surely they would be in shock. The point of this comparison is to illustrate the sheer disconnect amongst the people of the world when it comes ti the suffering of Indigenous communities, and opening up our beings to becoming more connected to those people, and their various regions, can create more of a dialogue, and more actions towards mitigating those Climate Change experiences happening “at the front lines”. He called all of us out, with the same care you would expect from a relative to note that Climate Change in and of itself is not just an issue of science and statistics, but that it is actually a “symptom of wider human values”, and that changing our habits is the best way to turn around this new reality we are facing.
Amy Cordalis is a Lawyer and proud Yurok Woman. The Yurok Indigenous peoples reside in the Northernmost part of California, about 7 hours north of San Francisio, in Amy’s words. The Yurok Reservation covers ground in both the Del Norte, and Humboldt counties on the Klamath River. Amy brought to light the importance of having a holistic perspective in each of our individual lives, and she used the Yurok creation story to beautifully illustrate her point. She summarized the creation story as being about having a lifestyle that is in balance with all of nature, and that if one does that “you will always have enough”, because that balance will prevent the over-exploitation of nature’s gift to humans. The Yurok believe that we are one with the land, and that we are obligated to protect it, without letting “toxic consumption” culture break our connection with the land.
Hindou Oumarou Ibrahim was the perfect woman to deliver the conclusory remarks of this session, as she is both articulate and so passionate about taking action against Climate Change. She is a world class Environmental Activist, who hails from the Central African nation of Chad. She is of Mbororo heritage, and the Mbororo remain a pastoralist community even today, giving them an extra edge when it comes to understanding the impacts happening on the ground when it comes to climate change. Hindou shared some startling observations that she has been able to make over the past 30 years living in and around Lake Chad. Hindou shared that natural resources that the Mbororo require for their livelihood have continued to shrink, and that many animals are also disappearing from the area as a result of this shrinkage. These changes in turn, have lead to a “new era of conflicts” in Hindou’s words, which she elaborated on to note that groups such are Boko Haram become quite aggressive in the fight to obtain the already scarce resources, and so there is also a certain social aspect that is very real for many Indigenous people all over the world that many people in the Global North may not always be exposed to, and that is an issue of the utmost importance when discussing Climate Change and it’s impacts. Hindou also discussed just how vital Indigenous people’s knowledge of nature can be when it comes to resolving issues on Climate Change, and that Indigenous youth must be given the tools, and the platform to join the table on this issue, if we are to make true, tangible change, and gain all of the perspectives necessary to do so.
Overall, this session was very vital to the discussion of Climate Change, as one can see after hearing from all three Indigenous perspectives. It is the communities of the Global South, and/or those who continue to live off of the land who are truly experiencing these changes in their everyday lives. Those of us who live in the Global North, and/or are somewhat disconnected from nature are at a disadvantage if we attempt to address the issue of Climate Change head on, without these perspectives. The final takeaway for me, is that we need to deal with blockages such as visa issues, or even education and confidence issues when it comes to these communities, and we need to find ways to open ourselves up as a group to them, in order to actually take their perspectives into account. This is something to actually sit down, think about, and discuss, as we have become disconnected from those communities in the way we lead our lives. Indigenous communities are here, they are real, and their experiences are instrumental to improving our world on the whole!