XIII. Indigenous Peoples and Climate Change Impacts

Session Date and Time: 
Friday, 10 May 2019 - 8:00am to 10:00am
Geography 212
Session Organizer(s): 
Victoria Reyes-García
- victoria.reyes@uab.cat

While the evidence is growing that Indigenous Peoples and Local Communities (IPLC) are disproportionally being affected by climate change impacts, few acknowledge that Indigenous and Local Knowledge (ILK) systems can contribute towards understanding climate change impacts on local social-ecological system. However, throughout the world, IPLC with a long history of interaction with the environment have developed intricate and complex knowledge systems (including information, management techniques, and forms of organization) that allow them to detect not only changes in local weather and climatic variability, but also the direct effects of such changes in the physical and the biological systems on which they depend.

In this session, we aim to bring together researchers, practitioners, and knowledge holders to share their experiences on both topics. Thus, we aim for presentations featuring case studies of how IPLC social-ecological systems are being affected by the effects of unexpected extreme rainfall events, floods, droughts, pasture disappearance, extinction of medicinal plants, changes in animal behaviour patterns, or the appearance of pests and invasive alien species, phenomena generally related to climate change. We are also looking for presentations exploring how ILK can be an alternative source of knowledge in the quest to understand climate change impacts on local social-ecological systems and how combining such knowledge with research on climate change impacts offers the potential to design successful climate adaptation policies. At the end of the panel we will discuss the importance of establishing a global network around the concept of local indicators of climate change impacts to significantly advance climate research and help to bridge the gap between place-based and global climate research.

Time Abstract
, Hannah - Great Lakes Indian Fish and Wildlife Commission
, Melonee - Great Lakes Indian Fish and Wildlife Commission
, Travis - Great Lakes Indian Fish and Wildlife Commission
, Aaron - Great Lakes Indian Fish and Wildlife Commission

Climate change threatens many natural resources on which Ojibwe member tribes of the Great Lakes Indian Fish and Wildlife Commission (GLIFWC) depend to meet spiritual, cultural, medicinal, subsistence, and economic needs. We integrated Traditional Ecological Knowledge (TEK) and Scientific Ecological Knowledge (SEK) to complete a climate change vulnerability assessment of over 60 beings (species) of interest to GLIFWC’s 11 member tribes in the upper Great Lakes region. To assess vulnerability, we conducted TEK interviews with elders, harvesters, and other knowledge holders, and combined interview results with results from NatureServe’s Climate Change Vulnerability Index. Manoomin, or wild rice, has tremendous cultural importance and was the most vulnerable being in the assessment. We found that the combination of TEK and SEK broadened our understanding of climate change impacts on these beings and will help GLIFWC respond to climate change in accordance with the cultural values of its member tribes.

, Xiaoyue - Universitat Autònoma de Barcelona
, Victoria - Universitat Autònoma de Barcelona

Place-based research on climate change impacts gains attention as evidence shows that global climate datasets fail to detect impacts on local social-ecological systems. However, the transferability, integration, and upscaling of place-based research from the local to the global calls for the articulation of strong networks of collaboration working at multiple scales and across different knowledge systems. Building such a community of practice requires the operationalization of a common conceptual framework, underpinned by a common language. Based on a literature review on local impacts of climate change, we categorize local indicators of climate change impacts. The indicators found often lack the accuracy of instrumental measures, but they reflect local understandings of climate change impacts upon social-ecological systems. The establishment of a global network around the concept of “local indicators of climate change impacts” can significantly advance climate research and help to bridge the gap between place-based and global climate research.

, John Richard - University of Florida

The Highland Maya of Chiapas, Mexico have widespread generalized knowledge of medicinal plants. Highland Maya self-administer treatments and rely on clinics and/or specialized healers on rare occasions for very serious conditions.  This paper explores the potential impact of climate change on medicinal plant knowledge and procurement strategies. Much of the medicinal flora has a wide range across successional stages and altitudinal gradients. Distribution of medicinal plants falls off sharply in forested areas. Different communities in the region tend to favor particular ecological zones at particular altitudes for harvesting medicinal plants. Based on predictive climate models for the region, distribution for some medicinal plants will likely shift. While this will change availability for certain species, there is some redundancy in the ethnoflora and preferred species may be substituted. Implications for general conservation, medicinal plant conservation, and the relationship between health and the biophysical environment in Chiapas, Mexico are discussed.

García del Amo
, David - Institute of environmental sciences and technology. ICTA-UAB, Spain
, Graham P. - Department of Geography. Autonomous University of Barcelona, UAB
Reyes García
, Victoria - Institució Catalana de Recerca i Estudis Avançats (ICREA)

Research documenting indicators of climate change impacts reported by Indigenous People and Local Communities shows these indicators overlapping with scientific measurements. However, the complete inclusion of Indigenous and Local Knowledge in international climate fora continues to be pending. To explore scientists’ opinion on the relevance to include local knowledge, we conducted an online survey with climate change researchers from universities and research centres in Spain (n=191). We asked about the possibility of integrating information from local knowledge in 68 groups of climate change indicators derived from the literature. Results show a decoupling between scientists´ opinions about the local indicators with more potential to be included in climate research and the indicators on which local communities are asked. While scientists considered that local knowledge could contribute most to detect climate change impacts on the biological and socioeconomic systems, most research has focused on local indicators on the climatic and physical systems.

Wyllie de Echeverria
, Victoria - University of Oxford

In this study we investigate the perceptions and impacts of climate change on 11 Indigenous communities in Northern British Columbia and Southeast Alaska. Ninety-six Elders and resource users were interviewed about TEK and observations regarding weather, landscape, and resource changes. Our findings show that participants are aware of significant environmental changes over their lifetimes, and an acceleration in changes over the last 15-20 years, not only in weather patterns, but also in the behaviour, distributions, and availability of important plants and animals. In addition to general environmental knowledge, we also delineate specific knowledge on three functional groups, which we use to illustrate a new concept we term ‘Cultural Keystone Indicator Species’ (CKIS). These are species which are important ecological and cultural keystone and indicator species. In the conclusion, we suggest ways this specific knowledge can assist communities in responding to future environmental changes using a range of place-based adaptation modes.

, Laura - Prairie Climate Centre, University of Winnipeg

In June 2017, Turtle Lodge – an Indigenous knowledge centre in Sagkeeng First Nation, Manitoba – convened the Onjisay Aki International Climate Summit, a cross-cultural dialogue on climate change led by Indigenous Knowledge Keepers from around the world. In collaboration with Turtle Lodge, our research team supported the documentation, synthesis, and communication of the knowledge shared at the Summit using collaborative written and video methods. The discussion centred around impacts, understandings, and solutions to climate change, suggesting that addressing the problem requires a shift in human values. The Knowledge Keepers emphasized that their diverse knowledges and traditions – embedded in their spiritual ways of life – can provide guidance for this cultural shift. This underscores the need for a new approach to engaging with Indigenous knowledge in climate research, not only as a source of observations but a wealth of values and worldviews to inform action and research more broadly.

, Nick - Massey University, Palmerston North, New Zealand

Traditional knowledge is an imperative within Polynesian society and is applied in very specific actions or locations aligned to food systems and other activities. Polynesian society has developed a broad knowledge base which has been sufficiently adaptable throughout, and since, colonization to ensure their continued sustenance and survival. The most recent threat to this knowledge base is the consequence of climate change including more intense cyclone events, salinization of soils, flooding events and changing plant behaviour. The challenge of climate change affects even the remotest corners of Polynesia; as an example Tropical Cyclone Winstone devastated parts of Fiji in 2016 including Koro Island 137 kilometres from the main Island and capital Suva. The use of traditional knowledge to rebuild communities through cropping for income generation is occurring with an emphasis on adapting crop and food systems to contemporary environmental limitations.

, Pasang - University of Washington

This presentation revisits Maggio’s (2014:103) question: “How can anthropologists use storytelling as a new way of engaging wider audiences?” Following Crate’s (2018) call for “Storying Climate Change,” it explores how entering into personal and collective experiences with climate change can unravel local and regional web of change for an informed engagement with the processes of adaptation and transformation. Thus, this presentation shares a personal story about the first two decades of the twenty-first century when climate change came to our village in the Mount Everest region in Nepal, crafted for the daughter of my daughter, yet to be born. It shows how this process of looking back at the present time from an imagined future, 30 years from now, opens up new ways of viewing and valuing the environment. It illustrates how storytelling as a method allows creative weaving of environmental intimacies with lessons of social justice and optimistic feminism.