Indigenous Voices Are Crucial to Tackling the Climate Crisis

May 2, 2024
3 mins read

Junee Manandhar ’27
Guest Writer

The climate crisis bomb is ticking away and big corporations are reluctant to make any changes. As dreadful as this has sounded for the past few years considering there has been very little action, there is still some hope left. The answer to the climate crisis is Indigenous communities. For centuries, the lifestyle of Indigenous people focused on respect for the environment in a way that still benefits their communities. Indigenous voices are crucial to tackling the climate crisis because they have deeper connections to the natural systems, insights into their local ecosystems, and sustainable practices.

Indigenous people are closely connected to the environment, a key reason we should listen to them. Briseida Iglesias Lopez de Guerrero, an Indigenous person from Panama representing at the 28th Conference of the Parties (COP), shared how their grandparents instilled in them a deep respect for the land, which is a central message in many Indigenous communities. She says that personal responsibility for everyone and understanding the consequences of our actions is a must. Harboring this kind of mindset for big corporations and politicians could drive meaningful change. Involving Indigenous communities in environmental decision-making would bring fresh perspectives and proven solutions based on centuries of sustainable practices.

Indigenous people live at a very important intersection of the environment and modern life. Maricela Fernández Fernández, from the Cabecar tribe in Costa Rica, emphasizes the interconnectedness of nature and the need for collective action. Even those living in urban areas maintain cultural ties to the environment and advocate for policy change. This intersection is something we all need to utilize to shift our mindset.

Additionally, another reason is that Indigenous communities around the world have seen the impacts of the climate crisis firsthand because of their close relationship to the environment. In Michigan, USA, the Odawa tribe saw more changes in recent years on their land than in any other generations due to human-caused climate change. The leader, Frank Ettawageshik, describes how he now sees more ticks than before due to the warming climate. The Tiwi community on the Tiwi islands in Australia say they have been around long enough to notice changes like erosion and a creek drying up. For many non-Indigenous people, noticing environmental shifts is much more difficult, so these kinds of statements can be difficult to visualize. However, that isn’t an excuse to ignore the issue entirely. Indigenous people around the world are the communities that contribute the least to the climate crisis, and yet they suffer the most. Policymakers turn a blind eye when they try to protest against projects and bills that harm the environment and directly affect their community.

Another crucial reason we should be paying more attention to Indigenous communities is because of their sustainable lifestyle. Sustainability may seem like a buzzword nowadays, but it truly is important to understand how small and large-scale sustainable changes can greatly impact the environment. Living sustainably isn’t anything new to Indigenous communities, they’ve done it for generations. Indigenous people in the mountains conserve soil, reduce erosion, conserve water, and reduce the risk of environmental disasters. Whereas in the countryside, they sustainably manage livestock grazing and cultivation so that the biodiversity of grasslands is preserved. Many Indigenous people emphasize that we can live by respecting nature, living off it while doing so in a way that allows for abundance, but at the same time protects the future of the next generations. 

However, many people argue people in the scientific field of environmental conservation with technology are already gathering data and trying to slow down the climate crisis. There are climate scientists and surely they are just as important, if not more important than Indigenous communities. All of this isn’t to say that only Indigenous people can slow down the climate crisis, but they have a deep understanding of the environment as well as experiencing the impacts of the climate crisis on the environment first-hand, which is a perspective unique from other people. Additionally, the science field is very privileged-white-male-dominated, so having different and unique perspectives can help add to research. Along these lines, anthropologists and climate researchers have turned to Indigenous people to ask what they have observed about the world around them. Indigenous knowledge, rooted in lived experiences, complements scientific research and can guide more effective policy and action.

Additionally, some argue applying Indigenous practices requires a whole lifestyle change and that many people can’t afford to do that. However, it’s not a whole lifestyle change, but a moral change on an individual level and a larger scale. Big corporations only care about profit leading to overexploitation and severe impacts around the world. Yes, there are some resources we need that may not have the most environmentally ethical path, but if it’s extracted at a sustainable rate, where the resources can replenish faster than we deplete them, then we would maintain a great balance with the Earth. As long as greed and an overconsumption mindset don’t take over, then there’s still hope that we change the mindset of even environmentally ignorant politicians and corporations.

For students, spreading this message is especially important. We have the power to influence our institutions and shape the future. Colleges and universities have responded to student-led initiatives, demonstrating that collective action can drive change. As we step into the “real world,” it’s crucial not to lose sight of our shared battle against climate change. The survival of the environment is intertwined with our own.

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