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Respecting Our Traditional Science and Ways of Knowing

Indigenous participants at the “Respecting Our Traditional Science and Ways of Knowing: Indigenous Peoples Sovereignty, Lifeways, and Climate Change” gathering in August in Ixtlán de Juarez, Oaxaca, Mexico, expressed the following summation in their final Outcome Document: “We commit to remaining strong in the struggle for survival that is called Climate Change. The forces that have created this crisis and which continue to carry out their destructive activities are many and powerful. But we are powerful too, and our power comes from being who we are, sharing and supporting one another, and following our original ways, teachings, and instructions as caretakers of the natural world. We will retain our Indigenous teachings and pass them to our grandchildren, so that all the grandchildren of the world can live.”

Organized by Cultural Survival and  the International Indian Treaty Council, this convening  engaged participants in a dialogue on Indigenous perspectives of climate change through traditional knowledge and Indigenous science. Indigenous scientists, educators, students, youth, elders, and local community members discussed how Indigenous people understand climate change through cultural practices and spiritual knowledge. Central to the dialogue was the interconnectedness and interdependence that Indigenous lifeways are based on, right relationships to Mother Earth and all living things, and the importance of reviving and passing this knowledge to future generations. This issue of the CSQ  is dedicated to showcasing the importance of respecting and living by these teachings and traditional ways of knowing, crucial for our survival as humankind.

Poignantly, Bia’ni Madsa’ Juárez López (Mixe/Ayuuk ja’ay & Zapotec/Binniza) writes about the work of her grandmother, Paula Reyes Pérez, living and farming in the highlands of Oaxaca, Mexico. Her coffee farm, together with that of her neighbors, conserves many species of trees. As people in the community say, “This respect for other lifeforms is a main factor contributing to the high biological diversity of coffee farms in the region.” To the north, Sean Sherman’s (Oglala Lakota) dedication to revitalizing Native American cuisine in the United States underlines the importance of traditional foods and food sovereignty for Indigenous communities: “Food really defines who we are on so many levels, nutritiously, regionally, spiritually, culturally.” 

Musician Frank Waln (Sicangu Lakota) reminds us, “We need to remember who we are and where we come from, the people and places that made us. By remembering  . . . it helps us to remain rooted and grounded.” Global Environmental Fund Fellow Fellow Edith Bastidas (Pastos) speaks about the importance of Indigenous women’s involvement in mitigating climate change and protecting biodiversity: “These experiences have made me realize how important it is to share broadly and ensure Indigenous Peoples— especially Indigenous women—understand these issues, because there are so many processes that exist without women knowing, participating, or giving their consent.” And activist Robby Romero (Apache) sums it up: “Indigenous Peoples around the world are at the forefront of human rights, the cutting edge of social change, on the frontlines of environmental justice. We are invisible no more.”

In Solidarity, 

Suzanne Benally
Executive Director
(Navajo and Santa Clara Tewa)


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