07.08.2009 -

Indigenous knowledge of climate change impacts and adaptation

The International Day of the World’s Indigenous Peoples is officially commemorated on 9 August annually in recognition of the first meeting of the United Nations Working Group on Indigenous Populations in Geneva in 1982.

UNESCO's "Local and Indigenous Knowledge Systems" (LINKS) Programme is currently working on a major project ‘On the Frontlines of Climate Change: A Forum for Indigenous Peoples, Small Islands and Vulnerable Communities’. This is an on-line discussion forum, the ultimate goal of which is to help reinforce local voices in the global climate change debate. It provides a venue for indigenous communities living in environments vulnerable to climate change to share and exchange their knowledge, concerns and strategies for adaptation. Now, thanks to funding by the Government of Denmark, the forum is offering a series of small grants to projects taking place in vulnerable communities. These projects will explore, document and highlight local and indigenous experiences and adaptation strategies relating to climate change. The aim is to have a wide range of activities taking place around the world, all of which will add to the growing international awareness of the experiences of people living on the frontlines of climate change. A large number of proposals have been received, and are currently being considered. It is anticipated that a selection of these projects should be up and running by later this year. On-going reports from the projects will be posted on the forum website and will be sent out to the forum email list. The forum is run in partnership with the Office of the High Commissioner on Human Rights, and the Secretariats of the UN Permanent Forum on Indigenous Issues and the Convention on Biological Diversity.

The forum is being undertaken in the framework of the LINKS Programme, which provides a focus for work with indigenous peoples and their knowledge. Founded on the notion that sophisticated knowledge of the natural world is not the preserve solely of scientists, LINKS aims to strengthen the impact of the knowledge, skills and philosophies of indigenous peoples in areas such as biodiversity conservation, climate change monitoring and adaptation, and natural disaster preparedness and response.

Another focus of the Programme is to aid in safeguarding the transmission of indigenous knowledge between elders and youth, as this may be compromised by formal educational regimes that are increasingly prevalent in indigenous communities and yet, almost without exception, exclude local languages and understandings. LINKS therefore explores ways of including indigenous knowledge in classroom settings, and renewing ties with knowledgeable elders in the community. For example, LINKS is currently pilot testing curriculum resource materials that will support classroom use of the multimedia CD-ROM ‘The Canoe Is the People: Indigenous Navigation in the Pacific’, which is based on Pacific Islander knowledge. LINKS is also working with the Mayangna People of the Bosawas Biosphere Reserve in Nicaragua, to document their knowledge of the aquatic environment. A publication based on this work will soon be published in both the Mayangna and Spanish languages. The publication can serve to introduce indigenous knowledge and concepts into formal schooling processes taking place in and around the reserve.

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