Indigenous groups have taken care of nature for thousands of years. From one generation to the next, traditions, lessons, and practices have been passed on, teaching the young how to carry on the work of those that came before them.
We’re talking about a lot of generations. Livonians in Latvia are thought to have inhabited their current homeland for 5,000 years. Evidence of ancient Native American people in North America has been found dating back to 24,000 years ago. And Indigenous Australians can be traced back to around 65,000 years ago. That’s a lot of knowledge.
With all these millennia of knowledge behind them, and 80% of Earth’s biodiversity tucked away in their lands, it’s not surprising that indigenous groups have lessons to teach the rest of the world’s population.
Traditional Ecological Knowledge – lessons learned from oral history
Traditional Ecological Knowledge (TEK) is a wealth of information and practices built up over generations. The information is specific to each group and the locations they have inhabited over generations, and it evolves alongside changes in their environment or society. As researcher Henry Huntington says, “People have relied on this detailed knowledge for their survival, they have literally staked their lives on its accuracy and repeatability.”
So, what kind of lessons has the world learned from indigenous peoples?
Well, indigenous knowledge has influenced MANY areas of our everyday lives, from the development of medicines spurred by native knowledge of plants and their properties, to agricultural practices such as controlled burning for land management and habitat restoration. Listed below are some interesting and very specific findings discovered or informed by indigenous groups and their knowledge:
- Researchers witnessed and documented birds picking up flaming branches from wildfire areas and dropping them elsewhere, in places untouched by the burning. The researchers were informed by indigenous Australian “observations of kites and falcons that fly with flaming branches from a forest fire to start other fires.” The birds hunt mice and reptiles as they flee the flames.
- Pastoralist herders in Cameroon have partnered with farmers to benefit the land and crop yields. Herds roam through the lands during the dry season, helping to fertilise the soil, which in turn results in better crop growth come the rainy season.
- Young Italian farmers in Sardinia use ‘silvopasture’, a form of agroforestry where trees are incorporated into the farming environment, enabling them to create goat cheeses with unique flavours, and reducing forest fire risk due to the goats grazing forest floor plants. This removes carbon from the atmosphere and keeps forests untouched, providing habitat for a variety of creatures.
- Spanish shepherds have shared how they have witnessed the changing climate and weather patterns, and how they “no longer pay attention to water signals because they are no longer credible”. “In the past, cattle used to announce the rain, but now they only know when it rains after they get wet, as rain now is unpredictable”.
- The Ban Na village in Thailand utilises traditional ecological knowledge in their forest conservation and water management traditions, helping to ensure sustainable year-round access to food and reduce the impacts of water extremes like drought and soil erosion.
And the list goes on and on…
Traditional Ecological Knowledge, which is continuously adapted and utilised by indigenous populations, has a wide variety of positive impacts and applications. Yet, many indigenous groups and areas are under threat.
In order to protect these populations, their land and their knowledge, there are several things we can do. Discover just a few of the actions you can take below…
- Petitions and campaigns – Consider signing petitions and joining campaigns calling on governments and organisations to protect and champion indigenous peoples’ human rights, such as these on Indigenous Peoples Rights International.
- Educate yourself – Learn about indigenous peoples, their history and culture, and the issues they face today.
- Read books such as… Braiding Sweetgrass by Robin Wall Kimmerer recommended by Tobi Odiachi for TSL in her reading list for National Read a Book Day; these “must-read” fiction and non-fiction books by indigenous authors; Notable Native People by Adrienne Keene on 50 notable American Indian, Alaska Native, and Native Hawaiian people; or Restoring the Kinship Worldview and Fresh Banana Leaves focusing on environmental issues.
- Learn about indigenous rights activists from all over the world. The UN compiled a list of 13 young activists for World Indigenous Day 2021 which you can find here. Simply searching the internet for indigenous rights activists will start your journey of learning about indigenous activism and current issues, and how to follow or support their work.
- Watch documentaries – A quick internet search will show you that there are many documentaries about indigenous issues out there, here is a little list of a few from the International Documentary Association.
- Consume indigenous content – One way to support indigenous people is to consume their content and follow them on social media. By immersing yourself in content produced by indigenous people, you will increase your awareness of their cultures and the issues they face, and expose yourself to a wider variety of people every day while you use digital platforms.
- Subscribe to these creative Native American vloggers on YouTube.
- Follow indigenous hashtags on social media such as #indigenouspeople, #indigenousart, #indigenousrights, and #indigenousculture to see relevant posts on your timelines!