Pages tagged "Indigenous Knowledge"
Indigenous Peoples Are Vital for Food System Stability
This International Day of the World’s Indigenous Peoples, August 9, is an opportunity to celebrate the ecological and cultural value of indigenous foodways. In 1994, the United Nations General Assembly declared the day to encourage the world to protect and promote the rights of indigenous peoples. Celebrating their cultures means preserving their time-tested farming practices, agricultural knowledge, and traditional crops that can help address global climate change and food insecurity.
Of the roughly 250,000 plant species known to humankind, an estimated 30,000 are edible and approximately 7,000 have at some point been used as food. However, more than 90 percent of crop varieties have disappeared from farmers’ fields during the past 100 years; the varieties left that build our food system are predicted to suffer under climate change. The biodiversity maintained on indigenous peoples’ farms may be the key to building resilient food systems that can withstand changing weather patterns, meet nutritional and cultural needs of communities, and rehabilitate degraded ecosystems.
However, popularizing traditional crops in the international market can produce varying health and income effects for indigenous communities. Protecting indigenous peoples requires sustainably and ethically sourcing these crops from companies with social missions, such as fair trade organizations improving the lives of indigenous farmers.
Food Tank is highlighting 30 historically and agriculturally significant fruits, vegetables, and grains from regions across the globe. These food crops can thrive under a variety of harsh environmental conditions, help to rehabilitate degraded landscapes, and provide farmers and their communities a range of health and environmental benefits.
Photo from Flickr.
Native Knowledge: What Ecologists Are Learning from Indigenous People
While he was interviewing Inuit elders in Alaska to find out more about their knowledge of beluga whales and how the mammals might respond to the changing Arctic, researcher Henry Huntington lost track of the conversation as the hunters suddenly switched from the subject of belugas to beavers.
It turned out though, that the hunters were still really talking about whales. There had been an increase in beaver populations, they explained, which had reduced spawning habitat for salmon and other fish, which meant less prey for the belugas and so fewer whales.
“It was a more holistic view of the ecosystem,” said Huntington. And an important tip for whale researchers. “It would be pretty rare for someone studying belugas to be thinking about freshwater ecology.”
Around the globe, researchers are turning to what is known as Traditional Ecological Knowledge (TEK) to fill out an understanding of the natural world. TEK is deep knowledge of a place that has been painstakingly discovered by those who have adapted to it over thousands of years. “People have relied on this detailed knowledge for their survival,” Huntington and a colleague wrote in an article on the subject. “They have literally staked their lives on its accuracy and repeatability.”
This realm has long been studied by disciplines under headings such as ethno-biology, ethno-ornithology, and biocultural diversity. But it has gotten more attention from mainstream scientists lately because of efforts to better understand the world in the face of climate change and the accelerating loss of biodiversity.
Anthropologist Wade Davis, now at the University of British Columbia, refers to the constellation of the world’s cultures as the “ethnosphere,” or “the sum total of all thoughts and dreams, myths, ideas, inspirations, intuitions, brought into being by human imagination since the dawn of consciousness. It’s a symbol of all that we are, and all that we can be, as an astonishingly inquisitive species.”
One estimate says that while native peoples only comprise some 4 or 5 percent of the world’s population, they use almost a quarter of the world’s land surface and manage 11 percent of its forests. “In doing so, they maintain 80 percent of the planet’s biodiversity in, or adjacent to, 85 percent of the world’s protected areas,” writes Gleb Raygorodetsky, a researcher with the POLIS Project on Ecological Governance at the University of Victoria and the author of The Archipelago of Hope: Wisdom and Resilience from the Edge of Climate Change.
Tapping into this wisdom is playing an outsized role in sparsely settled places such as the Arctic, where change is happening rapidly – warming is occurring twice as fast as other parts of the world. Tero Mustonen, a Finnish researcher and chief of his village of Selkie, is pioneering the blending of TEK and mainstream science as the director of a project called the Snowchange Cooperative. “Remote sensing can detect changes,” he says. “But what happens as a result, what does it mean?” That’s where traditional knowledge can come into play as native people who make a living on the landscape as hunters and fishers note the dramatic changes taking place in remote locales – everything from thawing permafrost to change in reindeer migration and other types of biodiversity redistribution.
Photo from NOAA Photo Library.
‘SEED: The Untold Story’ Tells of Indigenous Guardians of Seed Diversity
'SEED,' now available for live streaming, shares the life-saving power of seed diversity and the work of passionate seed keepers.
Vital and miraculous, seeds sustain life on the planet. “If you have seeds in your pocket, you can walk, and you can eat the seeds. But if you have money, you cannot eat the money. This is gold,” said Emigdio Ballon, who runs Tesuque Pueblo’s agriculture programs, while clutching ancient seed varieties during the filming of the documentary SEED: The Untold Story.
SEED: The Untold Story takes viewers on a global journey from America’s Indian country to India, Peru, Hawaii and beyond. The documentary features indigenous guardians of ancient seeds, including Rowen White, Mohawk founder of Sierra Seeds; Hopi Nation leader Leigh Kuwanwisiwma; Louie Hena, a Tesuque Pueblo seed keeper; Winona LaDuke; and Native Hawaiian teacher Malia Chin, among several others.
SEED: The Untold Story, premiered on PBS last night, April 17, and is now available on DVD and online streaming at seedthemovie.com/watch. The documentary emphasizes that “the diversity of our seed stocks is as endangered as a panda or a golden eagle or a panda bear right now.”
In the last century, 94 percent of the world’s seed varieties have disappeared. The last study to count U.S. seed diversity was in 1983. There were 544 cabbage varieties; 28 varieties remained. There were 158 varieties of cauliflower; nine remained. There were 55 varieties of kohlrabi, three remained; 34 varieties of artichoke, two remained; 288 varieties of beets, 17 remained; 46 varieties of asparagus, one variety remained.
The documentary hones in on corn, first domesticated in the Oaxaca Valley of Mexico. Corn seeds gradually snaked up the spine of the Americas, exploding across the landscape and North America about 1,000 years ago. “As keepers of the corn, the corn has come with us on our migrations, sustaining us,” Hena said.
“Corn really is this beautiful co-creation between plants and humans,” said White, a seed keeper from the Mohawk community of Akwesasne, founder of Sierra Seeds. “…Corn becomes so elastic and adaptive. Now we see corn being grown on every continent.”
Growing corn is spiritual, explained Kuwanwisiwma, Hopi. “The say when the corn hears you, they start dancing with you; the leafs flutter,” he said.
Even the tiniest cob, missing the majority of its kernels due to crow damage, is harvested and consumed. “People are too attracted to the big and beautiful. But the Hopi women and men say even this one is special [Kuwanwisiwma lifts a small, humble corn cob], because every seed has life,” Kuwanwisiwma said.