Tag Archives: #indigenous people

Lessons in Listening

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For the first time in its 59-year history, the Australian Science Teachers Association’s (STAWA) Secondary School of the Year award, an annual prize handed out in Western Australia, went to a school outside of Perth. That kind of anomaly deserves a second look.

The school that won the award for science research is the Christian Aboriginal Parent-directed (CAPS) school in Coolgardie, an independent school established by Aboriginal parents who felt the quality of education in their region was lacking.  This was also the first time the STAWA award went to a school with a mainly Aboriginal student population.

The students at CAPS were under the tutelage of a young science teacher from the United States, Allan Alipio, who wanted to inspire students with the passion he himself felt for science. He allows the students to come up with some of their own ideas, and this is where I think the story starts to get really interesting.

Eucalyptus saligna (Blue Gum)’ (1887)
Artist/Source: Agard Hagman/MAAS

The projects that won the award were mostly based on the application of native plants and indigenous knowledge to energy and medical experiments. One group of teens investigated the antimicrobial potential of traditional medicine plants maroon and crimson turkey bushes as well as sweet potato leaves for potential use as an anti-diarrhoea medication, while another group used local plants like wheel cactus and gum leaves to make ethanol.

This award speaks to the profound impact that good teaching can have – not just on passing along the facts and passing tests, but on inspiration and passion. I think it’s important to stress that, rather than imposing a standardized curriculum, Mr. Alipio listened to his students.

There’s a lot that could be discussed here about the all-too-common lack of education funding for indigenous populations. This gets at a larger issue of the side-lining (or worse) of indigenous populations around the world, and the extent to which their deep local knowledge has been suppressed, disdained, ignored, or (as with many medicinal applications) commercially exploited. And as we slog through this new era of climate change, that knowledge is more relevant than ever – as is the necessity to start listening.

Wheel cactus (Opuntia robusta)
Artist/Source: M.E. Eaton/Crow & Raven

People who identify as indigenous number an estimated 370 people worldwide, made up of around 5000 groups across 70 countries. They make up approximately 5% of the global population – but traditional lands and territories contain an estimated 80% of Earth’s biodiversity.

Gleb Raygorodetsky put it well in this excellent article: “With collective knowledge of the land, sky and sea, these peoples are excellent observers and interpreters of change in the environment. The ensuing community-based and collectively-held knowledge offers valuable insights, complementing scientific data with chronological and landscape-specific precision and detail that is critical for verifying climate models and evaluating climate change scenarios developed by scientists at much broader spatial and temporal scale. Moreover, indigenous knowledge provides a crucial foundation for community-based adaptation and mitigation actions…

The difference in world views can be as fundamental as the botanical illustrations of plants above done through Western eyes, the illustration of bush plants below done by Aboriginal artist Gloria Petyarre.

Bush medicine leaves
Artist: Gloria Petyarre

I will get into huge topic around the overlap of human rights issues, indigenous peoples and environment another time, but for the moment, I would say this: As long as that deep knowledge stays on a parallel but separate track from Western-based science, policy, legislation and education, we are missing out on critical opportunities to learn and adapt to the changes we have created over a relatively short period of time. At the same time, learning to listen and to cooperate puts people back in the loop when it comes to determining the fate of the land on which they live – and might just help us weather the approaching storm.

Hopefully, students like the award-winning teens at CAPS will be able to leverage knowledge from both worlds to help chart a path ahead.

Following Green

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606x341_237086_groenland-sous-les-glaces-un-immensSome scientists are predicting that climate change will make Greenland, legendary for its otherworldly vistas, a place as green and verdant as Sweden or parts of Alaska. As species – both flora and fauna – migrate from their customary habitats, we will likely see the spread of more diversity, rather than less, into areas that were previously inhospitable or ice-covered.

There are very few species of tree  indigenous to Greenland, but commercial tree plantations have already been attempted in southern areas of the country, and I imagine given the value of commercial timber, this activity could increase.

If the ‘greening of Greenland’ process develops as predicted, it could offer a unique opportunity to see how plant and animal life colonize a region.

However, I could also envision a different kind of colonisation, the kind that didn’t take place earlier.

Ilulissat Icefjord, Greenland

Ilulissat Icefjord, Greenland

The ever-growing interest in land and mineral claims by surrounding countries to exploit resources exposed by retreating glaciers is well-known. As land becomes viable and interesting for increased habitation, might this expand to other land claims, coming up against the traditional shared land ownership of the various indigenous groups?

 

If climate change prompts plant migration away from the middle latitudes and towards the poles (especially the North Pole), might we not see more people wanting to follow the green?

Kuannersuit Glacier, Disko, Greenland Photo: Panoramio

Kuannersuit Glacier, Disko, Greenland
Photo: Panoramio

More:

The Guardian articleClimate change could turn Greenland green by 2100

AFP article (2008) – Stop stealing our land, Inuits say, as Arctic resources race heats up