By Savina Magni
In 2020, Professor Gregory A Cajete published an article in which he presents the relationship between real challenges, social issues and climate change and the Indigenous community in the US. An Indigenous Tawa scholar at the University of New Mexico , Cajete presents with this paper his personal view on how Western societies need to take into consideration Indigenous science to build a solid community and ensure survival over time and through generations.
Professor Cajete refers to “Indigenous science” as “that body of traditional environmental and cultural knowledge unique to a group of people which has served to sustain that people through generations of living within a distinct bioregion”. Over the years, many indigenous communities worked to find sustainable and cultural models to strengthen their communities by applying sustainable environmental education which is based on Indigenous science.
Through the paper, the scholar identifies four main challenges that sustainable education faces: 1) creating integrated science and accounting tools to measure biophysical wealth; 2) increasing involvement; 3) transforming societal value systems; 4) improving knowledge around sustainability. However, above all, the author explains that sustainable education can only be reached by incorporating indigenous knowledge into modern Western science.
By embodying such ideology, different kinds of education can be created to strengthen the community while simultaneously mitigating the threats of climate change. Climate change affects countries and people in a heterogeneous way, however, the Indigenous peoples are more vulnerable to an increase in temperature and change in weather patterns as many communities still depend on land for their livelihood. For example, coastal tribes might have to relocate due to a rise in the sea level and the increase in droughts, insect infestations, floods, and disease might impact food and water insecurity. However, due to the strong relationship between Native Americans and nature, a different approach should be embraced so that a stable and enduring community can be built. Indigenous peoples share a mutually reciprocal relationship with the natural world: plants and animals are seen as relatives rather than resources as they have the right to exist. Hence, to reach sustainable development a different approach that combines Indigenous science with the Western science should be applied.
However, even if the two sciences can be merged, the Indigenous community will still encounter several obstacles because of the different views the US government and the Indigenous tribes have on the meaning of “economic development”. Western societies often fail to remember that government or private development programs are not always suitable for the native nations real lives and community practice. As a consequence, many Indigenous communities have started to develop alternative approaches to alleviate climate change which are more in line with their costumes and traditions.
A way in which goals can be achieved is by creating community education that anticipates change. For many tribes in America, creating a sense of community is essential because it provides belonging and identity that helps reinforce ethical values which help to preserve community cohesion and sustainable usage of natural resources. Thus, it is extremely important to build sustainable native nations where tribes are revitalized and renewed are sustainable so that the work done has a direct and practical impact on indigenous communities. To create such space, however, it is necessary that a new generation of Indigenous studies, which must be different from the Western academia, learn about the practical application of how sustainability can be embraced in the Indigenous communities.
Lastly, the author emphasizes the importance of having orientations that align with the visions of Indigenous communities to accomplish change and face challenges. And to achieve such a goal, the federal government should understand the importance of ecological integrity where there is a guiding ethic on understanding indigenous people, their community, culture and resources. It should also collaborate and research with Native Americans about new approaches to meet sustainable development goals within their community.
Cajete, G. A. (2020). Indigenous science, climate change, and indigenous community building: A framework of foundational perspectives for indigenous community resilience and revitalization. Sustainability, 12(22), 9569.
Savina Magni is a current MSc student at the London School of Economics & Political Science studying Environmental Economics & Climate Change. Savina has a particular passion in learning about and caring for the environment. She holds a first-class undergraduate degree from Goldsmiths University in Economics. Savina is a Blog Writer for the JISJ Intersections team.