Climate change poses threats and dangers to the survival of indigenous communities world wide.
Within the industrialized nations, indigenous communities still exist. Unless one lives in close proximity it is easy to forget they are there. Along the Alaskan coastline people still hunt and fish ocean waters for sustenance. In the Pacific Northwest a tribes livelihood depends on the salmon run in the rivers. On marginal land in the desert southwest herdsmen and hunters eke out a living. The swamps and estuaries of Florida and Louisiana are home to settlements that have lived in traditional ways for hundreds of years. All of these communities are under imminent threat from climate change.
Food, water and shelter are essential for existence. Some tribal areas will fare better than others as the ecology changes. Having some control of food resources will determine much. Tending goats and sheep is one strategy that has worked well in the past.
Goats were among the first animals domesticated by humans. About 10,000 BP in the area around Mesopotamia, Neolithic man began keeping small herds of goats and sheep as a dependable source of meat. Over time the practice of herding spread from the Near East to Europe. Evidence suggests Native Americans first acquired sheep in 1598 when Spanish explorer Juan de Onate brought 3,000 Churro sheep, 2,000 goats and 7,000 horses to New Mexico in the American southwest. This had a dramatic impact on the future culture of the native people.
In a subsistence economy such as the Navajo, goats became and are important as a dependable source of food. Navajo families could drink goats milk, eat goat cheese and meat. Sheep were valued for trade, barter, meat and the wool fiber that could be spun and made into clothing, blankets and rugs for further trade.
Herding goats and sheep has been a lifeway around the world for 1,000s of years. Indigenous people will be the first to face direct consequences of climate change, due to their dependence upon, and close relationship with the environment and it’s resources.
The United States EPA reports that; ” New Mexico’s climate is changing. Most of the state has warmed one degree (F) in the last century. In the last century throughout the southwestern U.S. , heat waves are becoming more common, and snow is melting earlier in the spring. In the coming decades, our changing climate is likely to decrease the flow of water into the Colorado, Rio Grande and other rivers; threaten the health of livestock; increase the frequency and intensity of wildfires; and convert some rangeland to desert.”
Increasing droughts and higher temperatures are likely. Warm drier conditions make forests more susceptible to pests. With higher winter temperatures, some pests can remain year round, and new pests and diseases may become established. Soils are likely to be drier, and periods without rainfall are likely to become longer, making droughts more severe. The combination of more fires and drier conditions may expand New Mexico deserts. Many plants and animals living in arid lands are already near the limits of what they can tolerate.
Climate change threatens natural resources and public health of tribal communities. Rising temperatures and increasing drought are likely to decrease the availability of certain fish, game and wild plants on which Navajo and other tribes have relied for generations.
Consequences of observed and projected climate change have and will undermine indigenous lifeways. Indigenous people tend to live close to the land. They are subsistence farmers, herders, fishers and hunters with millennia of collective knowledge about the ecology of their surroundings. With that knowledge and experience, even tiny changes in water cycles, wild life, soil and weather are readily apparent. Indigenous people in the Arctic and South Pacific islands have known for decades that climate change is happening.
For indigenous people, resilience is rooted in traditional knowledge, as the capacity to adapt to the environmental change is based foremost on an in-depth understanding of the land. This knowledge can enhance adaptation and sustainability strategies. Traditional knowledges have enabled indigenous populations to adapt to environmental changes for 1,000s of years.
Indigenous communities can use traditional knowledges to make a contribution to the assessment of climate change impact and the identification of potential problems and possible solutions.
In some ways indigenous communities may have an advantage over their urban counterparts during environmental upheaval. Self independence and a relationship with the land is lost knowledge to the city dweller. Innovative strategies will need to be developed for survival. The only thing we know for sure is that with a changing climate there will be changing lifeways.
Msit No’ Kmaq – All my relations
” We humbly ask permission from all our relations; our elders, our families, our children, the winged and the insects, the four-legged, the swimmers and all the plant and animal nations, to speak. Our Mother has cried out to us. She is in pain. We are called to answer her cries.” Indigenous Prayer.
It is an unfortunate circumstance that those who contribute the least to CO 2 emissions will be the first to deal with consequences. Living on marginal lands with marginal opportunities and a marginal political voice, native communities face an uncertain future. They are easily forgotten in discussions by environmental panels.
Indigenous people have unique historical and cultural relation with tribal or ancestral lands. It is only with new adaptive strategies and their traditional knowledge will they be able to remain.