The Climate Lessons We Can All Learn From Indigenous Wisdom

“The knowledge systems and practices of Indigenous Peoples and local communities play critical roles in safeguarding the biological and cultural diversity of our planet,” reads a recent report in the Journal of Ethnobiology, penned by 30 international Indigenous and non-Indigenous scholars.

“Our warning raises the alarm about the pervasive and ubiquitous erosion of knowledge and practice and the social and ecological consequences of this erosion,” the report continues. In this context, the word “erosion” is layered with meaning. Often used to describe the weathering of land, applying it to Indigenous knowledge hints at the parallels between people and place.

It’s a connection that Yuria Celidwen, Ph.D., a native of Indigenous Nahua and Maya descent, sees often in her scholarly work at the intersection of Indigenous studies, cultural psychology, and contemplative science.

“Along with the massive extinctions of species, a cultural and linguistic extinction is happening that profoundly affects Indigenous Peoples in all sorts of ways,” Celidwen says on a call with mindbodygreen.

This extinction is perhaps most clearly demonstrated in the loss of Indigenous language. Of the roughly 7,000 spoken languages in the world, she says that more than half of them are Indigenous languages. Half of those are now spoken by less than 1,000 people, meaning that “every two weeks, a language is lost,” says Celidwen.

All the while, she adds that the area where most of this loss is occurring—the tropical belt—is also where we are losing biodiversity at the fastest clip. Consider this: Although they oversee around 20 percent of the world’s land area, Indigenous communities protect an estimated 80% of remaining forest biodiversity.

When Indigenous culture is threatened, so too is the rest of life on Earth. Now, Celidwen says, “We can clearly see what interdependence truly means.”

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