Indigenous Surinamese people in traditional dress. Indigenous communities in the country recently declared the Southern Suriname Conservation Corridor with the government’s support and recognition. The area protects 7.2 million hectares (17.8 million acres) of tropical forest vital for carbon sequestration and water filtration. (© Cristina Mittermeier)
Too often, the voices of the world’s 370 million indigenous people are left out of global conversations on critical issues, such as climate change. This isn’t just bad news for indigenous groups; the traditional knowledge of indigenous peoples could help address environmental problems that plague the entire planet.
As Conservation International’s (CI) Johnson Cerda framed it: “The knowledge of Indigenous peoples continues to provide key information to protect the resources of the Mother Earth, and to create opportunities for climate change adaptation and mitigation actions across diverse ecosystems.” Cerda is an indigenous Kichwa from the Ecuadorian Amazon who leads CI’s work with the Dedicated Grant Mechanism for Indigenous Peoples and Local Communities, a global initiative of which CI is the executing agency
As the 15th session of the United Nations Permanent Forum on Indigenous Issues kicks off in New York, here are five things we can learn from traditional knowledge passed down through time.
1. Restoring Hawai‘i’s native fish ponds
Right now, 63% of Hawai‘i’s seafood is imported — a surprising stat for an island chain in the middle of the Pacific. But those waters are far from pristine; pollution runoff, overfishing and coral reef degradation all mean that many seafood specials are flown in from thousands of miles away.
To address this, some native Hawaiians have turned to Hanai i’a, the practice of raising fish in loko i’a, the fish ponds built on the coasts by their ancestors. These fish ponds once provided millions of pounds of seafood to local communities, simultaneously restocking surrounding reefs with fish when pond managers release stock into the wild. Given their location in coastal zones, resurrecting a single fish pond requires completing a complex permitting procedure — so Conservation International (CI) is helping streamline the process.
By rekindling time-tested hunting, fishing, farming and gathering traditions, communities in Hawai‘i and worldwide can become more self-sufficient — and often reduce their environmental footprints while doing so.