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Issue #1544      25 April 2012

Climate change workshop

Gimuy Wallubarra Yidindj peoples in Cairns earlier this month hosted a three-day international workshop on climate change mitigation by local communities and Indigenous peoples.

Participants in the three-day climate change workshop in Cairns.
(Photo: Christine Williams)

Eighty participants including climate scientists and representatives of United Nations bodies shared in more than 40 presentations identifying current and emerging opportunities for Indigenous peoples and local communities to contribute to climate change mitigation.

The meeting heard many Indigenous peoples and local communities were actively involved in innovative solutions to climate change based on traditional knowledge, such as reducing emissions through fire management techniques, adopting renewable energies in their territories, and engaging in resource management projects that reduce pressure on natural resources and enhance local adaptive capacity.

“This meeting examined the current and potential contribution of Indigenous peoples and local communities to climate change mitigation, as well as the impact on Indigenous peoples and local communities of mitigation efforts,” said Govindan Parayil, Vice-Rector of the United Nations University (UNU), who co-convened the workshop.

Cairns traditional owner Henrietta Marrie, who also works for the Christiansen Fund which helped to support the meeting, said it was a great honour to host such an important meeting.

“This workshop is basically exploring how Indigenous people can be engaged in the whole climate change mitigation discussion at the United Nations framework for climate change prevention level,” she said.


“And I think it’s crucial that Indigenous voices are heard within the UN arena and particularly this one in terms of mitigation. The discussions I’ve heard throughout the past few days have been very informative, giving some really great examples of just how Indigenous people globally are working with their own people, working with governments, working with institutions, but particularly working with their own community.”

National Indigenous Climate Change Steering Committee chair Rowan Foley, who is from Badtjala country around Fraser Island, said the meeting was a step in the right direction.

“People throughout the world are interested in what we’re doing here in Australian with carbon farming,” he said. “And we’re learning from other projects throughout the world, so it’s about joining up with other Indigenous peoples.

“But, primarily, we see it from the Australian perspective where we’re developing a carbon scheme that suits our cultural requirements rather than having one imposed on us.”

Patrick Anderson from the Forest Peoples’ Program in Jakarta, Indonesia, said there was a need for Indigenous people to band together.

“What I brought to the conference is that the Indigenous people in any culture should band together who are affected by mitigation; their rights of their lands aren’t respected by the state already,” he said.

“The state doesn’t respect those rights, so it’s going to be difficult without creating more human rights issues and without creating more problems for Indigenous peoples.


“What I took away, and was very inspired, was the stories from Aboriginal Australia where communities had control of their lands now and they’re able to return to switch their land management practices and their excellent approaches for climate mitigation.”

Northern hemisphere visitors shared their issues and similar frustrations with government and historical factors.

Tero Mustonen is the head of his village in Finland – he is a Finn, not Sami – and said they were trying to find ways to work with scientists who were concerned about melting permafrost.

“That’s going to mean that millions of additional greenhouse gases, which are currently trapped in that permanently frozen soil, will be released to the atmosphere, and this is already taking place,” he said.

“I think the message is that one of the things we’ll have to deal with are the past damages. We have to just stop now and try to heal our communities, come to terms with the damages that have taken place in order to be able to face climate change and the various impacts it’s going to have on red herring fishing, hunting.

“This is all really a part of a larger colonial process that has taken place in the Arctic.”

Director of the Foundation for Sustainable Development of Altai (FSDA) in the Altai Republic of Russia, Chagat Almashpv said the people in his region had problems with melting glaciers.

“We are working on different projects to give stimulation to reinforce old traditions like living in mountains, forests and migrate there because it is our culture,” he said.

“What is useful while we’re here we share our different visions from Indigenous local communities and we just found a lot of similarities everywhere, just like one dominant country imposing their structure, how to solve problems with climate change.

“As my colleague from Finland noted that we heard the voice of Aboriginal people over here, colonialism is happening in Russia, still is going on in our minds, in our structures, in our conferences. Our rights, our cultures should be more recognised, not just in some aspects, but everywhere.”


Frustrations were just as evident in the west.

Acting Director of Circumpolar Relations at the Council of Yukon First Nations in Canada, Bob VanDijken, said he came from one of the areas most affected by climate change.

“Temperatures are increasing most rapidly, so it’s affecting infrastructure, housing,” he said. “We are seeing areas where there’s changes in migration patterns, changes of species.

“There’s a variety of methods dealing with the climate change mitigation issue at a community level, which is fascinating to me and I think very relevant.

“For the past five or six years our government is walking away from the issue so it’s good to see things that could be done at a community level and actually accomplish things.”

Secretary of the Inter-Tribal Council in South Dakota Bob Gough said it was about not only adapting to changes on the way, but changes already here.

“All of the sessions have been great, and it has really opened my eyes further to the differences Indigenous peoples face around the world dealing with this global issue, but doing it in the particular context of their own national laws, national situations,” he said.

“They’re bringing their own culture to bear, some of these environmental ecological questions and the creativity and the resilience that Indigenous peoples have and the wisdom they can bring to the process I think is tremendous, in particular, the way of traditional ecological knowledge and processes.”

Manager of the Bana Yarralji Ranger Service, north of Cairns, Marylin Wallace said changes were needed.

“I believe we need to make changes and with our indigenous knowledge it is very important to be working collaboratively with the scientists,” she said.

“All knowledge is very important.

“I have enjoyed the four days of this workshop and being part of the decision-making.”

Mrs Wallace took some of the international visitors to her country, near Cooktown, after the workshop.

“To see what we are doing through our point of view, things like we are starting to design our own seasonal calendar and implementing our own way of traditional knowledge of seeing our four seasons changing,” she said.

“It’s important that we educate others about how we see it from our perspective and, it’s very important to incorporate those two knowledges and work in partnership for the future.”

Koori Mail  

Next article – Robespierre – Bourgeois Revolutionary – Part 2 – The Guillotine

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