Revitalizing Indigenous Oral Traditions to Enhance Climate Adaptation

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Revitalizing all aspects of Indigenous oral cultures, including Indigenous languages, is necessary to enhance climate adaptation and to mitigate the loss of centuries of traditional Indigenous knowledge. Indigenous oral traditions are reflected in practices that transmit, receive, and protect Indigenous ideas, ways of knowing, art, and cultural materials, like songs and creation stories, from one generation to the next. Indigenous languages, as crucial contributors to Indigenous oral traditions, are constantly at risk of disappearing, due to ongoing colonization and climate-forced migration.

For example, South Pacific Islander oral traditions can “describe events that occurred as much as 400-700 years ago, less than one-third of the time that most western Pacific island groups have been occupied.” In turn, the Vanuatu government’s support for Indigenous language education in elementary schools could be viewed as an approach to both Indigenous language revitalization and climate change adaptation. Furthermore, to defend against language loss and to acknowledge modern environmental phenomena, Greenland’s government is legislating new words, such as ‘climate change’ (i.e., silap pissusiata allanngornera) among others, through Oqaasileriffik, their Language Secretariat, and is replacing dominant Danish place names for those in Greenlandic.

More than half of the 7,000 languages spoken in the world today will be lost within this century due to the ongoing effects of both colonization and climate change. Revitalizing Indigenous oral traditions and integrating Indigenous languages into local climate adaptation strategies are necessary to ensure the cultural and climate resilience of Indigenous peoples worldwide.

By Leela Viswanathan

(Photo credit: Filip Gielda, Unsplash)

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