Indigenous People’s Role in Disaster Risk Reduction
- Understanding and Managing Risk: nature X humans or nature with humans? Worldviews, connectedness, spatiality and temporality.
- Temporality: abrupt changes (disasters and dams) X long-term transformations (climate change). Power and vulnerability.
- Predicting, monitoring and understanding social-environmental impacts of disasters. E.g. early signs, zoning, reconstructing, citizen science.
- Indigenous peoples indicators and “markers” of climate change and disasters (e.g. changes in the water, indicator species, ethnoclimatology).
- Biocultural diversity and role of indigenous lands as places for “in situ” conservation of genetic diversity (e.g. crops) and carbon sinks or buffer zones.
In a world facing increased uncertainty and risk from hazards and climate change, Indigenous Peoples are among the most vulnerable groups. Nevertheless, Indigenous communities around the world hold relevant knowledge to be applied in disaster risk reduction (DRR) research, initiatives and policies.
We define indigenous knowledge as diverse bodies of social practices, beliefs, norms and perspectives that pertain to self-recognized cultural groups that share membership to a nation, society or tribe (Ellen and Harris 2000). These include cultural, symbolic, technological knowledge, natural resource management practices, beliefs and worldviews which are adaptive, context-specific and embedded in language and symbols (Berkes et al. 2000; Athayde et al. 2009). Indigenous knowledge is non-academic by nature. Academics, departing from a western science standpoint, have classified “indigenous knowledge” (IK) into domains, attempting to translate non-disciplinary lived knowledge into disciplinary discrete categories such as ecological knowledge, technological knowledge, crop knowledge and others. Brosius (2006) argues that, historically, scientists have greatly focused attention on ecological knowledge while ignoring other domains, as if they were separated in the local context of IK and its applications for environmental management.
There is widespread recognition that Indigenous knowledge systems (IK) are vital components of environmental management, biodiversity conservation and sustainability (Gadgil et al. 1993; Berkes et al. 2000; Posey and Balick 2006; Heckenberger et al. 2007; Maffi and Woodley, 2010). According to Mercer et al. (2010) there has also been increased recognition of the importance of IK for coping with and adapting to environmental hazards and disasters (see also Cronin et al. 2004 a, 2004b; Dekens, 2007a, 2007b; Shaw et al. 2008). Nonetheless, practical and conceptual articulations or bridges between Indigenous peoples, scientists, politicians and society at large in knowledge production, sharing and integration are often poorly developed (Mercer et al., 2010, Raymond et al., 2010, Bohensky and Maru 2011). The gap between policy-makers, scientists, practitioners and indigenous peoples is large: it reflects a lack of effective communication and coordination among these actors, related to misunderstanding, power imbalances and essential differences in epistemological orientations (Agrawal 2002).
Indigenous Conceptualizations of Biodiversity
“Biodiversity is the variety of living beings that exist in nature. In the indigenous science, all the beings are alive. All the natural resources are alive and have their spirits. For example: rocks, trees, rivers, birds, wind, fish, earth, water, clay and all the kinds of animals. Therefore, all the natural resources must be respected. For various peoples, the spirits of the natural resources that die continue to exist. We have many rules to respect each living being that exist in nature”.
Indigenous teachers of Xingu Park, November, 2000*.
*In: Athayde et al. 2002. Educação Ambiental e conservação da biodiversidade: a experiência dos Povos do Parque Indígena do Xingu (Environmental Education and Biodiversity Conservation: the Experience of Indigenous Peoples at Xingu Park). Chapter of book. In: Bensusan, N. (org.), 2002. Seria Melhor Mandar Ladrilhar? Biodiversidade: como, para que, por que. Brasília: Editora da Universidade de Brasília/Instituto Socioambiental. 103-117 pp.
- Emerging concept, different trendlines
- Crosses disciplinary and scientific/academic boundaries
- Common goal setting
- Integration of disciplines and non-academic participants
- Development of integrated knowledge and theory among science and society
- Overarching syntheses. Common systems of axioms that transcend the scope of disciplinary worldviews. E.g. gender studies.
Unity of knowledge – spanning from the Greeks to modern physics to E. O. Wilson “Consilience” theory, including complexity and systemic approaches to studying and managing ecosystems. Focus on plurality and diversity.
- Critical transdisciplinarity – pushes boundaries for critical evaluation of terms, concepts and methods that transgress disciplinary boundaries, raising questions of sociopolitical and epistemological justice (e.g. concepts such as ecosystem services and natural resources).
- Overarching synthetic paradigms or articulated conceptual frameworks , transcending interdisciplinary research.
- Problem-solving TD – problems from “real-world” need to frame research and practices, not the disciplines. Academics and non-academics contribute their knowledge, experiences and skills to problem-solving and mutual learning.
* Based on Klein, J. T. 2010. ‘A Taxonomy of Interdisciplinarity’. In: Frodeman, Robert, Thompson Klein, Julie and Mitcham, Carl (eds.) 2010. The Oxford Handbook of Interdisciplinarity. Oxford: Oxford University Press, pp. 15-30.
We recognize the challenges, opportunities and limitations for co-production of knowledge between non-academic and scientific knowledge systems:
- Tacit and explicit knowledge – bridging and translating
- Ontologies and values: conceptual abyss. Ex: nature X humans, ecosystem services, natural resources, adaptation and other “colonizing” concepts
- Ethics, rights and justice: use of science to reinforce power structures and imbalances, or to approve contested projects (e.g. dams, mining, reconstruction plans for disasters).
- Knowledge and Power: Whose knowledge counts, and who counts knowledge? Elite capture, dominance of worldviews How to bridge decision and policy-making?
Events and phenomena that occur suddenly and in a short time length, causing a deep social and environmental transformations locally and regionally.
- Hurricanes and tornadoes
Human-made hazards and disasters
- Hazardous materials
- Power service disruption & blackout
- Nuclear power plant and nuclear blast
- Hydroelectric power plants
- Radiological emergencies
- Oil spills