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Envisioning Indigenous-derived climate change futures

Envisioning Indigenous-derived climate change futures

(From L-R) Deborah McGregor (CRC in Indigenous Environmental Justice); Lisa Myers (YRC in Indigenous Art & Curatorial Practice); and Alan Corbiere (CRC in Indigenous History of North America).

Climate change has been identified as the "defining issue of our time" by many of the world's leading experts. Many now use the term "climate crisis" to stress the urgency with which we must act to achieve a just and sustainable future. Successfully addressing the challenges ahead will require, as the UN has stated, a "transformational" shift in how global society relates to all life. Increasingly, Indigenous knowledge (IK) systems are being viewed as potential sources of understanding that could aid in this transformation.

In their SSHRC Insight Grant on Indigenous Climate Change Futures: Envisioning Well-Being with the Earth, Deborah McGregor, Lisa Myers, and Alan Corbiere seek to answer the questions: What does it mean to "live well with the Earth" in the face of climate/ecological crisis? What does a self-determined climate futures look like for Indigenous communities and peoples?

Indeed, Indigenous-derived solutions must be generated based on knowledge systems which have fostered Indigenous survival despite centuries of environmental upheaval affected by colonization. In this context, their project aims to define what it means to "live well" from a self-determined Indigenous perspective. Building on previous SSHRC-funded research, the research team focuses specifically on the Anishinaabek concept of mino-mnaamodzawin (well-being with all life) as a framework for envisioning Indigenous-derived climate futures for the benefit of not only Indigenous peoples but of all society and the natural world. (See Deb McGregor’s article on An Indigenous peoples’ approach to climate justice in Carbon Brief and listen to Spiritual Ecology: Anishinaabe knowledge with Deborah McGregor In This Climate. The Indigenous Environmental Justice project also sponsored some climate change speaker series in collaboration with WaterAllies and hosted discussions on intergenerational Anishinabemowin transmission.

The project contains three primary objectives: 1) documenting and advancing existing understandings of mino-mnaamodzawin in the face of climate change (knowledge gathering); 2) revitalizing Indigenous (Anishinaabek) knowledge, including laws and language, through its strategic application to the envisioning of climate futures (knowledge application); and 3) sharing Indigenous climate change knowledge with Indigenous communities, governments, policy-makers, academics, climate scientists/researchers, environmental NGOs, and the public.

These objectives are being addressed through three strands of endeavour: 1) Mino-mnaamodzawin, Climate Change, and Existing Indigenous Knowledge through which the research team will convene intergenerational gatherings to share climate change-related Indigenous knowledge; 2) Indigenous Knowledge Revitalization by applying existing Anishinaabek understandings to visions of a positive climate futures; and 3) sharing Indigenous climate change knowledge involving a variety of text-based, presentation, and digital media outputs, culminating in a 15-minute documentary video (in Anishinaabemowin with English subtitles) describing Anishinaabek visions of a self-determined climate future. (See Lisa Myers’ talk on Indigenous arts and interview with Sketch Working Arts Founding Artistic Director and EUC PhD student Phyllis Novak on Creating Socially-Engaged Art).

The multifaceted project addresses four global challenges: 1) pervasive contamination of the 'natural'; envisioning governance systems that work; erosion of culture and history; and living within earth's carrying capacity. The project tackles head-on issues on environmental destruction; climate justice through the revitalization of Indigenous knowledge, languages and laws; and the recognition that "conventional" systems of governance are not moving humanity to a sustainable future and that alternative visions are required.

The Indigenous knowledge shared through this project will benefit Indigenous communities to move towards self-determined climate futures. It will also assist scholars/scientists, environmental NGOs and decision-makers in understanding the distinct experiences of Indigenous peoples and their unique role in generating new climate change knowledge. (See A Dialogue on the Importance of Language and Water moderated by Alan Corbiere in celebration of National Indigenous Languages Day in March 2022, and the article Decolonizing climate research and policy: Making space to tell our own stories, in our own ways recounting a panel discussion, hosted by the Indigenous Climate Action, where Indigenous climate researchers, organizers and policy experts share their reflections on how climate research and policy can be decolonized.