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Indigenous Voices in the Global Climate Movement

By: Sophie D.

Odisha’s Koraput Farming System

Climate policies throughout history have been largely exclusionary of indigenous voices, posing two major problems. Firstly, many indigenous people around the world practice subsistence agriculture, a practice that is reliant on the health of the land and climate. An example of this can be seen with the Indigenous Koraput region of Odisha, located in India, which practices subsistence agriculture with rice and seed crops, among others (Sood). Because of this technique, despite having virtually no carbon footprint, indigenous groups often experience the first hand effects of climate change (Rademacher). Unfortunately, many federal governments have little to no incentive to care about indigenous climate health. In one case study from Dryden, Ontario, excessive mercury poisoning from the Dryden Chemical Company into the English-Wabigoon River primarily affected indigenous groups from the Grassy Narrows area. Although these indigeous people suffered greatly from mercury poisoning, which causes many permanent health conditions, it has taken the Canadian government over 50 years to begin sufficiently addressing the problem and providing reparations (Mosa and Duffin). This example demonstrates how indigenous voices can often be ignored when they suffer from environmental pollution, and these scenarios will likely increase and worsen with the continual development of climate change, as the increase in carbon dioxide emissions does not have a point source.

In addition to the devastation that climate change and pollution pose to indigenous communities, there is a second reason why international climate policies should incorporate indigenous voices. Indigenous practices may indeed hold the key to solving climate change. From research conducted in the Rio Coco region of Honduras, it was found that there is great potential for integrating their system of values regarding nature, natural resources management, the involvement of seniors into top positions, practicing cosmology in agriculture, and using traditional knowledge in crop production. The research also indicates that fusing modern science with traditional practices of indigenous communities, such as the Chorotega peoples, will result in increased sustainability and environmental awareness as it relates to the industry of geotourism (Pásková). Similarly, the previously mentioned indigenous community of the Koraput region of Odisha in India has novel methods of promoting food security and conserving biodiversity (Rademacher). In fact, up to 80% of biodiversity is located on indigenous peoples' lands, a statistic that demonstrates how vital indigenous voices are to the climate movement (Swiderska).

When looking at international climate policies however, they have consistently left out indigenous voices. For example, the Copenhagen Accord of 2009, a major international climate agreement, did not include mention of “forest protection or protection of indigenous peoples who are facing the worst effects of higher temperature changes and other climatic events” (Rademacher). Even the most recent Paris Climate Accord of 2015 has been heavily criticized for voiding indigenous peoples’ voices and commodifying the environment (Indigenous Environmental Network). This standard of excluding indigenous voices and leaving vulnerable communities exposed to the climate disaster is unacceptable. To protect indigenous communities and thoroughly solve the climate crisis, it is imperative that we begin to incorporate the voices of indigenous people and shift our mindset from a sole focus on climate action to one that revolves around climate justice, a practice that takes into account the disproportionate burdens of climate change faced by underserved communities and communities tightly tied to the land. By amplifying indigenous voices when creating international climate law and in our daily lives, we can work together to ensure a future for our planet that everyone can enjoy.

Discussion Questions:

  • Why is it important to incorporate the practices of indigenous people into international climate policies?

  • How can we ensure that the global amplification of indigenous climate practices does not lead to governments taking credit for and monetizing indigenous work or blending multiple indigenous cultures into one?


Mosa, A., & Duffin, J. (2017). The interwoven history of mercury poisoning in Ontario and Japan. Canadian Medical Association Journal, 189(12), E475.

Pásková, M. (2015). The Potential of Indigenous knowledge for Rio Coco Geopark Geotourism. Procedia Earth and Planetary Science, 15, 886–891.

Rademacher, A. C. (2010). Climate Change and Indigenous Peoples in Latin America. Electronic

Theses and Dissertations, 1–106.

Sood, J. (2012, January 4). UN heritage status for Odisha’s Koraput farming system. Down To


Swiderska, K. (2020, February 14). Protecting indigenous cultures is crucial for saving the world’s biodiversity. The Conversation.,cultures%20need%20to%20be%20protected.&text=New%20biodiversity%20targets%2C%20for%20example%2C%20must%20protect%20indigenous%20cultures

The Paris Agreement Does Not Recognize Indigenous Rights. (2020, December 4). Indigenous. Environmental Network.


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