Press release / 8 August 2022

Indigenous knowledge and languages crucial in the fight against climate change

Amsterdam, 8 August 2022 – In most countries around the world, the extensive knowledge of Indigenous peoples on nature, food, health, cultural traditions and Indigenous languages receives insufficient appreciation and attention in education and policy. The Indigenous-Led Education (ILED) Network believes that this must change. To mark the International Day of the World's Indigenous Peoples on 9 August, the ILED Network is calling for more support for the transfer of this Indigenous knowledge, which also plays a major role in resolving the biodiversity and climate crises.

Indigenous peoples are increasingly being recognised as protectors of the natural environment. Their traditional way of life is based on age-old knowledge of their living environment and how to use it in a sustainable way. Less well known is that, because much of this knowledge is embedded in Indigenous languages, it is crucial for the knowledge to be transferred in those languages. Women play a particularly important role in transferring Indigenous knowledge to younger generations. This includes the use of medicinal plants, restoration of forest and water resources, and the transfer of natural knowledge through songs.

Repression of Indigenous languages and cultures in policy and education

As a result of the discrimination and repression experienced by Indigenous peoples – and especially women – around the world, the knowledge, culture and way of life of Indigenous communities receive insufficient attention from policymakers and politicians and in the decisions they make. This can lead, for example, to Indigenous communities being driven from their land by the government to 'protect' the environment, as happened to the Sengwer community in Kenya.

"The Sengwer should not be seen as a threat to the natural environment, but as its protectors," says Milka Chepkorir, a young female leader of the Sengwer and regional coordinator for the African members of the ILED Network. "Our language and culture contains a lot of knowledge on how to treat the natural environment. That knowledge must not be lost."

This repression of Indigenous cultures and knowledge is also visible in formal education. Not only is there insufficient attention to Indigenous languages and knowledge transfer, but Indigenous children are sometimes even banned from speaking their own language at school. That is why Indigenous-led education initiatives are crucial. In Kenya, for example, various Sengwer villages have set up their own cultural centres and make educational videoclips in which they not only pass on their own language and cultural customs but also knowledge of trees, plants and restoration of the natural environment.

Recognition of Indigenous knowledge transfer also relevant in tackling climate crisis

Examples like those in Kenya are to be found all around the world, despite the fact that Indigenous knowledge can be of great value in tackling the current climate and biodiversity crises. Indigenous peoples manage more than 500 million hectares of tropical forest worldwide. Now that research has shown that there is significantly less deforestation in areas managed by Indigenous peoples, international organisations like the IPCC and the FAO recognise the importance of Indigenous peoples in the fight against climate change and land degradation.

In light of the UN's International Decade of Indigenous languages, which started in 2022, the ILED Network is calling on policymakers around the world to give greater attention and support to Indigenous knowledge and languages. Not only in the development of plans and policy in the areas of land and water use, and protection of the natural environment and climate, but also in education.

Everything starts with education

"Pass it on! Stories of Indigenous-Led Education from the Grassroots", published tomorrow by the ILED Network, clearly shows that everything starts with education. "If Indigenous children can learn about their language, culture and traditional knowledge and share them rather than feeling ashamed of them, it will help them to stand up more strongly for their rights and protect their living environments in the future," says Ellen-Rose Kambel, director of the Rutu Foundation, a member organisation of the ILED Network.

"Indigenous communities around the world are showing that they have both the knowledge and the will to take care of their living environments," says Paul Wolvekamp, policy officer at Both ENDS, which is also a member of the ILED Network. "Instead of forcing them into a Western-style education system, we should be learning from them. That is also the value of the ILED Network, which was partly set up by Indigenous organisations. Only with a joint effort and the transfer of traditional Indigenous knowledge founded on the needs and perspective of Indigenous communities can we seriously address the threats of climate change and decreasing biodiversity."


Note for editors:

About the ILED Network:
The Indigenous-Led Education (ILED) Network is a global network of Indigenous communities and support organisations. Its aim is to generate support and visibility for education initiatives and knowledge transfer by Indigenous peoples. The network's secretariat is hosted by the Dutch Rutu Foundation in Amsterdam.


For more information:
Ellen-Rose Kambel, Rutu Foundation:

Paul Wolvekamp, Both ENDS:

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