2018 Conference

'Aulani Wilhelm (Hawaiian) - Indigeneity in a Changing Climate

It is hard to escape the reality that our climate is rapidly changing – in the natural world, and other wise. We are already experiencing the confluence of impacts from a dramatically warming planet: an acidic ocean, massive shifts in rainfall, intensity and duration of storms and fires, climate induced war and mass migration, and declines in agriculture and wild fish stocks. Trends that used to be predictable are erratic. Temporary shifts, like weather, that enabled us to be adapt to momentary changes and return once again to equilibrium are no longer able to prepare us for the even broader changes yet to come.

Healthy oceans play a critical role in absorbing carbon, cooling the planet, regulating weather, and therefore climate, yet it is often overlooked in seeking solutions to slowing the rate and intensity of change. This should be of particular concern to oceanic peoples and communities where shifts in ocean temperature, sea level, and productivity will cause significant shifts in human well-being and economic stability.

As Indigenous people, we descend in many cases from cultures and traditions deeply rooted in the natural world. That familial intimacy enabled our ancestors to be in tune with micro-changes and base decision-making – short, long and inter-generational – on subtlties and deep understandings of the natural world, some of which still persists or is being recovered. As such, it should be of no surprise that globally, it is estimated that indigenous peoples manage or have tenure rights over 24% of land which contain ~ 40% of all ecologically intact landscapes and protected areas,
and ~ 80% of the world’s biodiversity.

But in a rapidly changing climate, will Indigenous rights (where they exist) and taking care of our respective ancestral lands and seas be enough? Who will we, as Indigenous people, still be if our non-human ancestors and the nature upon which our cultures descend no longer remain? What will being iIdigenous continue to mean when climate impacts inevitably shift how ecosystems and human societies function? And, what role can and should we as Indigenous people – including our research and knowledge systems – play in the global transformation required to respond?