Eleventh Hour: How the earth thinks—Why indigenous knowledge systems play key roles for climate action

By Danesto Bacdayan Anacio

November is declared as a month for various environment-related concerns here in the Philippines. It is the Environmental Awareness Month (Republic Act No. 9512 or National Environmental Awareness Act of 2008), the Clean Air Month Through National Vehicle Inspection and Maintenance Consciousness (Proclamation No. 1109, s. 1997), and the Traditional and Alternative Health Care Month (Proclamation No. 698, s. 2004).

In continuation of last month’s celebration of Indigenous People’s Month (Proclamation No. 1906, s. 2009), environmental awareness based on indigenous knowledge systems and practices (IKSP) play key roles for clean air, good health, and a livable climate for today and tomorrow’s generations.

But why is IKSP a relegated form of knowledge for addressing climate change in the first place? Probably because it is something that appears simplistic, old, and trivial compared with our contemporary ways of knowing and doing things. But what if the simple, tried and tested, and seemingly unimportant ways of doing things are actually the keys to climate action?         

Reflecting on how naturally occurring processes work as explained by various fields of science, the lifeways of indigenous peoples may be seen as putting into action how the earth functions. Indigenous peoples are aware of the various life forms and natural settings that are embedded with their daily activities. The importance of clean air is shown through the inspection and maintenance of essential natural resources, such as forests, river systems, and marine waters.

Most of all, they have already been using their immediate surroundings for crafting their own medicines and laboring throughout the day to obtain necessary needs—which is a form of physical exercise that makes one’s body supple and fit.

In other words, indigenous people’s lifeways have been, and will always probably be, the best models for climate action. It only took us recently to recognize and appreciate our indigenous peoples, unfortunately. Else, we would have not reached this point of campaigning for the recognition of the rights of our indigenous brothers and sisters. After all, several climate assessment reports had to be made before genuinely highlighting the crucial role of IKSP for climate action on a global level.

Now that various policies, scientific articles, and social movements, including The Climate Reality Project, are helping drum up the need for preserving and conserving indigenous lifeways and their associated natural resources, it is also crucial for us, on an individual level, to recognize our thoughts and views about indigenous peoples to know how we can help and contribute for a better future.

It is good to know, for example, if there are indigenous peoples living in our own municipality or region. What is their language? What natural resources do they rely upon to practice their tradition? What values do they hold that may help us or our community live better for the environment and other people? What challenges do they face? How can we help in making their voices heard or even address their issues? Most importantly, how do we view indigenous peoples in the first place?

While there are various written sources, government agencies, and private organizations that can help us answer these questions, it may be best to immerse ourselves in a particular community to experience the answers ourselves. In doing so, we might as well have a glimpse of knowing how the earth thinks.



Danesto Bacdayan Anacio is an Applai (northern Kanakana-ey) and Ibaloi Climate Reality Leader and an environmental scientist by training. He currently works as faculty at the Department of Behavioral Sciences, College of Arts and Sciences at the University of the Philippines-Manila, as well as a member of the Tanggew, a community organization formed by young professionals of the northern barangays of Sagada, Mt. Province, Philippines.



This article was originally published on The Climate Reality Project Philippines’ weekly column for the Manila Bulletin called Eleventh Hour.

This column serves a digital space to discuss our organization’s work on supporting the country’s just transition into a clean, affordable, and self-sufficient energy system; advancing sustainable urban mobility to highlight the issues of equity and democracy; and raising public awareness about the need to phase out single-use plastics. It also serves as a platform for Pinoy Climate Reality Leaders to share your stories, promote your climate initiatives, and provide critical insights to issues that matter to climate action, environmental protection, and sustainable development.