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Applying Indigenous Knowledge

Published: April 18, 2011, Author: Rÿser Rudolph C.

Bolivia’s Foreign Minister since 2006, David Choquehuanca is a leading voice in favor of promoting traditional knowledge and its parallel application to climate change mitigation and adaptation approaches.  Foreign Minister Choquehuanca is Aymara born near Lake Titicaca in 1961.  He holds a graduate degree in History and Anthropology based on his dissertation, “Rights of Indigenous Peoples” earned at the University Cordillera (CIDES-UMSA).

  Bolivian foreign Minister David Choquehuanca (Photo by: John Vidal)

In a recent interview with the Guardian in the United Kingdom, Minister Choquehuanca offered his analysis and the importance of indigenous peoples becoming active interlocutors in local, country, regional and international negotiations on climate change.

Talks at the local, regional, country-wide and international levels continue to build a consensus that measures can and must be taken by carbon dioxide producing countries and businesses to mitigate and formulate strategies for adapting to the adverse affects of climate change.  While some political views express doubts about the sources of climate changes, it is our view at the Center that it makes no difference who causes the problem now…the problem exists and indigenous peoples must act to protect themselves with new strategies for adaptation.

In talks throughout the world we and many others offering analysis and proposals for climate change treaty language have urged the UN, states’ governments, businesses, labor unions, civil society groups and others to “respect traditional knowledge” and incorporate the UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples principles — notably “free, prior and informed consent” into treaty language.  At various points there have been willing expressions of support and often general silence in response to these concepts.

Where there is willing or reluctant acceptance indigenous peoples have celebrated some progress in the talks.  Where, of course, there is silence indigenous peoples have expressed concern and surprise.

We at the Center and some with whom we have been working among indigenous organizations have called for a new strategy that involves indigenous peoples proclaiming a willingness to deny access to territories and resources (for states and businesses) and only opening access in exchange for a place at the negotiating table for many indigenous peoples.  The strategy also calls for providing a concrete explanation of what we mean by traditional or community knowledge and how such knowledge can and will benefit indigenous peoples as well as metropolitan populations.

There are many indigenous sciences that form the basis of differing systems of traditional knowledge. Carefully and thoughtfully developing an understanding between indigenous peoples and between indigenous peoples and metropolitan societies will help create an understanding of traditional knowledge and its application to climate change adaptation strategies.

Minister Choquehuanca offers his understanding of the Aymara perspective on approaches to climate change. While his analysis and perspective is in the nature of philosophy, one will expect that he will become more specific as to the application of Aymara knowledge to the matters of climate change. The Guardian interviewed Minister Choquehuanca offering a glimpse of traditional knowledge from the Aymara perspective.

Of particular relevance to the broader discussion of traditional knowledge is Mr. Choquehuanca’s observation:

“Our philosophy tells us that [other nations’] problems are also our problems. We have to work the balance between people, between regions, between continents, between countries, a balance between man and nature. Development – the one implemented by western societies – has an impact in this balance. It has generated considerable imbalances between people and regions. It has created a million problems. Today we are talking of crisis, energy crisis, financial crisis, food crisis, institutional crisis, climate change; we indigenous people can contribute to solving all these crises with our values for the attainment of balance.”

The values “for the attainment of balance” can be expressed as Aymara science–a system of knowledge. Each indigenous nations must consider its own science, its own system of knowledge to realize how that knowledge can be applied to problems like mitigation and adaptation to climate change. We have different systems of knowledge, but they do not communicate.  There is a huge gap between the systems.  We must find ways to bridge the gap so that the problems of nations can be constructively and cooperatively understood and resolved.  That will benefit indigenous nations and all peoples.
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