Conversations with the Earth: Indigenous Voices on Climate Change
Have you ever wondered how climate change is affecting people in different parts of the earth? The National Museum of the American Indian will address this question when the exhibition Conversations with the Earth: Indigenous Voices on Climate Change opens on July 22, 2011, in the Sealaska Gallery on the second level of the museum in Washington. Through photographs, video, and audio, tribal communities from the Arctic to Brazil give first-hand accounts about the effects of climate change on indigenous peoples, as well as examples of traditional knowledge and its value in developing appropriate global responses.
Voices from 15 indigenous communities in 13 countries come together in the exhibition, which is collaborative effort with the nonprofit organization Conversations with the Earth (CWE). Starting with the Gwich’in, who relate how the caribou and other wild foods they rely on are declining due to erratic temperatures, forest fires, and melting permafrost. The Gwich’in, who live in northeastern Alaska and the northern Yukon and Northwest Territories in Canada, call themselves the “People of the Caribou.” According to residents and scientists, warmer temperatures have created an array of complex problems. “We need cold weather,” said Allen Tritt (Gwich’in), a resident of Arctic Village, Alaska. “The elders said if it doesn’t get cold, in the future everything’s gonna be changed.”
Charley Swaney (Gwich’in), Arctic Village, Alaska. Swaney and other Gwich’in hunters are concerned about new patterns in caribou migration and declining herd numbers. They constantly monitor the landscape and its animals and their movements. “We may not have much,” Swaney said, “but what we have is out there.”
Contrasting with the Gwich’in of Arctic Village are the Guarani of Brazil. Some 10,000 people live in and around the Guaraqueçaba forest on Brazil’s southeastern coast. Restrictions on subsistence practices have created a regional poverty belt for the Guarani. Over the last two centuries, Brazilian policies have caused steady encroachment on the Guarani territory where indigenous people have never held formal title. After centuries of development, just seven percent of the original Atlantic forest jungle remains. Many people whose families have lived in the forest for generations are now forced to resettle in the state capitol of Curitiba.
“The indigenous people are the true environmentalists. It’s the Indians that preserve the land. Locations where you have the most jungle, best preserved, are the indigenous lands. It’s because nature to us, the Guarani, is living and has to be respected. The laws imposed here in Brazil are already complicated. And when foreign companies come here investing in this area and buying land, it affects us even more because there is greater restriction,” said Jorge Gonzales Wochnicki (Guarani), a resident of the Guaraqueçaba forest. “They don’t want us here [in the forest] . . . but human beings are part of the ecosystem. All this richness that you see was preserved because the people have been here.”
Regional leader Leonardo Werá Tupa (Guarani), prayer house on Cutinga Island, Brazil. “Before the lines were drawn for Brazil, Argentina, Paraguay, and Bolivia," Werá Tupa explains, "the Guarani were here.”
Other communities who collaborated in creating the exhibition include the Kichwa from Mojandita Village, Equador; the Manus from Manus Province, Papua New Guinea; The Gamo from the Gamo Highlands of Ethiopia; the Zanskari from Ladakh, India; the Yaqui and Comcaac from Sonora, Mexico; the Kuna from Ustupu Island, Kuna Yala, Panama; and the Quechua and Aymara from a number of locations in the Peruvian Andes.
Conversations with Earth will be on view at the museum through January 2, 2012.
—Dennis Zotigh, NMAI
All photographs by Nicolas Villaume, ©2011 CWE/Nicolas Villaume. Used with permission.
The museum is grateful to The Christensen Fund for its generous support of this exhibition.