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Science should incorporate indigenous knowledge

286x135_MAGGA (Ingressbilde)

All kinds of knowledge should be taken into account, and the traditional knowledge of the indigenous peoples should be incorporated into science, said Norwegian Professor Ole Henrik Magga on the third day of the IPC-OSC.

"Traditional knowledge is a partner to science," said Professor Ole Henrik Magga, who has also been president of the Sámediggi (Sami parliament) and chair of the UN Permanent Forum on Indigenous Issues, at the opening session of the third day of the International Polar Year Oslo Science Conference (IPY-OSC). Indigenous peoples were the topic of the day, and Professor Magga and Mr Sergey Kharyuchi, President of the Russian Association of Indigenous Peoples of the North, Siberia and Far East (RAIPON), kicked off the debate in a joint session.

Bridging the gap
Professor Magga called for improved communication and cooperation between scientists and indigenous peoples.

"The gap should not be insurmountable. After all, science is at its core nothing more than organised common sense. And the local people have first-hand knowledge of fish, animals, birds, the land, the snow conditions and so forth," said Professor Magga.Former president of the Sametinget and leder of the UN Permanent Forum on Indigenous Issues Ole Henrik Magga at the IPY-OSC.Photo: John Petter Reinertsen
Former president of the Sametinget and leder of the UN Permanent Forum on Indigenous Issues Ole Henrik Magga at the IPY-OSC.


The traditional knowledge of indigenous people should be incorporated into science, according to Professor Magga.

"A positive development in the Arctic presupposes a mutual understanding and respect between the peoples - indigenous and non-indigenous," he added.

A people at risk
Mr Kharyuchi emphasised the vulnerable position of the indigenous peoples of the Arctic area.

"The traditional activities of the indigenous peoples of the North are directly connected to the Arctic environment and its wildlife. As such they have always been at risk," said Mr Kharyuchi.Sergey Kharyuchi is President of The Russian Association of Indigenous Peoples of the North, Siberia and Far East (RAIPON).Photo: John Petter Reinertsen
Sergey Kharyuchi is President of The Russian Association of Indigenous Peoples of the North, Siberia and Far East (RAIPON).


He continued, "Today, indigenous peoples are facing the problem of climate change, which is disrupting the ecosystems of their territories. Our indigenous ancestors have been adapting to climate conditions for thousands of years. We must learn from them."

Climate predictions to reach all corners of the globe
Later in the day, Director of the Norwegian Institute of International Affairs Jan Egeland, formerly a diplomat, presented a UN climate initiative to map and predict short-term and long-term climate change, and to communicate the results to indigenous peoples all over the world. Mr Egeland, who is co-chair of the High-level Taskforce for the Global Framework for Climate Services, met several representatives from indigenous peoples' organisations, and welcomed any suggestions on the kind of information the taskforce should make a priority.

"Indigenous peoples know what kind of information they need to make the right decisions, but it is difficult for them to access the information. Scientists, on the other hand, have a lot of information, but do not know what the indigenous peoples need. So we need you to tell us," he explained.

The mixed crowd of journalists, scientists and representatives of indigenous peoples who were present at the press conference in the lavvo were all invited to present their points of view.

As it turns out, the most sought after information turned out to be long-range forecasts for two to three months. This is something that technology cannot yet provide.

"We can provide

weather forecasts
and snow predictions for up to two weeks ahead, which can be useful. We can also make yearly predictions and climate projections on a longer time scale, say five or ten years," said director of the Norwegian Meteorological Institute, Anton Eliassen, who duly noted the feedback from his guests.

A matter of life and death
Climate prediction is not just an intellectual exercise - it may be a matter of life and death. More often than not, the crux of the matter is to convey the information to the people who will be most affected.Jan Egeland discussed climate science for protecting livelihoods.Photo: John Petter Reinertsen
Jan Egeland discussed climate science for protecting livelihoods.


Mr Egeland provided several examples.

"A Canadian girl once told me that she had lost two friends by drowning. She and her friends did not know that the ice close to their homes had become dangerously thin. They went out on the ice like they had always done, and her friends drowned," he said.

He also described an incident in Africa in 2005, after two seasons with no rain had put the herders in a predicament. Should they keep their herd and gamble that the rain would return in the next season, or sell their animals at once? Scientists did not know of their predicament, and the forecast of yet another season with no rain never reached the herders. Both people and animals died.

"It is one of the world's injustices that information is unevenly distributed. The more vulnerable you are, the less informed you are likely to be," concluded Mr Egeland.

Interdisciplinary research is needed
To predict climate change in a world that has seen dramatic changes in patterns of rainfall, rising sea levels that threaten to drown island communities, global warming, and more natural disasters than the earth has experienced in a hundred years, an interdisciplinary approach is needed.

"Unfortunately, it can be difficult to get scientists from different fields to communicate," explained Mr Eliassen.

The indigenous peoples of the Arctic region were the topic of the third day of the IPY-OSC.Photo: John Petter Reinertsen
The indigenous peoples of the Arctic region were the topic of the third day of the IPY-OSC.
In addition, the indigenous peoples themselves must be involved. First and foremost they need to be asked what kind of information they need, but they should also be active participants.

"It is quite possible for local people to be part of the observation system and collect data," said Mr Anton Eliassen.

The interdisciplinary approach of IPY has included an unprecedented focus on social sciences, particularly involving the indigenous peoples of the Arctic.

"These groups have not only been the focus of research, but have been included in the research process and have been given specific tasks. In several geographical areas, climate changehas been observed and documented by the people who live there," said the chair of the Swedish IPY committee, who was interviewed about the most important results of IPY.

Last updated: 11.06.2010