Awajún woman, Shampuyacu, Peru

Awajún woman in the village of Shampuyacu, in the buffer zone of Peru’s Alto Mayo Protected Forest. The women of this community recently set aside an area of forest where they could cultivate and harvest traditional plants — and keep traditional knowledge alive. (© Conservation International/photo by Andrea Wolfson)

Climate change threatens indigenous communities around the world as it drives the destruction of their land and the migration of their people to bigger cities. This also means that indigenous traditions and languages are at risk of disappearing as the modern world encroaches in on them. The Awajún people of northern Peru, renowned as skilled warriors and for their women’s knowledge of plants as medicines and food have watched governments, mestizos and climate change imperil their traditional knowledge between grandmothers and grandchildren. Now through a project with Conservation International (CI) Awajún women are documenting their use of herbs, growth of crops, and other forest knowledge and language using smartphones to pass down this knowledge to their daughters so that this ancient wisdom isn’t lost.

Indigenous peoples are among the first to face the direct consequences of climate change, due to their dependence upon, and close relationship, with the environment and its resources. Climate change exacerbates the difficulties already faced by indigenous communities including political and economic marginalization, loss of land and resources, human rights violations, discrimination and unemployment.

Why This Matters: As CI’s Kate Bryden explained, around the world, indigenous languages are increasingly at risk. With their loss, we lose invaluable wisdom and knowledge of our natural world. We lose different ways of seeing and being. We lose the diversity of our world and the respect of a multi-cultural society. In addition, as the UN has noted, women commonly face higher risks and greater burdens from the impacts of climate change in situations of poverty, and the majority of the world’s poor are women. Empowering indigenous women, helping protect their cultural heritage, and listening to their knowledge is crucial in the fight against climate change.

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