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  • AutorenbildRebekah Olson

Indigenous Languages & The Climate

At the recent Cop26 climate summit, most of the voices being heard were those of western languages. But to fight climate change, we need to adopt an indigenously inclusive view of humanity’s place in the natural world.

The Living-Language-Land project, funded by the British Council under the COP26 Creative Commissions program and founded in close collaboration with individuals from around the world, is a journey through endangered and minority languages that reveal different ways of relating to land and nature.

In the run-up to COP26, the project shared 26 words to give its global audience a fresh perspective and inspiration for tackling our environmental crisis.

These words came from indigenous languages like Native American Lakota (USA), Higaonon (Philippines), Murui (Colombia and Peru), Ladakhi (India), and Scots Gaelic (Scotland).

Indigenous and minority languages are rooted in their connections with the environments that birthed them

A non-surprising but perhaps not obvious result of this is that languages include the words their speakers need to understand their environments, and, importantly, disclude words not related to their environments.

You may have heard the old myth that Inuits have 50 words for snow. Thought this isn't true, Inuits, just like all indigenous peoples, do have words for things others of us may not.

Does your language have a word for the native ancestors of a land, those to whom the land belongs? The Indian language Sardak, from the Ladakh region of India does.

The loss of Indigenous languages around the world is said to be in a “state of crisis”

Much like the planet that houses them, languages are under increasing threat due to globalization processes. With their complex implications for how we learn and develop, languages are vital to the survival of humanity, and consequently, the planet.

When languages fade, we lose more than just lingual diversity, we lose traditions, memories, ways of thinking, and, most importantly, ways of problem-solving.

When a culture loses its way to talk about the biodiversity in its area, it loses its way to care for and protect that biodiversity, and ultimately that biodiversity is put at risk.

More from Living-Language-Land

How can you get involved?

If you are inspired by this project, its founders are asking all of us to reflect on the words they've shared, talk them over with others, and introduce them into our own lives.

You might want to:

  • Bring the words into a reading group, or creative group

  • Share the words with students in your classroom

  • Organize activities to explore words in the minority and endangered languages around you

  • Read about words that relate to nature that are being lost from the world’s languages

Learn more!

The Indigenous Climate Hub is a unique online community of Indigenous climate change leaders who have come together to share their stories and climate change adaptation experiences.

The world’s indigenous languages are under threat of disappearing, with one language dying every two weeks and many more at risk. UN DESA’s Division for Social Policy and Development (DSPD) of the Secretariat of the Permanent Forum on Indigenous Issues works to address the question on how to maintain these languages.

The Climate Change Response Framework is a collaborative, cross-boundary approach among scientists, managers, and landowners to incorporate climate change considerations into natural resource management.

Mt. Entoto, Addis Ababa, Ethiopia 2015

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