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How UNESCO Indigenous peoples’ cross-cutting programme links up traditional knowledge and science

UNESCO Indigenous peoples’ cross-cutting programme

"Traditional knowledge is everything for Indigenous peoples, if we lose knowledge, we lose our ability to adapt to change, including climate change,” says Viviana Figueroa, an Indigenous leader of the Humahuaca people of Argentina. “Assessments are useful both for Indigenous peoples and for society in general. Knowing biodiversity is important for making good decisions."

Nowadays, Argentina is host to many indigenous populations, 38 of which are legally recognized. These communities possess a great wealth of languages, forms of organization, culture, history and traditional knowledge. They occupy 65% of the native forest, an area of rich biological diversity and inhabit it with respect to their extensive knowledge.

Placing Indigenous peoples at the forefront

Viviana Figueroa is part of the Task Force on Indigenous and Local Knowledge of the IPBES (Intergovernmental Platform on Biodiversity and Ecosystems Services). UNESCO/LINKS is part of a collaborative partnership arrangement with IPBES, which provides a framework for collaboration between UN agencies and the Platform. The IPBES project in Argentina aims to generate dialogue processes between Indigenous peoples and the scientists and authors who make assessments on this platform. It mainly carries out scientific-normative evaluations on the state of knowledge of biological diversity, the nature of the planet, ecosystems and the benefits they provide to people. 

This year, a series of virtual workshops, as a form of education, were held to inform Argentina's indigenous communities about what IPBES is, what its functions are and the importance of participating to this platform. 

These seminars used participatory methodologies based on an integrative and holistic approach and explored topics such as: what is indigenous and local knowledge, what is the IPBES platform and how assessments are made on the platform.  Each of these seminars began with a spiritual ceremony led by the spiritual guides of the most representative Indigenous peoples of the region, to ask permission from the ancestors and the land to conduct this training. Experiences from other countries, such as Mexico, as well as community initiatives on the care of Mother Nature, especially those of Indigenous women, were shared.

An important conclusion is that indigenous and local knowledge is as relevant as scientific knowledge for assessments of the state of biodiversity. "It is important that Indigenous peoples contribute to this process, if an assessment is made without the contribution of Indigenous peoples it would be a great loss " states Viviana. 

The way forward

Margarita Apabillo, an indigenous leader from the Tupi-Guarani community in the province of Jujuy in Argentina attended these informative workshops on IPBES. She affirms that "the evaluations would be of great help, it would be very good for all the indigenous brothers and sisters, because we would have another document that will attest that indigenous rights must be respected".  

Three sugar mills have been installed in the territory inhabited by the Tupi-Guarani community, and as a result the community has been displaced and has lost all of its territory. The community has lost the ancestral paths where the cultural, spiritual and traditional life of the people pass through. 

In order for Indigenous peoples not to be affected, as the displaced Tupi-Guarani community has been, Margarita says that the most important thing is the recognition of traditional knowledge. It is urgent that this type of evaluation be carried out, so that society has greater knowledge and, therefore, the rights of indigenous peoples are respected.

“The workshops that have been developed have been of great progress for the communities, because they have given specific tools to the Indigenous brothers and sisters when it comes to asserting their rights", says Margarita.

Perfect match: International Day of the World's Indigenous Peoples 9 August - Traditional knowledge of Indigenous women and intergenerational transmission

The participation of Indigenous women of Argentina to the UNESCO project on the evaluations of knowledge of biological diversity aligns with the theme of the Day of Indigenous Peoples. Viviana and Margarita, and other Indigenous women’s contribution to the project enhances respect for and recognition of indigenous knowledge and Indigenous peoples. It is also a means to assert Indigenous Peoples’ rights.