Wednesday, 22 May 2013

Indigenous knowledge offered for climate change adaptation

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kimberley boabThe beginning of the Mirriwoong wet season nyinggiyi-mageny is known as barrawoondang (time of strong wind, thunder, lightning and rain). Image: yuruman5RESEARCHERS have been studying traditional Indigenous knowledge of ecology and weather with the Mirriwoong people of the Ord Valley and Keep River, in order to better manage the effects of climate change.

Fluvial geomorphologist Sonia Leonard says the study will help the Aboriginal people adapt to changing seasonal patterns, and also provide Indigenous rangers with baseline data for their environmental monitoring and management.

“We looked at the world view of Indigenous people … their understanding of the environment and the world that they live in,” she says.

“How does that shape their understanding of climate and weather and of their traditional knowledge systems and how can we use that to create adaptation tools?”

A recently published paper gives the example of the beginning of the Mirriwoong wet season nyinggiyi-mageny known as barrawoondang (time of strong wind, thunder, lightning and rain).

Weather conditions are described as ngoomelng birrga ginayinjaloorr-gerring (gathering of rain clouds).

One of the traditional indicators that this season is commencing is the loud calling of the Goorrawoorrang or Channel-billed Cuckoos (Scythrops novaehollandiae).

The dawarrg or plains goanna (Varanus sp.) are an important food source. The wet season is the best time to hunt goanna because they are fat.

Ms Leonard says young Mirriwoong people are often disadvantaged by a limited knowledge of their own language that does not include names of plants and animals, or the words describing the various types of weather.

The participants have produced a seasonal calendar which places traditional climate knowledge in a format that young people can still access and use.

It is also intended to be used as a tool by Indigenous rangers in future environmental monitoring programs.

“One of the most important things is [that] using traditional ecological knowledge to assess the impact of climate change allows us to collect baseline data at both macro and micro scales in areas where science just may not have the resources to be addressing,” Ms Leonard says.

“Based on their traditional knowledge systems that particular weather should occur at a particular time of year, and a plant should respond to that, … the rangers who are out in the field every day could actually record that information on an iTracker and then be able to, over a long period of time, monitor and evaluate [what] they’re seeing in the environment based on their traditional knowledge indicators or bio-temporal indicators to climate change.”


Sonia Leonard is a PhD candidate at James Cook University. She is the lead author of the paper 'The role of culture and traditional knowledge in climate change adaptation: Insights from East Kimberley, Australia'.

The Mirriwoong seasonal calendar with a short explanatory video is available here.

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