Indigenous wisdom offers deep insights into addressing global challenges

Learning from First Nations

The Secwepemc story, "Coyote brings food from the Upper world," narrates how coyote brought plants for food and medicine to earth.

Coyote emphasized caring for the land, sharing resources and preserving the environment.

It's an interesting origin tale filled with many lessons. It emphasizes the significance of using food as medicine and maintaining a harmonious relationship with the environment. The story portrays how different animals contribute knowledge to help Coyote's family stay healthy, showcasing the importance of sharing wisdom and resources within communities.

It’s not a coincidence that a two-day conference held this week at TRU shared the same name as this powerful story. The Coyote Brings Food conference shared the research of 16 Indigenous researchers from around the globe, offering remarkable perspectives on food security and environmental protection. Several of the authors attended the conference in person. The event was held during IDays, a week-long celebration of cultures present on TRU’s campus.

The conference celebrated a unique partnership between TRU’s Knowledge Makers and the Food and Agricultural Organization of the United Nations (FAO). The partnership aimed to create an environment where ideas about sustainability and utilizing natural resources could be shared and nurtured, much like Coyote's story emphasizes caring for the land and sharing resources.

Just as the Secwepemc story teaches the value of collaboration and mutual respect between species for the overall health of the community, the FAO and Knowledge Makers partnership and conference sought to create an opportunity for diverse voices to converge, share wisdom, and contribute to a collective understanding of how to address pressing global issues.

The FAO collaborates with academic and research institutions to address hunger, malnutrition, and sustainable development goals. The FAO partners with universities to mobilize knowledge, strengthen capacities, provide evidence-based solutions, and share experiences.

TRU’s Knowledge Makers is a collaborative teaching initiative that helps undergraduate students learn how to engage in research and publish as Indigenous researchers. It was envisioned by three Indigenous professors at TRU. One of them, Dr. Rod McCormick, continues to oversee the program. He is a member of the Kanienkehaka (Mohawk) Nation and now lives on Tk’Emlups te Secwepemc lands with his partner and children, who are all Tk’Emlups band members.

The partnership between TRU’s Knowledge Makers and the FAO brings together academic research and global food security initiatives. It recognizes the role of Indigenous knowledge and practices in agriculture and ecosystem management. Most importantly, it envisions the value of integrating traditional approaches into broader food security strategies.

By combining the unique perspectives of Indigenous scholars with the extensive resources and global reach of the FAO, this collaboration envisions a more inclusive approach to food security and sustainability issues.

The publication of a special edition of the Knowledge Makers Journal will be a lasting legacy of this partnership. This particular edition of the Knowledge Makers Journal includes the works of all 16 authors, each of them focussed on different aspects of climate and food security related to their geographical areas:

• Christine Olsen, based in Sweden, brings a Sámi perspective through her paper "It's Time to Put the Power of Plants Back into People’s Hands." Ilana Zakh, representing the Even people from Siberia, delves into "Reindeer Herding: Keeping the Even Culture Alive and Contributing to Food Security."

• Miriam Tambieva provides a unique view on food processing and storytelling from the Karachay-Balkar Indigenous people of the North Caucasus, while Paige Mo’okini Oliveira, a Kanaka ??iwi from Hawaii, discusses sustainable solutions in her work "Knowledge is Fluid."

• Joeann Walters from Aotearoa and Laxmi Chaudhary from Nepal offer insights from their respective Indigenous communities on environmental stewardship and public health.

• Pretty Sharma, a conservationist from Nagaland, and Namayani Edward from the Maasai community in Tanzania contribute their perspectives on sustainable landscape management.

• Ghasala Imane Mohamed from Mali and Purba Drong from Bangladesh discuss resilience in the face of climate change and traditional food habits, respectively, while Rosa Marina Florez Cruz and Dayanna Palmar Uriana offer perspectives from Latin America.

• From North America, Dustina Gill from the Sisseton Wahpeton Oyate explore perspectives from the Buffalo Nation and the Bundle Carriers Project, and Melanie Kirby, a Tortugas Pueblo member, discussing pollinator conservation.

• Shannon Udy, a Métis student from McGill University, offers a perspective on Indigenous food security. Ryann Monteiro from the Wampanoag Tribe of Gay Head Aquinnah in Massachusetts shares her insights on resisting the consumption of Indigenous knowledge.

The journal can be found here: https://knowledgemakers.trubox.ca/conference/#thejournal.

Each author expands our understanding of Indigenous perspectives on food systems and climate action. Their work shows the power of Indigenous-led knowledge sharing and research, highlighting the critical role Indigenous wisdom can play in addressing global challenges.

This remarkable journal, enabled by the partnership between the Knowledge Makers program and the FAO, recognizes the significant role that Indigenous wisdom and practices can play in modern agriculture and ecosystem management. Most importantly, it envisions the integration of traditional approaches into broader food security strategies.

This integration is crucial. Indigenous knowledge systems offer deep insights into sustainable living. Often overlooked in mainstream discussion, these systems are vital for developing comprehensive strategies addressing global food security and environmental challenges.

The Coyote Brings Food conference at TRU was more than an academic gathering — it was a manifestation of the timeless wisdom embedded in Indigenous stories like that of the Secwepemc.

It highlighted the importance of inclusive dialogue and collaborative effort in addressing global issues, exemplified by the research partnership between TRU's Knowledge Makers and the FAO. It also points to a future where diverse knowledge systems are acknowledged and recognized as fundamental to our pursuit of a sustainable and equitable world.

Brett Fairbairn is the president and vice-chancellor at Thompson Rivers University. He can be reached by email at [email protected].

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