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Insights Tapping into Indigenous knowledge to fight climate change

The approach within Indigenous communities has always been about adaptability, responding to nature and protecting the land. The adaptive decisions they make are based on thousands of years of intergenerational knowledge. Nigel Crawhall is a political scientist currently working at UNESCO. His mission is to find ways for scientists to work with Indigenous people so they can pass on their wisdom. Why does he see these communities as such important sources of knowledge?

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[Indigenous] people are eyes and feet on the ground that could help us understand and react effectively


Every Indigenous community has a long line of ancestors who have passed down observations and taught their predecessors how to make sustainable decisions that will protect their livelihoods. This knowledge is needed to help regional bodies, national governments, and international systems make important decisions.

At AtkinsRéalis , and our Atkins and Faithful+Gould businesses, we honour Indigenous rights and culture. Read on to hear how we believe our teams across the USA and Canada can work with Indigenous communities, businesses, entities and community members to fight climate change.

A minority group that can have a big impact

According to the UN, Indigenous people make up 6% of the population and live across 90 countries, including the USA and Canada. The exact population in the two countries is somewhat of a mystery, though it's 4.3 million in the USA and 1.7 million in Canada, and they live in distinctly different communities. However, one major link between each community is the ability to read the land. Indigenous Elders are knowledge keepers, meaning that it's their responsibility to show community members how they make observations, such as predicting the tides from a bird's call. So while they might be a minority group, they could have a tremendous role in monitoring our climate and helping us adapt.

grey slates of rock piled up in the shape of an indigenous inuksuk and the sea in the background

Protecting Indigenous land

One study found that Indigenous land locks up 168 million tonnes of the planet's carbon in the trees, grass and soil, which amounts to over three times our global emissions. The land is a substantial carbon sink, but more than that, it's an opportunity to work alongside Indigenous people to understand how they are continuing to protect their land.

Aida Sanchez, assistant professor at the Norwegian University of Life Sciences, spoke to one Indigenous group to understand whether the droughts in their region were becoming more frequent or severe because of climate change. They revealed that it's the fog that is more of a concern. Fog keeps the grass green at the end of the rainy season and helps germinate the seeds of the beans that they grow. Before this revelation, very few studies have researched the impact of fog, and in certain mountainous regions, there are no meteorological stations to measure this.

Indigenous people also have hundreds of years of knowledge that we can tap into to understand more about the climate and how we can protect every patch of the Earth. During her research, Aida asked how the Indigenous community was reacting to climate change. Her aim was to figure out what they had done that did work but also what had they tried that didn't work. Working with Indigenous people can save us the time of trialling out different solutions - and saving time is key when you're against the clock.

How will you get involved in solving the climate problem?

The Indigenous knowledge that researchers are uncovering supports what we already know - our planet is facing a climate challenge. It's not just a case of tapping into their knowledge though. It's about ensuring that every person contributes to the fight against climate change. A career in sustainability is not only an option to combat extreme weather and climate disasters. It can also expose you to life-changing experiences, like working with local communities to understand how their intergenerational knowledge can save our planet.

Find your next job with us

We recognise that establishing Indigenous partnerships will help us unlock the answers to some of the most pressing sustainability issues. A career with the AtkinsRéalis Group will allow you to make valuable connections with local communities, protect our environment, and train for future employment in an increasingly innovative field of work.

We are committed to attracting and supporting the best talent in the industry, who will benefit from our focus on innovation and sustainability. Our international reach allows us to work on a wide variety of projects across the world and help tackle some of the biggest challenges facing society today. Browse our core jobs in the USA and core roles across Canada or discover more about our pledge to start investing more in our planet.

Learn more about our commitment to diversity and inclusions across North America.