Indigenous knowledge as a precondition for sustainable development

Why is indigenous knowledge such an important part of the effort on achieving sustainable goals? We got several answers to this question during the Arctic Biodiversity Congress 2018 in Rovaniemi last week.


Why is indigenous knowledge such an important part of the effort on achieving sustainable goals? Dr. Dalee Sambo Dorough, chair of our sisterorganization Inuit Circumpolar Council and Ph.D. on international law and human rights, excellently gave answer to this question. During the opening session at the Arctic Biodiversity Congress 2018 in Rovaniemi last week she presented a thorough and informing summary regarding the history of indigenous peoples’ position in international law and efforts on achieving sustainability. We therefor feel obligated to pass forward some main points from her keynote speech that explain why it’s so important that indigenous peoples are included in the decision making and science concerning conservation and utilization of the Arctic: 

“Indigenous peoples have understood and lived by the concept of sustainable development long before the term was coined by the world commission on environment and development in 1987 and it’s first usage in international law in the Rio declaration on environment and development. Indigenous knowledge has sustained our communities for centuries.

...If we are to achieve the objectives of agenda 2030, it must be understood that Inuit lifeways are inextricable linked with what are now referred to as the sustainable development goals. Indeed, it’s largely due to lack of respect for, and recognition of, indigenous human rights, that our cultural integrity is threatened by the values of the non-indigenous world.

...In conclusion, for Inuit, distinct peoples that inhabit approximately 40 % of the arctic circumpolar region, our involvement, and our knowledge on arctic flora and fauna, is essential. In my view, respect for and recognition of indigenous human rights, lies at the core of sustainable development and the maintenance of biodiversity within our arctic homeland.

...Indeed, the outcome document from the 2012 Rio-conference entitled “The Future We Want”, states clearly the importance of participation of indigenous peoples in efforts to achieve the sustainability. More important, collectively, we must all work to ensure that the individual Inuk and other indigenous individuals, can live and maintain their way of life, every day, for decades to come.”


Also, during the congress, was the concept of co-productional knowledge discussed by scientists and decision makers as well as representatives of both industry and indigenous peoples. In general, these sepakers brought the message that co-productional knowledge, i.e. including indigenous knowledge and their holders in processes of science and decisions, enriched the process itself and improved the results by supplying new and important perspectives and understandings to the process. Another effect mentioned was the presence of a common curiosity and a unifying motivation for producing knowledge together. Further, the importance of cooperation throughout the process, from the starting point when the issue to be researched and the way of doing it is defined, until the final outcome is completed, was highlighted. Another statement spoked, was that nature and land can not be succesfully managed, if the people living in it, is not cared for as part of the ecosystem as well as holders of both significant knowledge and the right to take lead in processes influencing their own lifes and livelyhoods.

Later on, as participant of a panel discussion, our employee Gunn-Britt Retter, summed the position of indigenous knowledge using following words:

On the global level there is high level acknowledgement of indigenous knowledge, but gaps in recognition can be found at regional and local levels. 

Said in other words, there is still a lot to be done on this issue in Sápmi. After hearing these stories, we conclude that co-productional knowledge and indigenous knowledge is practiced as part of science and decision making with good results. The Saami Council would love to see scientists and indigenous knowledge holders initiating new collaborative projects of these kinds in order to inform our decisionmakers how to manage our land meeting the challenges caused by the climate changes and fragmenting land use.



The entire speech of Dalee and the panel debate in which Gunn-Britt participated, along with the whole opening session, is to be seen using the following link: