Fighting Words: Indigenous Languages Help Combat Climate Change

By Staff

The Seventh Session of the United Nations Permanent Forum on Indigenous Issues kicked off this past Monday at UN headquarters in New York–and one of our Utne Reader library favorites is there: Cultural Survival, publisher of 2007 Utne Independent Press Award nomineeCultural Survival Quarterly, is co-hosting a roundtable discussion on Thursday about indigenous language revitalization.

Language revitalization might appear at odds with the session’s green theme–“Climate change, bio-cultural diversity, and livelihoods: the stewardship role of indigenous peoples and new challenges”–but Cultural Survival argues endangered indigenous languages are warehouses of human knowledge regarding connections to the environment. (No, we’re not talking about the pervasive myth that Eskimos have innumerable words for snow. Read Language Log linguist Geoffery Pullum’s rant on that misconception here.)

As Cultural Survival executive director Ellen Lutz explains in a press release: “Future generations of all peoples will need to rely on the worldviews contained within Native Hawaiian, Native Alaskan, Native American and other indigenous peoples’ languages to adequately address threats to the global environment, including climate change and critical reductions in biodiversity.”

The session isn’t open to the public, but you can read more online about Cultural Survival’s Endangered Native American Languages Campaign.

Julie Hanus

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