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COP27: On Country, health and Indigenous knowledges

Introduction by Croakey: The world’s annual CoP climate talks have begun in Egypt. For this year’s COP27, the Australian Government delegation is taking some different messages to previous years – including a stated commitment to featuring Indigenous Knowledges, voices and experiences in their climate change policy platform and the new Climate Change Bill 2022 that was passed in September.

There is a strong and growing body of relevant research on climate change impacts and responses in Australia from First Nations climate researchers and non-Indigenous allies from which evidence-based policy can be drawn. Core to this body of research are the interconnections between climate change, healthy Country and health and wellbeing in Indigenous communities.

Below is the first article in a series that Croakey is publishing to put a strong focus on health and Indigenous knowledges during COP27. On Twitter follow #HealthyCOP27 and also this Twitter list.

The article below is by:

Dr Nina Lansbury (University of Queensland; non-Indigenous), Dr Veronica Matthews (University of Sydney; Quandamooka), Amba-Rose Atkinson (University of Queensland; Gumbaynggirr), Adjunct Professor Janine Mohamed (Lowitja Institute; Narrunga Kaurna), Dr Vinnitta Mosby (James Cook University; Meriam Nation), Francis Nona (University of Queensland; Badulaig), Associate Professor Linda Payi Ford (Charles Darwin University; Rak Mak Mak Marranunggu), Professor Cara Beal (Griffith University; non-Indigenous), Professor Paul Memmott (University of Queensland; non-Indigenous), Norman Frank Jupurrurla (Anyinginyi Health Aboriginal Corporation; Warumungu), Dr Simon Quilty (Australian National University; non-Indigenous), Melissa Jackson (Griffith University; non-Indigenous), Professor Amanda Lee (University of Queensland; non-Indigenous), Dr Andrew Redmond (University of Queensland; non-Indigenous), Dr Allison Hempenstall (Queensland Health; non-Indigenous) and Clarissa Burgen (Julalikari Housing Aboriginal Corporation; Wannyi).


Nina Lansbury, Veronica Matthews, Amba-Rose Atkinson, Janine Mohamed and colleagues write:

“Scientific knowledge is important, but not more important than what our Elders and ancestors have taught us. We need the two ways of knowing to work together. To adapt to climate change, there needs to be both ways of knowing: using the Torres Strait Knowledges in conjunction with western ways. There needs to be mutual respect on both sides.”

This quote is from Francis Nona, a public health lecturer, registered nurse and Badulaig man from the Torres Strait Islands whose climate change research describes the value of combining western scientific and Indigenous Knowledges.

As the sea level rises, the tide might also be turning. Physical environmental changes are occurring as the impacts of climate change manifest. But, more necessary, the tide might be turning to respectfully consider the Knowledges of First Nations Peoples and their experience and resilience to respond to a changing climate.

Until recently, the lived experience, Knowledges and voices of First Nations Peoples had not been sought – let alone incorporated – in climate change discussions. This year for the first time the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) Assessment Report 6 included climate data from First Nations Peoples’ Knowledges alongside western scientific data. In Australia, the latest State of the Environment Report included First Nations authors and Knowledges for the first time.

And as politicians across the world gather at the UNFCCC Conference of Parties in Egypt’s Sharm-el-Sheikh (CoP27), the Australian Government has stated that their policy platform and the Australian Pavilion will place Indigenous Knowledges, voices and experience on climate change at the centre.

Many Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Peoples intend to remain living on their Country (ancestral estate) long-term, yet climate change poses risks of both direct and indirect human health impacts exacerbated by the ongoing impacts of colonisation, remote location, lower socio-economic and infrastructural resources, limited healthcare services and a high burden of pre-existing health conditions.

Documented human health impacts from climate change include direct health impacts of extreme weather events and extreme heat. There is also a wide range of indirect health impacts:

Of note, there are different conceptions held of health, with the National Aboriginal Health Strategy defining health from an Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander perspective as including ‘the social, emotional and cultural wellbeing of the whole community in which each individual is able to achieve their full potential as a human being thereby bringing about the total wellbeing of their community’. This was later expanded to consider physical and spiritual well-being, community capacity, and governance.

Working with both First Nations and western considerations of health and wellbeing, living on Country can support health – even if remotely located from services – through supporting ancestral social and cultural practices and resource utilisation, identity, belonging, responsibility, land protection and conservation.

In the context of climate change, health and wellbeing are affected by resilience and vulnerability factors as well as context that affects health outcomes, such as comorbidities, climate science literacy, and available funding to mitigate or adapt to climate challenges – as identified in the Close the Gap reports.

A powerful climate research track record

Many researchers are exploring the impact of and responses to climate change for First Nations Australians and Country, many of whom are First Nations Peoples. Sandra Creamer (Waanyi Kalkadoon), Bradley Moggridge (Kamilaroi) and Vinnitta Mosby (Meriam Nation) were Contributing Authors to the IPCC Assessment Report 6 for the Australasian chapter. Janine Mohamed (Narrunga Kaurna), Veronica Matthews (Quandamooka), Amba-Rose Atkinson (Gumbaynggirr) and Linda Payi Ford (Rak Mak Mak Marranunggu) led a key publication on the impact of climate change on First Nations Peoples in Australia launched at last year’s CoP26.

Francis Nona (Badulaig) has academic qualifications in public health and in nursing as well as cultural initiation and language enabling him to follow protocol with Elders when on Country and provide knowledge translation about health impacts from both Western and Torres Strait perspectives on climate change.

Sandra Creamer is a lawyer who engages on climate change in her work at the United Nations on the rights of Indigenous Peoples and has been recognised with an Order of Australia for her leadership for First Nations women on issues of health, rights and self-determination. Longitudinal research on remote food security has been conducted by Francis Nona with Amanda Lee (non-Indigenous ally). Bush food sovereignty work has involved Sandra Creamer and the First Nations Bush Foods and Botanicals Alliance– an organisation combining Indigenous Knowledges with food provision to enable income generation by First Nations Peoples living on remote Country in a changing climate.

Many of the above scholars are members of the NHMRC Special Initiative on Human Health and Environmental Change (HEAL Network), with Veronica Matthews and Linda Payi Ford establishing an Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander governance group to lead the two-way learning approach in weaving Knowledge systems together. Francis Nona has been working with Traditional Owners through Gur A Baradharaw Kod Torres Strait Sea and Land Council (GBK) and TSIRC. Recently, the Federal Government responded to a call from a TSRA-led workshop of local representatives and allies to fund a Torres Strait Climate Change Centre of Excellence.

Kerry Arabena (Meriam Nation) has described how Country and climate change affect the social determinants of health for First Nations Peoples. Cara Beal (non-Indigenous ally) and Melissa Jackson (non-Indigenous ally) have been connecting community-based and Indigenous Knowledges into sustainable and resilient water, energy and waste system management to improve health, sustainability and climate resilience outcomes in remote Indigenous communities.

Norman Frank Jupurrurla (Warumungu) and Simon Quilty (non-Indigenous ally) have presented and published on climate injustices and inequities between First Nations and non-Indigenous Australians- from physical challenges of appropriate housing and energy security to culturally inclusive healthcare providers. In remote health and housing, architectural design for remote wellbeing has been provided by Paul Memmott (non-Indigenous ally) through his decades-long working collaboration with Anyinginyi Health Aboriginal Corporation more recently involving research by Nina Lansbury (non-Indigenous ally) and Andrew Redmond (non-Indigenous ally).

Clarissa Burgen (Wannyi) manages Julalikari Housing in Tennant Creek with a joint focus on developing local solutions and advocating Government supply improvements to public energy, housing, health and climate change policy, including a housing analysis of community-owned housing leading to improved householder health.

Guiding this research are appropriate methods and strategies. Ella Kris (Torres Strait Islander), Hylda Wapau (Aith koedal) and Allison Hempenstall (non-Indigenous ally) have published on how health impacts require a community-driven research approach in the Torres Strait and other First Nations Countries – which is of relevance to guide climate change and health research.

Bhiamie Williamson (Euahlayi), Sam Provost (Yuin) and Cassandra Price (Muruwari/Gangugari) have described how long-held cultural practices of land and water management are opportunities for traditional custodians to ‘(re)connect with their homelands and reinvigorate dormant cultural practices’. This can be seen in cultural burning, mapping and marine science- although they caution that any associated research on these practices must be guided under the principles of Indigenous data sovereignty and Indigenous data governance.

On the Country of the Warumungu people, Tennant Creek. Photo by Nina Lansbury

Priorities for First Nations voices at CoP27

To ensure embedded, grounded and relevant exploration of specific health-protective responses to climate change, priorities and initiatives should be decided by community and use plans designed and owned by their organisations.

In seeking to protect human health and wellbeing in a changing climate, factors were identified in the 2021-31 National Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Health Plan that are key to collaboration with Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Peoples to ensure culturally-appropriate priority responses and local leadership, as well as to include concepts from both Indigenous Knowledges and from western science to develop very locally-relevant response initiatives.

As CoP27 gets underway in Egypt, the Australian Government delegation will have the above richness of First Nations perspectives on climate change. They can be guided in their intentions to privilege Indigenous Knowledges and voices by the Lowitja Institute’s sentinel climate report. As Janine Mohamed (Narrunga Kaurna), Pat Anderson (Alyawarre) and Veronica Matthews (Quandamooka) have previously emphasised:

The calls from our work are clear. We must elevate Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander voices within climate change action and centre Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Peoples as leaders in protecting Country.”

Author details

Dr Nina Lansbury (University of Queensland; non-Indigenous), Dr Veronica Matthews (University of Sydney; Quandamooka), Amba-Rose Atkinson (University of Queensland; Gumbaynggirr), Adjunct Professor Janine Mohamed (Lowitja Institute; Narrunga Kaurna), Dr Vinnitta Mosby (James Cook University; Meriam Nation), Francis Nona (University of Queensland; Badulaig), Associate Professor Linda Payi Ford (Charles Darwin University; Rak Mak Mak Marranunggu), Professor Cara Beal (Griffith University; non-Indigenous), Professor Paul Memmott (University of Queensland; non-Indigenous), Norman Frank Jupurrurla (Anyinginyi Health Aboriginal Corporation; Warumungu), Dr Simon Quilty (Australian National University; non-Indigenous), Melissa Jackson (Griffith University; non-Indigenous), Professor Amanda Lee (University of Queensland; non-Indigenous), Dr Andrew Redmond (University of Queensland; non-Indigenous), Dr Allison Hempenstall (Queensland Health; non-Indigenous) and Clarissa Burgen (Julalikari Housing Aboriginal Corporation; Wannyi).


Bookmark this link to follow the #HealthyCOP27 series.

We acknowledge and thank the Lord Mayor’s Charitable Foundation for funding the #HealthyCOP27 series, and Adjunct Professor Janine Mohamed and the Lowitja Institute for partnering with Croakey Health Media on the project.

 

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