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By Raj Pandya
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  • American Indian and Indigenous Studies Program
  • Natural Resources and the Environment
  • Climate Change
  • Environment
For millennia, Indigenous communities have timed their cultural, agricultural, and spiritual practices around Earth’s regular cycles — wet and dry, hot and cold, lush and barren seasons reliably indicated by seasonal changes in their environments. What happens when climate change upends these natural cycles, which are also called “ecological calendars”?

Ecologists, archaeologists, anthropologists, social scientists, artists and Indigenous community members (and some who are a combination of these) have collaborated on a series of research papers outlining insights, challenges and solutions from the perspective of Indigenous communities around the world as they confront dramatic changes to their ecological calendars.

The collection of 12 papers, titled “Rhythms of the Earth,” is available with open access in AGU’s journal GeoHealth, which publishes research investigating the intersection of human and planetary health for a sustainable future.

“Rhythms of the Earth arrives at a critical time in the climate crisis, a moment in which our collective work can be a source of hope for intellectual pluralism and for climate change adaptation,” said the special collection’s editor, Professor Karim-Aly Kassam, International Professor of Environmental & Indigenous Studies at Cornell University. “This is truly a transdisciplinary collaboration driven by Indigenous knowledge and supported by science.”

This special collection highlights ecological calendars from dozens of communities from the Arctic north to the searing Sahara — both how they have changed and how the communities have successfully adapted to those changes.

In North America, the peoples of Standing Rock Nation have had their fruit and fungi harvesting schedules changed by increasingly short frost seasons. The Gitga’at people from Northwest North America traditionally sun-dry edible seaweed in May, starting in the afternoon so that the process finishes by sundown. Now, northwestern Mays are too rainy to sun-dry traditional seafood. The Gitga’at face similar issues with other traditional seafoods that are dried, such as Pacific salmon and herring, which are also declining in number. Farther north, the Teetł’it Gwich’in people have adapted their fishing strategies to accommodate later river freeze dates and thinner ice.

On the other side of the world, in Tajikistan, Bartangi communities’ traditional hunting and pastoral calendars were disrupted by Soviet colonization, resulting in a partial knowledge loss. Today, these peoples are updating their traditional ecological calendars in accordance with the changing climate so they can best guide decisions impacting food security.

For the Tuareg people in the Algerian Sahara, extreme weather events in the region that have increased in frequency and severity due to climate change are transforming their way of life. For example, drought has compelled some of these nomadic pastoralists into more sedentary lifestyles reliant on agriculture.

The collection also includes communities in South America, other communities from North America, and historical practices from Italy, including the 3,000-year history of olive tree cultivation. Additionally, two papers explore the role art and education can play in place-based ecological knowledge.

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This article was originally published by AGU (www.agu.org, a global community supporting more than half a million advocates and professionals in Earth and space sciences. Through broad and inclusive partnerships, AGU aims to advance discovery and solution science that accelerate knowledge and create solutions that are ethical, unbiased and respectful of communities and their values. Our programs include serving as a scholarly publisher, convening virtual and in-person events and providing career support. We live our values in everything we do, such as our net zero energy renovated building in Washington, D.C. and our Ethics and Equity Center, which fosters a diverse and inclusive geoscience community to ensure responsible conduct.

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