The National American Indian Museum hosts the “Conversations with the Earth: Indigenous Voices on Climate Change” Exhibit.

By Angel Gray

The Conversations with the Earth: Indigenous Voices on Climate Change exhibit at the National American Indian Museum was designed to draw upon the common man’s sense of solidarity with the rest of humanity. Each picture, quote, anecdote, and video was meant to impress the disastrous impact global warming has already had on Indigenous Peoples. The Indigenous People have extensive knowledge of nature from cultural traditions, and suffer the effects of climate change yet their carbon footprint is minuscule.

The Conversations with the Earth (CWE) video project was established to document the Indigenous Peoples of various areas unique perspectives on climate change, and present it to the world. While it’s possible to sit, and watch the fully documented Conversations with the Earth video in the exhibit, there are also various media outlets set up throughout the exhibit to listen or view excerpts of the video documentary.

In this exhibit you can read about how a Dutch electricity company, in 1990, established tree planting projects around the world to offset the amount of fossil fuels they burned when one project in Imbabura, Ecuador devastated a Kichwa community. The trees that had been planted were an exotic species that didn’t prosper in the climate, and therefore did not provide income for the communities, and degraded the local ecosystem.

With the audio stands in the exhibit you can listen to how climate change has jeopardized John Pondrein’s way of life in Pitilu Island of Papau New Guinea.

Or interpret the influence of climate change on various Indigenous Peoples culture through the various artifacts on display in the exhibit. Like the way Cody Elizabeth Harjo of the Panther clan sews a modern picture of a polluted and climatically unstable New York City on a traditional Bandolier Bag.

The exhibit also highlights the fact that these people are, or are in the process of becoming, climate refugees. People forced to leave their home regions due to sudden or long-term changes to their local environment. People like the Gamo people in Doko, Ethiopia, the Maasai in Oltepesi Rift Valley, Kenya, or the Igorot in various communities in the Phillipines. The people from these areas have lost their livelihood to climate change. A lot of the posts in this exhibit are a direct call from the Indigenous Peoples to the developed nations who are in a position to lend assistance and help these people.  

All in all the Conversations with the Earth exhibit is an enlightening experience that appeals to not only our senses, but our moral being as well. If anything the exhibit emphasizes the very real impact climate change is already having on populations.

Documented cases from the exhibit can be accessed on the website. The information provided by Conversations with the Earth was meant to be shared to educate everyone on the effects of climate change.

The National Museum of the American Indian in collaboration with four Native American communities has also developed an educational website that documents how the different communities are responding to environmental challenges in their homelands.

From July 22, 2011 until January 2, 2012 the Conversations with the Earth exhibit will be hosted at the Smithsonian National Museum of the American Indian, in Washington DC.  For more information you can visit conversationsearth.org, and learn when the exhibit will be hosted at a location near you.