A University of Waikato researcher says some of the current colonial representations of climate change in the Pacific are obscuring Pacific voices and failing to recognise the importance of Indigenous knowledge in the fight against the changing climate.
Dr Jessica Pasisi’s thesis, Niue Women’s Perspective and Experiences of Climate Change – a Hiapo Aproach, brings together experiences and perceptions of climate change from 12 Niuean women, drawing attention to the role Indigenous knowledge, language and cultural practice can have in fighting climate change.
She says while Indigenous communities in the Pacific are on the frontline of some of the most severe impacts of climate change, the very same Pacific communities are also often fighting to be heard on the issue, commonly being presented through a colonial lens.
“While Pacific leaders fight to be heard, our people are also fighting to reclaim and draw attention to Indigenous knowledge, language and cultural practice as key areas for strategies of sustainability and resilience,” said Dr Pasisi.
Dr Pasisi said mainstream media focused on headlines such as, “How to save a sinking island nation.” Or, “Australia to help Pacific neighbours adapt to climate change”, but it eroded Pacific people’s agency and failed to recognise the work already underway in the Pacific by many Pacific organisations, as well as ancestral knowledge that had ensured the survival of Pacific people for generations.
It also failed to reflect the island nations’ solidarity in drawing attention to the issue of climate change and fighting for larger emitting nations and corporations to be held accountable for their inaction and indifference.
“Climate change is a massive risk and something facing the Pacific as a whole and you will find in most islands people are calling to have their own voice on the issue, to control the narrative and speak their own truth, but also to be in positions where they influence and lead decision making,” said Dr Pasisi.
Building a platform
Of Niuean descent, Dr Pasisi hopes her research will build a platform to broaden the conversation among academics, researchers and consultants working on climate change in the Pacific and recognise the agency of Pacific people at a grassroots level.
“Research of climate change in the Pacific is still largely conducted by outsiders. It is really important that our stories are told by our people in our own ways, that’s why I argue these Niue women’s experiences and perspectives are vital for how we understand and respond to climate change,” says Dr Pasisi.
The women traverse topics from the impacts of tourism, to migration within and outside the islands and the loss of language and cultural practice that informs the sustainable management of environmental resources.
“These women’s stories are important and powerful because their insight and culturally specific knowledge has value in grappling with the complex changes caused by climate change,” said Dr Pasisi.
She said it was important to recognise people who held knowledge were not always in positions of power.
She plans to convert her research into a book and continue working with Niue communities in Aotearoa and Niue.
“I want to give encouragement that Pacific people’s voices do matter. It’s through these people we can challenge the dominant Eurocentric coverage of climate change and see the realities, possibilities and broader underlying issues that are being compounded in the Pacific by climate change.”