Epistemic climate justice: An Analysis of Peoples Knowledges in Pan-Amazonian Climate Politics

Authors: Sylvia Cifuentes*, University of California
Topics: Indigenous Peoples, Global Change, Cultural and Political Ecology
Keywords: Climate justice, indigenous peoples, Amazon, epistemology, knowledge, ontology
Session Type: Virtual Paper
Presentation File: No File Uploaded


Climate justice analyses identify indigenous peoples as vulnerable to climatic changes. However, scholars and activists have yet to adequately recognize transborder indigenous political strategies for climate change, and how
epistemologies (knowledges) articulate with them. This paper analyzes the epistemic aspects of indigenous climate initiatives of Amazon basin organizations. When examining climate governance, discussions about indigenous knowledges tend to remain abstract rather than to elaborate on their role in practical alternatives (see Jasanoff, 2004). Or, they emphasize communities’ interactions with nature, rather than political uses of knowledge (Forsyth & Walker, 2008). My methodology includes open-ended interviews, volunteering and participant observation with the Coordinator of Indigenous Organizations of the Amazon basin (COICA) and the School of Political Training of the Indigenous Organization of the Colombian Amazon (OPIAC), which incorporate indigenous knowledges in their climate proposals and politics. Drawing upon theorizations of ontological politics, and decolonial approaches to knowledge (e.g. Escobar, 2015) I demonstrate how peoples’ territorial/forest knowledges are inextricably linked to an integral ontology—a conception of territories as indivisible entities that encompass multiple relationships not only between humans and nature, but also between the nonhuman elements of nature. As such, the agency of natural and supranatural beings influences knowledge creation; knowledges are at the basis of political strategies for territorial defense—including climate initiatives—and different actors—e.g. elders, leaders, cultivators—hold different types of expertise. These findings expand discussions about environmental knowledge, politics, and expertise. They further illuminate on the role of indigenous ways of knowing in visualizing climate transformations.

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