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  Tradition can curb climate change: meeting
Indigenous peoples from around the world have a message for a warming planet: native traditions can be a potent weapon against climate change.

At a summit being held this week in Anchorage, Alaska, some 400 indigenous people from 80 nations are gathering to hone this message in the hope that it can be a key part of international climate negotiations.

"We don't want to be seen just as the powerless victims of climate change," says Patricia Cochran, an Inupiat native of Nome, Alaska, who is chairing the Indigenous Peoples' Global Summit on Climate Change.

"Our conference is really stirred by our wanting to become leaders ... on climate change because we have the ability to bring information from our communities to the rest of the world," says Cochran.

Indigenous traditions are hardly static, she says, noting that native people have always adapted to their changing and often harsh environments.

For instance, Cochran says, Inuit people in Alaska are reverting to traditional dogsleds instead of modern snow machines as the icy region warms.

"People go out on their snow machines, fall through the ice and are never seen again," she says. "But our sled dogs will tell you when the ice is not safe ... and they're a lot easier to feed than (to pay) the gas prices that we have, US$10 a gallon (A$5.30 per litre) in many of our villages."

The summit is taking place about 800 kilometres from the Alaskan village of Newtok, where intensifying river flow and melting permafrost are forcing 320 residents to resettle on a higher site some 15 kilometres away in a new consequence of climate change, known as climigration.

Newtok is the first official Arctic casualty of climate change. A US Army Corps of Engineers study indicates 26 other Alaskan villages are in immediate danger, with an additional 60 considered under threat in the next decade, Cochran says.

Climigration is also threatening the Carteret Islands in the South Pacific, where rising seas are forcing 3000 islanders to relocate to Papua-New Guinea, says Sam Johnson of United Nations University, a summit co-sponsor.
Using fire

While indigenous people are expected to feel the impact of climate change first and hardest, and have contributed the least to it, they have traditional knowledge that helps them cope with the change, says Johnston.

In Western Arnhem Land in Australia's Northern Territory, Aboriginal people have used traditional fire control practices - setting small fires throughout the year rather than letting huge stocks of fuel for bush fires build up - reducing greenhouse gas emissions as a result.

This has enabled them to sell US$17 million (A$24 million) worth of carbon credits to industry, says Johnston.

In Africa, Baka Pygmies of Cameroon and Bambendzele of Congo have developed new fishing and hunting techniques to adapt to decreased rainfall and more forest fires.

Because Indigenous people are often on the front lines of climate change, they are expected to report to the summit on changes affecting them now.

For example, Dayak villagers in Borneo see climate change in observations of bird species, rising water levels and the loss of plants traditionally used for medicine.

In the Andes, temperature changes have hit farming and health hard, with more respiratory illnesses and a shortened growing season.

Summit participants plan to craft a declaration that will call for world governments to include indigenous people - as many as 350 million people, or about 6% of the world's population - in any new international climate pact.

Climate negotiators are gathering in Copenhagen in December to forge a new agreement to succeed the carbon-capping Kyoto Protocol.
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