Rhythms of the Land:
Indigenous Knowledge, Science, and Thriving Together in a Changing Climate
October 11 – 13, 2021
Cornell Botanic Gardens and Johnson Museum of Art
Rhythms of the Land: Indigenous Knowledge, Science and Thriving Together in a Changing Climate is the culmination of a major applied research project involving Indigenous and local knowledge-holders. It will take place at Cornell University’s Botanic Gardens and the Johnson Museum of Art, and will involve Cornell faculty and students from across the campus and outside scholars, from a range of disciplines such as environmental humanities, climate science, ecology, ethnography, human ecology, fine arts, and mathematical modeling. Indigenous community members from the Pamir Mountains of Afghanistan, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan, the United States (Arctic, Plains, and Northeast), and other locations, will present their experience in developing, implementing, evaluating, and adapting ecological knowledge.
The conference takes as a point of departure the stark fact that those Indigenous and rural societies who have contributed least to climate change are the ones facing its harshest consequences. Indigenous small-scale farmers, on whom 70 to 80 per cent of global food systems depend, face an ever-shifting “new normal” climate, increasing inconsistency in temperature and precipitation, and higher frequency of extreme weather events, disrupting food systems and generating debilitating anxiety. Envisioning possible futures and developing a plan of action are needed urgently, based on interdisciplinary
collaboration between the sciences and the humanities.
Ecological calendars, developed through synergy between Indigenous ecological knowledge and climate science, benefit local communities through measuring and giving meaning to time based on close observation of one’s habitat, and integration of seasonal signs—such as the first snowfall or the arrival of a migratory bird species—with cultural systems. Accumulated Indigenous knowledge of the relative timing of celestial, meteorological, and ecological phenomena is rich and historically deep, but has suffered centuries of disruption and destruction as a result of colonialism, conflict, loss of land, and now, climate change on a planetary scale.
The humanities represent the thread with the necessary deep cultural sensitivity and intellectual breadth to weave together this transdisciplinary collaboration—the key role to be played by the associated exhibitions, which will be integrated into the conference, as well as Cornell classes and community outreach activities. Seasonal rounds and ecological calendars, climate data, and remote- sensed information are not only practical research products but, like the works of art on display at the Johnson Museum, will communicate transdisciplinary ideas in an aesthetically sensitive and effective manner.
Participants and sponsors in the Rhythms of the Land conference will include the American Geophysical Union, American Indian & Indigenous Studies Program and faculty partners and thought leaders from the South Asia Program, the Department of Natural Resources and the Environment, Cornell Botanical Gardens, the Atkinson Center for Sustainability, the Mario Einaudi Center for International Studies, the Department of Performing and Media Arts, Judith Reppy Institute for Peace and Conflict Studies, South Asia Center, Moynihan Institute of Global Affairs, Syracuse University, and the American University of Central Asia.
Recordings from the conference will be uploaded to this page as they become available.