It’s been 12 years since my last visit to the Cook Islands and it is as nice as ever to be back.
My childhood is filled with wonderful memories of many family trips to the Cook Islands where the people were always friendly and the scenery spectacular.
These fond memories and my dad’s previous work here on tropical cyclones made it easy to jump at the opportunity to return for three months as part of my Master’s studies at the University of Waterloo in Ontario, Canada.
Historically, Pacific Islanders are well known for their remarkable resilience in the face of environmental change and their long and deep-rooted understanding of their environments. Today however, increasing pressures from Western views and ways of doing things have caused many to become concerned over the loss of local and traditional knowledge and practices, particularly in the face of our rapidly changing climate.
Local, traditional, and indigenous knowledge was officially recognised as a key factor in adapting to environmental and other forms of change by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change as far back as 2007.
This knowledge was recognised as a component of the resilience to disasters on the part of individuals and societies, by the United Nations Office for Disaster Risk Reduction in 2015. Despite this, revitalising such knowledge and determining the role it should play in fostering resilience to climate risks has been much more difficult.
During my time in the Cook Islands, it is my hope to learn how Cook Islanders have traditionally coped with environmental changes and climate risks and how they are coping today to better understand the role that local and traditional knowledge can play in addressing pressing environmental issues such as our changing climate.
An important part of my learning experience has been to assist Te Ipukarea Society in their aims to address key areas of biodiversity, waste management, ecologically sustainable development, youth, and climate change.
While my focus in the Cook Islands is on climate change, understanding the many significant environmental issues faced by Cook Islanders today and the projects being done to address these issues is equally as important.
I’m extremely grateful to have the opportunity to learn from Te Ipukarea Society and assist them in any way I can. Environmental issues in the Cook Islands highlight the ongoing challenge of balancing the importance of traditional knowledge and practices and using new opportunities and ways of doing things.
While I am only in the early stages of learning, I have found the variability in knowledge on traditional practices much larger than I had anticipated. I am now on Mitiaro learning about how they have coped with environmental change and climate risks in the past and what they are doing today and I am excited to see how it compares to Rarotonga.
It is my firm belief that Cook Islanders’ best chance of dealing with future environmental changes and risks associated with our changing climate are most effectively addressed by combining local and traditional ways of doing things with modern scientific methods.
After all, many traditional ways of coping with environmental changes and climate risks have a scientific basis, even if that basis is not apparent to us.
As we have all learned in our respective cultures, our grandparents and older family members are sources of wisdom!