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The Environment in the Age of the Internet

Heike Graf

4. Natural Ecology Meets Media Ecology: Indigenous Climate Change Activists’ Views on Nature and Media

Anna Roosvall et Matthew Tegelberg

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1This chapter examines how views on natural ecology connect to specific media ecologies. It focuses particularly on activists in organisations working to highlight indigenous perspectives on climate change and the threat climate change poses to many indigenous communities. Of principal concern is how these activists discuss Traditional Ecological Knowledge (TEK) in relation to mainstream/alternative, national/local and non-indigenous/indigenous news media, in analogue as well as digital forms, and the roles indigenous perspectives play in media ecologies where the activists live.

2Ecology refers to the relationship between a group of living things and their environment (Merriam-Webster online). The term is most commonly used in relation to the natural and biological sphere, as in the discussion of climate change as a threat to natural ecosystems. Concurrently, there is a tradition in media research that views media as environments in a similar way (Scolari 2013). Much like the diverse flora and fauna that make up any natural ecosystem, media ecologies consist of different forms of media (mainstream, alternative, national, local, online, and offline) and media actors (producers, consumers, intermediaries, etc.). Each possesses varying degrees of power and influence within a particular media ecosystem. The case studied in this chapter reveals how natural and media ecosystems are (dis)connected in mediated communication on climate change.

  • 1 Victoria Tauli-Corpuz is now United Nations Special Rapporteur on the rights of indigenous peoples. (...)

3Climate change is a global issue with particular impacts for indigenous peoples, especially those who rely on natural ecosystems as a primary means of subsistence (see Roosvall and Tegelberg 2015). Indigenous peoples often engage closely with land and waters, practicing livelihoods that depend on nature. In Tebtebba’s (Indigenous Peoples’ International Centre for Policy Research and Education) Guide on Climate Change and Indigenous Peoples, Victoria Tauli-Corpuz1 writes:

Our ancestors and we, the present generations, have coped and adapted to climate change for thousands of years. However, the magnitude and nature of present-day climate change seriously challenges our resilience and our capacities to adapt. We contributed the least to climate change because of our sustainable traditional livelihoods and lifestyles and yet we are the ones who are heavily impacted by it (2009, vii).

4The Tebtebba report details climate change impacts on diverging ecosystems and the indigenous groups who live in these areas: the ‘tropical and sub-tropical ecosystems’, ‘semi-arid and arid lands’ (drylands), ‘high altitude and high montane ecosystems’, ‘coastal and marine ecosystem’ (small-island states and low-lying areas), and the ‘arctic ecosystem’. UN reports have likewise discussed the particular threat climate change poses in certain areas where indigenous groups live. Sámi reindeer husbandry, for instance, is a traditional form of sustenance that is threatened by climate change in relation to the Arctic ecosystem in Sápmi (Sámi land: northern Finland, Norway, Russia, and Sweden) (Anaya 2011). Our previous research found that indigenous peoples and their perspectives on these critical issues were underrepresented in media coverage of climate change (Roosvall and Tegelberg 2012, 2013, 2015). These findings contribute to a wider literature on the misrepresentation and marginalisation of indigenous voices in mainstream public discourses in many countries (Avison and Meadows 2000; Knudsen 2006; Anderson and Robertson 2011; Pietikäinen 2003, 2008). This in turn can be related to the media ecologies that indigenous peoples feel they must relate to as they try to make their voices heard on these issues (Roosvall and Tegelberg 2015).

5Three aspects of these media ecologies are particularly relevant to this chapter: how mainstream and alternative media work separately and relate to each other; how national and local media work separately and relate to each other; and finally how non-indigenous and indigenous media work separately and relate to each other, which can take place in analogue as well as digital outlets. Mainstream media and alternative media work in different ways, for instance, by citing different sources (Atton 2002; Harcup 2003). This is important for groups, like indigenous peoples, that fall outside of mainstream media sourcing practices (Pietikäinen 2003; Roosvall and Tegelberg 2013, 2015). While sourcing differences can also characterise local media coverage, added distinctions can be made between local and national media (for more on alternative vs. mainstream local media, see Harcup 2003). For instance, there has been a tendency for local journalists to spend less time outside the newsroom, diminishing their encounters with local people more than journalists working for national media (Witschge and Nygren 2009). Another difference is that national media are produced far away from indigenous sites affected by climate change, whereas certain local and regional media are produced closer to these sites. Furthermore, non-indigenous and indigenous media tend to differ in that indigenous media strengthen indigenous identity (Russell 2005; Pietikäinen 2008; Hafsteinsson and Bredin 2010) while non-indigenous media tend to marginalise indigenous peoples (Pietikäinen 2003; Anderson and Robertson 2011).

6The categories mentioned frequently overlap so that mainstream media, national media, and non-indigenous media can be used in conjunction to characterise the same media outlets. However, some nations have national indigenous media (e.g., Sweden, Canada). Additional overlap and demarcations can be observed between alternative, local, and indigenous media. While such distinctions and intersections are relevant to this study, we do not intend to map the media systems discussed here. Instead we focus on indigenous activists’ general views on media ecology as well as those particular to the countries and/or regions they inhabit. In the interviews (conducted in 2011) we did not make an explicit distinction between analogue and digital or legacy and social media, but focused on mainstream versus alternative media more generally. Distinctions between analogue and digital as well as legacy and social media will come up in this study to the extent that the interviewees themselves bring it up. We take as a point of departure the distinctions mainstream/alternative, and also national/local and indigenous/non-indigenous media, following results from a previous study (Roosvall and Tegelberg 2015) where the same interviews we analyse here pointed to the relevance of these categories. In the current chapter, we elaborate on and explore these findings further within a media ecology framework, with a focus on how natural ecology is represented by the activists and by the media in this context. We emphasise two key themes: how these activists assess media representations of indigenous issues, indigenous knowledge, and TEK; and what strategies the activists employ to overcome the communication challenges these media ecologies pose for them.

7Hence the aim of this chapter is to explore how representations of views on natural ecology are related to the constitution of media ecologies. We are particularly interested in indigenous activists’ perspectives on these issues in their work to spread knowledge about, and influence public opinion on, the effects of climate change on indigenous lands and the planet at large. In order to address these concerns we consider the following questions:

  • How do indigenous actors facing critical ecological problems caused by climate change relate to and assess the media’s role in generating awareness of these challenges?

  • How are views on natural ecology, and particularly TEK, connected to media ecology, specifically concerning different parts of media ecosystems?

  • What types of approaches to climate challenges do interviewees advocate for and how do they envision the media’s role in addressing these problems?

8The chapter begins by distinguishing between TEK and Western scientific approaches to climate change. It then presents and discusses media ecology theories. This theoretical discussion provides a framework for the analysis of interviews conducted with indigenous activists at the 2011 UN Climate Summit in Durban, South Africa. The activists call for changes to a news media ecosystem that currently marginalises their voices, in particular their critical perspectives on climate change and knowledge of its impact on natural ecosystems. The interviewees stress the importance of further integration of TEK perspectives into the existing news media ecosystem. We conclude that these changes are urgently needed in order to establish a more democratic and effective means of addressing climate change and avoiding fatal changes to our planetary ecosystems.

Defining Traditional Ecological Knowledge

9Traditional Ecological Knowledge is one of the phrases used to identify the environmental knowledge and cultural subsistence practices of indigenous peoples (Eriksen and Adams 2010). Indigenous particularity is sometimes emphasised in the terminology itself, in phrases like ‘indigenous environmental knowledge’ (ibid.). We have chosen to use the term Traditional Ecological Knowledge (TEK) since it recognises the existence of this type of knowledge among indigenous peoples, while not exclusively limiting it to these groups. Definitions of TEK, however, tend to differ according to the worldviews of those who define it (McGregor 2002). In Western thought, TEK is frequently conceptualised as knowledge that exists in a domain separate from the people who possess it. For indigenous peoples, TEK may instead encompass nature, culture, and spirituality: ‘Focus is on relationships between knowledge, people, and all of Creation (the “natural” world as well as the spiritual)’ (McGregor 2002, 8). This relational approach often influences how indigenous peoples relate to and make use of natural resources. Gunvor Guttorm (2011, 69–70) highlights, in a similar way, how the TEK of indigenous Sámi in Sweden is differentiated from other local knowledge in the same region. The main difference being that the indigenous variant includes a spiritual take on the idea that humans are part of nature. Nature, culture, and spirituality intersect in a similar way in, for instance, indigenous Andean worldviews (Apffel-Marglin 1998).

10Clarkson, Morrissette, and Regallet (1992) characterise the main divergence in conceptions of ecological knowledge as sacred (indigenous) and secular (Western) perspectives (13). The dominant secular perspective views ecosystems as passive entities that consist of resources that can be endlessly exploited to satisfy human needs (1992, 12). Human thoughts, emotions, and actions are compartmentalised, deemed to exist on a plane separate from the earth’s natural ecosystems. This contrasts with a sacred perspective, which aims to balance the needs of the community with the needs of the individual and the earth. In this relational view, humans do not control natural ecosystems but rather live in a sustainable, harmonious relationship with them (1992, 10). David Suzuki (1997) refers to this as a sacred balance between humans and the natural world that has existed since time immemorial. He stresses that humans depend upon natural ecologies for survival, that they are central to our essence, and that it is only very recently, in the long span of human life, that we began to think otherwise (15–16). This shift, not only in how humans think but also in how we impact our environment, concurs with what is beginning to be recognised as a new geological epoch: the Anthropocene, in which human activities have a significant global impact on the world’s ecosystems (Boykoff and Yulsman 2013, 359), and in the end risk destroying them. Urry (2011) notes that in Western Europe and North America the late 19th century, when nature was irreversibly transformed (which signifies the beginning of this transcendence into the Anthropocene), was also the period when this unfortunate epistemological division between nature and society reached its climax. The same period was also marked by a huge increase in dissemination and visualisation in the media sector, as well as the peak of imperialism with its condescending view of ‘other’ people (Roosvall, 2016).

11In a counter-hegemonic move, researchers, policy makers, and activists alike have recently begun to acknowledge that indigenous knowledge can play an important role in understanding and helping to mitigate climate change (Hulme 2009, 81–82; Huntington 2013; Tipa 2009; Tauli-Corpuz et al. 2009). Deborah McGregor observes several cases where TEK has already started to play a role in sustainable development initiatives (McGregor 2002, 2004). However, she notes that key differences in how indigenous and non-indigenous peoples relate to TEK have posed challenges for conservation initiatives that draw insights from both worldviews (see also Tipa 2009). Indigenous peoples with their long tradition of adapting to climate change could lead the way in adaptation initiatives (Tauli-Corpuz et al. 2009), if these challenges are resolved.

Defining Media Ecology

12Media ecology and ‘ecology of communication’ are both concepts used to refer to media and communication as an environment. ‘Ecology of communication’ details how information and communication technologies operate and are intertwined with activity (Altheide 1994). Media ecology refers more particularly to the study of media as environments. Both conceptualisations resonate with the general definition of ecology as the relationship between a group of living things and their environment (see Introduction). In this chapter we use the term media ecology in order to underline our interest in studying representations of Traditional Ecological Knowledge in mediated communication, both in terms of its outcomes and its conditions.

13Media ecologists study interactions between humans and mediated communication in a range of different historical and cultural contexts (McLuhan 1964; Nystrom 1973; Postman 1985). According to Neil Postman, the words ‘media’ and ‘ecology’ are combined in order to:

[…] make people more conscious of the fact that human beings live in two different kinds of environments. One is the natural environment and consists of things like air, trees, rivers, and caterpillars. The other is the media environment, which consists of language, numbers, images, holograms, and all of the other symbols, techniques, and machinery that make us what we are (Postman 2000, 11)

14Like natural environments, the ways in which humans interface with media have profound effects on our thoughts, feelings, and actions (ibid.) in what Mark Deuze (2012) calls ‘media life’. Consequently, media ecologists study these influences by focusing on the structure, content, and impact of a media environment, rather than by isolating one of these factors while neglecting others (Logan 2007, 21). This ecological approach to studying media resonates with TEK’s holistic conception of the relation between knowledge and life. We explore this resemblance here by discussing indigenous activists’ views on the media ecologies that affect their lives and consider how this relates to their views on natural ecology.

15Building on this theoretical foundation, Robert Logan (2007) calls for studies that bridge biological nature and media environments. He does this in order to establish that media function as ‘living organisms’. This extends the scope of media ecology beyond the study of interactions between media to encompassing biological nature (2007, 21). In line with TEK, Logan contends that it is not adequate to study biology and culture separately since ‘[…] human evolution is a combination of biological and cultural evolution’ (2007, 21). Just as natural ecosystems must be studied relationally as ‘emergent phenomena’, so too must media ecologists turn their attention toward biology and the nonlinear dynamics that influence media systems. Here the key point is that one cannot possibly isolate certain elements of media or natural ecosystems and study them independently.

16Christine Tracy uses these theoretical insights to explain why the prevailing ‘ecology of news’ consistently fails to challenge the existing beliefs of media consumers and producers (2012, 134–135). This occurs in spite of the sophistication of contemporary information and communication technology. It has become increasingly challenging to process the tremendous volume of news and information circulated by news media. Tracy explains that as ‘[…] the amount of information provided increases, its significance and value decreases’ (2012, 136). The consequence is ‘perceptual bias’, a symptom of news overload that causes audiences to only process information that reinforces what they already know. This, as we shall see, poses significant challenges for those concerned with raising awareness of alternative perspectives on environmental issues.

17The ‘perceptual bias’ Tracy identifies as a limitation of the prevailing news ecology resonates with the challenges indigenous activists face in trying to get their message across in mainstream media (Roosvall and Tegelberg 2015). In other words, it may be because TEK represents a different worldview that it seldom occupies a central position in the news ecology. Media produced by indigenous activists have however been concluded to be capable of countering prevailing myths and assumptions (Avison and Meadows 2000; Alia 2001; Russell 2005; Pietikäinen 2008; Hafsteinsson and Bredin 2010). A primary aim of indigenous produced media is to resonate more closely with the identities and lived experiences of indigenous peoples. In this chapter, we are not interested in continuing to lament the fact that indigenous peoples are ignored by mainstream media. Instead our focus is on calls made and steps taken by indigenous actors to reform coverage of climate change in the news media ecosystem.

Method and Material

  • 2 The same interviews are referred to in an article on media geographies of climate justice (Roosvall (...)

18This study focuses on interviews conducted with indigenous activists at COP17 in Durban, South Africa in December 2011.2 During the summit we conducted six interviews with activists from indigenous organisations representing natural ecosystems from across the globe. One interview included two interviewees. The interviewees were:

  • Curtis Konek and Jordan Konek of the Inuit Youth Delegation, Arviat, Nunavut, Canada;

  • Vibeke Larsen, a Sámi politician from Norway;

  • Raymond de Chavez of Tebtebba, an umbrella organisation representing a network of indigenous groups;

  • Tito Puanchir, President of the Confederation of Indigenous Nationalities of the Ecuadorian Amazon (CONFENIAE);

  • Tiina Kurvits of Many Strong Voices, an advocacy organisation that promotes security and sustainability in coastal communities in the Arctic and in small island developing states;

  • François Paulette, former Chief of Smith’s Landing First Nation, Northwest Territories, Canada

19Some of these organisations are associated with a particular ecosystem: the Inuit Youth Delegation with the Arctic ecosystem and CONFENIAE with ‘tropical and sub-tropical ecosystems’. Others have a mandate that encompasses several ecosystems: Many Strong Voices covers the Arctic as well as ‘coastal and marine ecosystems’ and Tebtebba speaks to the range of different ecosystems inhabited by the indigenous groups this organisation represents. Sámi and First Nations representatives, Vibeke Larsen and François Paulette, account for large national territories with several ecosystems. In Vibeke Larsen’s case, the Arctic is significant because of the Sámi’s representation on the Arctic council. Climate changecontinues to have severe impacts across the northern regions of the Nordic countries and parts of Western Russia, which together constitute the traditional Sámi territories (Sápmi). Climate and ecosystems are mixed in Norway. Part of Norway is situated within an Arctic (tundra) climate, part in a subarctic climate and a boreal ecosystem, etc. Similarly, François Paulette’s community lies in Canada’s vast northern boreal forest ecosystem, one of the world’s largest carbon basins.

20The interviews took place either outside the official summit halls in an NGO tent or at the main entrance where some of the activists were demonstrating. We posed four basic questions about climate change, media reporting, and indigenous peoples:

  • What do you think about media coverage of indigenous peoples and climate change?

  • Is there a difference between mainstream media and alternative media reporting on indigenous peoples and climate change?

  • Do you have an opinion on how media coverage could be improved?

  • Do you have advice for media researchers on how to approach these issues in future research?

21We focus here on the first three questions (for elaboration on question 4, please see Roosvall and Tegelberg 2015), taking Alan Bryman’s (1996, 46) position that open-ended interviews help to facilitate analysis of social matters from the perspectives of the actors involved. In accordance with this emphasis on the perspectives of interviewees, we use extensive quotes from our open-ended interviews to ensure that the voices of our respondents are heard.

  • 3 In Berglez’s (2008) and van Dijk’s (1988) accounts, thematic analysis is merely one part of critica (...)

22Our interview analysis draws on critical discourse analysis in order to describe structures of texts (in this case transcribed talk) and relate them to social, political, and cultural contexts (see van Dijk 2000). We focus on what can be termed key themes or topics (Berglez 2008; van Dijk 1988, 2000).3 These are distinguished with the help of our theoretical approach and categorised accordingly into two groups of statements: one relating to natural ecology and the other relating to media ecology. The themes are subsequently discussed with attention to power relations. In particular, power relations concerning diverging views on ecology (for instance TEK vs. Western knowledge) and power relations between indigenous people and the media. In distinguishing themes, Olausson (2009, 424) asks ‘which themes and topics — e.g., statements, discussions, questions, arguments — are granted prominence (in a hierarchical order)’ (see also Berglez 2008; van Dijk 1988). We apply this approach to the interviewees’ responses to our questions, and focus on how themes and topics (statements, discussions, questions, arguments) are granted prominence, within the frames of the theoretically determined themes, media ecology vs. natural ecology, and how subthemes are related to these frames.

23The discussion of results follows the thematic methodological approach and is thereby divided into two main parts. The first focuses on statements concerning the natural ecosystems threatened by climate change and steps taken by indigenous peoples to defend these threatened territories. The second part concerns statements regarding the news media ecology and its limitations.

  • 4 Our previous research (Roosvall and Tegelberg 2015) elaborates on the experience of taking part in (...)

24The interview analysis is combined with analysis of materials collected through basic participant observation (Iorio 2011) at the summit. In this chapter we will evoke those parts of our participatory observation that included collection of material and documentation of the communicative environment of the interviewees, mainly focusing on their booths in the NGO tent.4 Photographs can be used as part of visual methodology, for instance in the form of photo documentation (Rose 2011). We have used a basic form of this here, documenting how the activists themselves communicate through material displayed in their booths as well as how they present themselves in official performances. We use some of this material to contextualise and add to the interview material.


Talking about Traditional Ecological Knowledge

25In interviews with indigenous activists from areas with diverging natural ecologies, we observed a pattern of recognising a balance, sometimes framed as a sacred balance, with the natural environment that has endured for generations. Each interviewee alludes to the importance of maintaining a holistic relationship with a particular natural ecosystem; that is, they allude to central features of Traditional Ecological Knowledge.

  • 5 The interview with Puanchir was originally conducted in Spanish and later translated into English b (...)

26Without naming it explicitly, Tito Puanchir (CONFENIAE) explains how TEK informs relations between Amazonian indigenous peoples and the natural world.5 Puanchir says:

[…] we live in the Amazon jungle and we have territories where there is lots of biodiversity with natural resources like water and air. We have an intimate relation with nature, with all living things. This is the reason why we care for the environment, why we give back with benevolence instead of destroying it, which we do not think is a good approach. How one manages the environment depends on how one understands it.

27There is no separation between nature, culture, and spirituality in this Amazonian worldview. Local decisions about how to use the land stem from this holistic understanding. Puanchir proceeds to elaborate on the ways in which this intimate relationship with the natural world informs community decisions regarding the management and conservation of resources:

I believe our ancestors foresaw what was going to happen. They performed a ritual in front of the waterfall; a place where they went to find strength, to better understand the world, what is happening and what will come to pass in the future. They used that knowledge, as well, to manage existing resources […] for us, the waterfall is sacred […] our god rests in that place and protects the jungle. If we intervene massively, if we chop down the trees and contaminate the water, all of these things and all these beings will disappear […] we will be left with nothing.

28In this worldview, resource management processes are informed by consultation with the natural world itself. Rupturing this sacred balance between humans and the local ecology places the health and spiritual well-being of the Amazonian community at risk.

29The essence of Puanchir’s statements corresponds to what Guttorm (2011) underlines as the feature that distinguishes Sámi views on TEK from other local perspectives; namely that it includes a spiritual dimension. This view is reminiscent of the Andean worldview detailed by Frederique Apffel-Marglin (1998). Indigenous approaches to human- nature relationships thus seem to transcend ecosystems, as the Sámi mainly connect to the Arctic, Puanchir to the tropical/subtropical ecology, and Andean views to high altitude and high montane ecosystems.

30When asked how to raise better awareness of the climate challenges Amazonian indigenous peoples must confront, Puanchir places emphasis on intergenerational education that integrates TEK:

We are also working on a bilingual, intercultural Amazonian educational curriculum which we want to transform into a formal education system to help children learn how to protect and care for the jungle. This is for children from birth and for new parents who must encourage children to know and develop a relationship with nature from birth through their academic formation.

31Taken together these statements attest to the importance of TEK for past, present, and future generations. The past is evoked through a focus on ancestors and ancient spiritual rituals; the present through statements on deforestation and contemporary strategies to stop such practices; and, the future, in Puanchir’s emphasis on planning new curricula that help children and new parents become conscious of the importance of preserving a sacred balance with nature.

Fig. 4.1. Inuit Youth Delegation Booth in the NGO tent

Fig. 4.1. Inuit Youth Delegation Booth in the NGO tent

32This bridging of past, present, and future was mirrored at the Inuit Youth Delegation’s booth in the NGO tent (Figure 4.1). A storyboard containing a series of picture panels draws attention to ongoing changes in the relations between Inuit and the Arctic ecosystem. The first panel, labelled ‘past’, depicts community members practicing TEK. Pictures associated with the past feature two hunters cleaning a caribou, a dog team traveling across the frozen Arctic tundra, and other images depicting traditional foods. Pictures of the present depict change as well as continuity with the past. Change is represented by a picture of young people crowded around a computer and another of a supermarket aisle lined with boxes of Kraft dinner. The adjacent images show continuity with the past, connecting present and past in accordance with TEK: we see a young man at work cleaning a caribou, and an elder showcasing her handicrafts. Pictures from past and present stand in sharp contrast to the empty panels under the label ‘future’. The blank panels attest to the uncertainty that surrounds TEK’s future role in the Arctic ecosystem due to the impacts of climate change. Rapid changes in the Arctic ecosystem are eroding the balanced relation between Inuit and their natural surroundings. Risks to the natural ecosystem, in other words, are directly correlated with community health risks.

33Our interview with Curtis Konek of the Inuit Youth Organization underlines the conflict between TEK and Western science and stresses that aspects of TEK are not granted sufficient attention (see also Roosvall and Tegelberg 2015). Vibeke Larsen, a Sámi Representative with the Norwegian Delegation, alludes to a conflict between TEK and Western science in a similar way. Larsen comments on the impact renewable energy projects are having on the traditional reindeer herding territories they encroach upon in northern Norway. She says:

[…] they have to take some reindeer inland to build this [windmills] and you have to build roads into it and all the wires. So you have to take a lot of land. Then they come into conflict with the Sámi reindeer herding and you are in conflict between climate and the traditional way to live. So that’s where the Sámi parliament comes in […] we consult with the Norwegian society, how can we do this without too much influence on the reindeer herding but still have the green energy because it [sic] will benefit, we will benefit in the long term from green energy. So it’s a hard place for the Sámi parliament because we want to be responsible for society, we want to be responsible for our future, and, at the same time, we have to take care of our old culture and the reindeer herding. (See also Roosvall and Tegelberg 2015)

34Here Larsen identifies conflicts that can arise between two different climate-friendly initiatives: the former linked to Western scientific strategies for adaptation and mitigation (a national wind energy project); and the latter rooted in TEK (traditional reindeer herding) (see also Roosvall and Tegelberg 2015). The statement underscores that even development initiatives widely viewed as climate-friendly may create conditions that pose added threats to locally practiced TEK. A holistic view helps underline that all of these ‘side-effects’, and how they in turn may disturb ecosystems, need to be taken into consideration.

35Raymond de Chavez of Tebtebba says:

[…] indigenous peoples have really managed and conserved forests through generations, so when you talk of REDD indigenous peoples should be central to the whole discussion. And so we are [trying] to ensure that indigenous concerns are included in the REDD architecture.

  • 6 See, see also Eide 2012, 87.

36REDD, a UN programme, is short for Reduced Emissions from Deforestation and Forest Degradation. When combined with the new REDD+ initiative, a climate change mitigation solution, this programme includes the issues of deforestation and forest degradation as well as the role of conservation, enhancement of forest carbon stocks and sustainable forest management.6 Raymond de Chavez stresses that indigenous peoples’ TEK perspective on the management and conservation of forests means they should be at the centre of REDD policy discussions. Yet, as de Chavez implies, this knowledge is rarely considered. Similar conflicts have been noted in the Australian context where Aboriginal and conservation interests have been polarised (Adams 2004). Michael Adams (2004) notes, however, that collaborations can bridge these gaps while at the same time bridging gaps between non-indigenous and indigenous peoples more generally.

37François Paulette identifies an economic aspect of ecological conflicts by describing how national economic interests in Canada threaten the boreal ecosystem: ‘[…] they [the Canadian government] are increasing the tar sands output which will destroy more environment […] the river, the people’. Paulette invokes TEK to suggest that Canadians should become more ecologically conscious. He urges Canadians to ‘[…] have more of a conscience, not a political conscience but more of an environmental conscience, more of a spiritual conscience about the land, the earth and us human beings’ (emphasis added). Tina Kurvits of Many Strong Voices echoes the point that the scope of TEK does not have to be limited to indigenous peoples. For example, she explains that ‘[…] in Newfoundland, there are no indigenous people […] but the Newfoundlanders have been there for centuries so local knowledge is really important. If you’ve been there for three, four hundred years you know something more than a government scientist coming in for the first time’. Kurvits points to local knowledge as part of TEK, which corresponds with Guttorm’s (2011) aforementioned approximation of indigenous and local knowledge. The exception being that local knowledge, in Guttorm’s view, does not include a spiritual angle on the holistic human-nature relation.

Indigenous Perspectives on Media Ecologies

38While none of the interviewees make explicit references to media ecology in their comments on media coverage, many stress that what we term the news media ecology should be enhanced to raise greater awareness of ecological issues. Interviewees speak of the limitations of a national news ecology dominated by mainstream media, which reinforces the status quo and rarely makes room for indigenous perspectives or knowledge of climate change. They also comment on the ways in which their own media practices, situated within diverse news ecologies, attempt to create dialogue and generate awareness of these issues.

39When asked about coverage of indigenous perspectives on climate change, Tina Kurvits of Many Strong Voices, the organisation focused on Arctic communities as well as small island states, stresses that: ‘[…] in the mainstream media we’re not seeing an awful lot […] once in a while there might be something but it tends to focus on say the polar bears, as opposed to the impact on the people that would be hunting bears or that are dependent on the wildlife on the land. So overall […] I’m certainly not overwhelmed by it [the coverage]’. When indigenous perspectives are featured in climate stories, Kurvits suggests they fall under two categories. The story is either sensational, and therefore picked up by mainstream media for its dramatic appeal, or the scope of the coverage is limited to local or regional news media.

40Regarding the attention that does occur in some instances Kurvits says: ‘[…] it tends to be when there is a dramatic event, it’s not really about making connections to what climate means to people living in these regions that are immediately affected by it and that are really dependent on their immediate environment’. She adds later that: ‘[…] when you see things being covered [in Canada] it would be more in say the northern papers, or in the papers from the regions’. Kurvits implies here that it is national rather than local or regional coverage that is ideal. This, as we shall soon see, is something several interviewees indicate without making it explicit.

41Kurvits is also critical of the news media’s failure to make the connection between climate change and the livelihoods of the indigenous peoples it affects. She goes on to explain that this shortcoming was the catalyst for ‘Portraits of Resilience’ (http://www.manystrongvoices. org/portraits/), a campaign that has generated some media attention. However, she notes that these events tend to draw more attention from alternative and local media than they do from mainstream outlets. Kurvits’ organisation Many Strong Voices features a celebrity endorsement (from Richard Branson) as a banner that appears above all its webpages. This reinforces points Kurvits makes in the interview about having to stage sensational media events (the example she gives is bringing together iconic indigenous and island state leaders in the same place) in order to get the mainstream media to pay any attention to the issues.

42Alison Anderson (2013) notes that the practice of using celebrities to capture media attention for, in this case, climate change in the Arctic, can be very effective. Yet, at the same time, the intended message can become altered or even disappear. This coincides with our own findings from studies of media reporting on indigenous peoples and climate change (Roosvall and Tegelberg 2012, 2013): indigenous activists seem to get the most attention if they stand out by wearing traditional clothing, but this focus on cultural identity tends, at the same time, to either alter the political messages they try to deliver or make them disappear. The media focus on the clothing is parallel to the sensationalism in this sense. Our basic participant observations showed that many indigenous activists wear traditional clothing (wholly or partly) at public events like demonstrations and press gatherings, as well as when they tend to their booths in the NGO area. As we have mentioned elsewhere (Roosvall and Tegelberg 2015), the Inuit Youth Delegation quickly changed into traditional clothing after arriving late for a press event (due to a traffic jam) wearing jeans and sneakers.

Fig. 4.2. Press event with the Inuit Youth Delegation in the NGO tent

Fig. 4.2. Press event with the Inuit Youth Delegation in the NGO tent

Fig. 4.3. Tito Puanchir of the Confederation of Indigenous Nationalities of the Ecuadorian Amazon being interviewed by Matthew Tegelberg in the NGO tent

Fig. 4.3. Tito Puanchir of the Confederation of Indigenous Nationalities of the Ecuadorian Amazon being interviewed by Matthew Tegelberg in the NGO tent

43The purpose of mentioning the connection between the media’s focus on traditional clothing and the simultaneous downplaying of politics that is often noticeable in articles is not meant to indicate that indigenous peoples should not wear traditional clothing in order to have their political messages respected, but rather to identify what seems like a pattern in media reporting. It is this pattern of media representations, rather than indigenous self-representations, which must be scrutinised.

44Like Kurvits, above, several other activists reiterate the negligence of mainstream national media in reporting indigenous perspectives on climate change. At the same time, the consensus is that it is mainstream and national media attention that these indigenous activists seek. Jordan Konek of the Inuit Youth Delegation discusses the importance of the CBC, the national Canadian broadcaster, and its lack of coverage of indigenous issues/perspectives:

CBC National should be around here because they are [...] known for really getting the idea out. I mean they are pretty much the deal, if they wanna spread something they’ll spread it and the Canadians will find out what’s going on [...] I think that CBC News — The National [the flagship news program] should have been here, or they should be here, filming these kind of things because we are the people that are experiencing the problems and they should spread it.

45Jordan Konek underlines the importance of the mainstream national media. He proceeds to elaborate further, explaining that:

[…] the best way to improve media is to share, share what’s most important. If media, let’s say CBC and CTV [Canada’s largest privately owned TV network] shared […] because this [climate change] is a serious issue [...] that is gonna affect our lives in the future and if they share it together instead of competing against each other I think that would be the best way to improve their media skills, only they’ll do what they like.

46Jordan Konek echoes the concerns raised by Kurvits about the lack of attention mainstream Canadian media pay to the Inuit people affected by climate change. CBC News — The National is a nightly news broadcast that Konek identifies as the primary agenda setter in the Canadian news media ecology. He concludes that national mainstream media, like the CBC and CTV, need to relate to each other in new ways; that is, they need to stop competing and start sharing. Without this collaboration it is unlikely Canadians will be informed of the local challenges Inuit are facing in the Arctic. The statement criticises the established media ecology and calls for a new, differently balanced one.

47After criticising Canada’s mainstream media for failing to generate awareness of Arctic climate change, Jordan and Curtis Konek discuss their own strategies of communicating via social media.

Curtis Konek: We blog when we feel like blogging and we blog when we hear something interesting from an elder [...].
Jordan Konek: A lot of the films that I’ve put together are on the Nanisiniq website (​), where we post [...] the views that we’re getting are pretty good and the blogs we’re gonna be posting a lot more of it. And I’m gonna be putting a blog sometime this week talking about what I think about coming here and to see how I feel about seeing other walks of life cause this is completely different from my culture, so yeah, we’re gonna be sharing lots about Durban.

48They emphasise the importance of ‘sharing knowledge’, explaining how community members have begun using social media platforms (YouTube, Tumblr, Twitter) to document and share indigenous knowledge of climate change.

49François Paulette suggests that efforts to raise awareness of indigenous issues in mainstream media are futile since they represent the interests of corporate stakeholders. He says that the ‘Mainstream media are conservative […] It [sic] supports the views of right-wing leaders, sides with industry […] most of the papers in the world are right wing conservative papers so they reflect the profile of industry and governments rather that the people’. Paulette thus underscores the political leanings of most mainstream media outlets and highlights their connection to corporations and governments. His statements scrutinise the same mainstream media from which most interviewees want attention. He problematises the ecology of the national news media system further as he talks about indigenous media on the national level, when he mentions Aboriginal Peoples Television Network (APTN) as an alternative to dominant mainstream narratives about climate change and its effects on indigenous peoples. The national media ecology does in fact encompass indigenous programming and channels in some countries like Canada (and Sweden, Norway, etc.), but this is seldom taken into consideration when the national media ecology is discussed.

50Larsen echoes Paulette’s critique of mainstream media coverage: ‘The mainstream media in Norway don’t cover indigenous problems anyway. So they cover climate changes but they don’t cover the indigenous aspect in the climate change’. The mainstream media ignore particular experiences of climate change in northern indigenous communities that are marginalised in Norwegian media generally. Larsen stresses that one of the key problems is that large, corporate media do not know anything about indigenous peoples and that they should make more of an effort to get to know indigenous peoples and understand their perspectives. Larsen does not address the issue of alternative media much, aside from noting that there are two main types of Sámi media: Sámi radio and print media. It is interesting that these come up as alternative media, where alternative is likely understood as an alternative to non-indigenous media. Such non-indigenous media is media that indigenous groups must relate to. As our interviews show, indigenous activists try to balance the bias of non-indigenous media by offering other perspectives, either from within or outside these media.

51One way of offering other perspectives is to become the media, much like the strategies the Koneks discuss above. Raymond de Chavez from Tebtebba mentions having a Twitter account and using digital social media (Twitter and Facebook) to get the message out. He also discusses how the organisation uses email and social media platforms to stay in touch. These communication technologies are essential for transnational organisations, like Tebtebba, that do not have the bankroll to bring together widely dispersed group members. While becoming the media is a strategy for many activists, and one that often takes place in the realm of digital social media within the wider media ecology, the importance of legacy media is consistently underlined in parallel with these online and social media practices.

52Tito Puanchir talks further about the importance of raising consciousness among local Amazonian communities by using not only digital, but also local, legacy media to disseminate information:

[…] in the first place information is power […] we have, through the national government, started to work with communities toward implementing Internet and telephones and we want this to eventually cover all the communities of the Amazon. Another strategy is to widen the scope of coverage on indigenous radio, so they can broadcast on what is happening in the communities in their own languages […] [At] the universities […] we want to create virtual classrooms so that information can be known throughout the country. For example in places that are difficult to access, we need to cooperate with the universities but we don’t have the resources to do this on our own.

53Puanchir relates to multiple geographical levels when he talks about the media ecology. The national is important since governments need to be involved, and so are the local communities where radio can be broadcast in local languages. Puanchir thus brings up a crucial feature of the media ecologies: language. This is something that could be added to the divisions we made initially: to mainstream vs. alternative, national vs. local, and non-indigenous vs. indigenous media, and the different ways in which they intersect. Thus we add national language (and ‘global English’ media) vs. local indigenous language media and consider how this distinction intersects with the others. Distinctions are also made by the interviewees between social media and mainstream media, as mentioned in the examples of media strategies applied by de Chavez and the Koneks. When asked about possible differences between mainstream and alternative media, several interviewees associated alternative media with social media (see also Roosvall and Tegelberg 2015). While these media were seen as significant for representing the voices of indigenous peoples, they were not seen as sufficient for bringing the messages to wider audiences.


54This chapter has detailed how natural and media ecosystems are (dis) connected in mediated communication on climate change. Across the interviews, a number of subthemes emerge in statements interviewees make about the ecology of news and how it relates to views on natural ecology, particularly their own views on Traditional Ecological Knowledge. These subthemes can be identified: the crucial role of national mainstream media; the crucial role of indigenous media (these roles are inherently different yet connected to each other); and a perceived conflict between TEK and Western views and practices. The most common subtheme, ‘the crucial role of national mainstream media’, includes the contention that national mainstream media fail to adequately represent indigenous perspectives. This concern is identified, at least implicitly, by each of the indigenous activists we interviewed. Vibeke Larsen implies that the mainstream media are not even aware of what indigenous perspectives encompass. Others, like François Paulette, contend that ignoring these perspectives is politically and economically motivated. Hence media logic in the mainstream realm of the news ecology is strongly connected to power. In the prevailing media ecology, it is necessary to connect to this power if a message is to be widely heard and respected. Consequently, it makes sense that all the actors share the consensus that getting indigenous voices and views into the mainstream media is crucial for raising awareness of the issues they face. Some interviewees, however, point to the need for a re-balancing of current media ecologies — which unlike natural ecologies are constructed ecologies closely connected to distribution of means — as some of the traits of the second subtheme, ‘the crucial role of indigenous media’, reveals.

55Regarding ‘the crucial role of indigenous media’, many interviewees refer to examples of indigenous-produced media designed to respond to a lack of interest in indigenous views in mainstream media. The significance of this subtheme in the interview material can be summed up as follows: firstly, it demonstrates the limitations of mainstream media coverage of climate change, which mostly ignores indigenous perspectives and experiences in addition to content produced by indigenous media. Secondly, it points to an imbalance in prevailing news media ecologies that justifies calls for reform or even a complete restructuring with new boundaries: changes that make room for these neglected perspectives to be articulated more widely. Finally, among interviewees, alternative media seems to mean producing your own content on digital social media platforms; indigenous actors turn to these platforms (examples given include Twitter, YouTube, blogs, and Tumblr) to disseminate their own messages.

56However, most interviewees do not seem confident that the message has a wide enough impact when limited to alternative and social media channels. Hence the questions that remain are: To what extent is the general public exposed to media produced by indigenous actors? Should indigenous peoples be solely responsible for their own media coverage? What adaptations can be made to mainstream media ecologies to help indigenous activists bringing their stories to the public? Or conversely, and more importantly, how can mainstream media adapt to the urgency of climate change by giving a voice to indigenous activists and their perspectives on natural ecologies?

57The third subtheme concerning ‘a perceived conflict between TEK and Western views/practices’ is strongly connected to the first two subthemes. There is an urge to share indigenous perspectives, and especially TEK approaches, with the rest of the world in order to save the planet at the global and the local (their own communities or territories) scale. In order to share these perspectives, mainstream media are still deemed necessary. Similarly, local or national indigenous media are considered the channels where these perspectives can be shared. However, as previously noted, this media is often produced in indigenous languages. This is important per se but, at the same time, limits the scope of this coverage to local audiences (except for the few nation-states where indigenous groups are dominant). Hence the perceived conflict between diverging perspectives on nature and ecology, particularly concerning the human-nature relationship and conservation, is mirrored in a conflict between mainstream national and indigenous local media. Thus, we can conclude that these subthemes create connections between the main media ecology theme and the natural ecology theme, indicating that they are intertwined through the particular disconnection of TEK views on natural ecology from the mainstream national non-indigenous news ecology, whether this is expressed in analogue or digital platforms.

58Mike Hulme (2009) notes that climate change is not only an environmental but also a cultural and political phenomenon. It is reshaping the ways we understand ourselves as human beings and our place in the world, much as the ‘media life’ we live (Deuze 2012) and the media ecologies that surround us help shape our thoughts. In a world threatened by climate change, there is a balance in natural ecologies that must not be disturbed (but has already been disturbed), while there is an imbalance in media ecologies that must be disturbed so that it becomes more inclusive of indigenous voices and traditional ecological knowledge on a level that reaches large audiences. Our results indicate the potential for reshaping dominant perceptions of climate change through reshaping media ecologies bounded by nation-states. To achieve this these ecologies must be more inclusive of indigenous voices and perspectives and less focused on the nation- state level as a naturalised level of understanding climate change. In addition, they must move beyond the nation-state hegemony’s connections to modernity, which downplay holistic views on human- nature relationships. Such developments can, in turn, play a positive role in preserving the natural ecologies that are currently threatened by climate change. By marginalising indigenous perspectives on climate change, journalists have missed an opportunity to gain valuable insights and foster critical dialogue between communities with divergent views on how to respond to climate change. If one thing is certain, despite differences in the national media ecologies and natural ecologies that these indigenous activists relate to, the interviewees each offer similar takes on the complete disconnect between their own views on natural ecology and those represented in prevailing media ecologies.


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1 Victoria Tauli-Corpuz is now United Nations Special Rapporteur on the rights of indigenous peoples. She is an indigenous leader from the Kankanaey Igorot people of the Cordillera Region in the Philippines. She was the chair of the UN Permanent Forum on Indigenous Issues, 2005–2010.

2 The same interviews are referred to in an article on media geographies of climate justice (Roosvall and Tegelberg 2015). The focus here, however, is different. We highlight ecological aspects of media and nature and how these may intersect, rather than focusing on how aspects of justice are intertwined with geographical scales. We chose the umbrella term ‘indigenous activists’ to refer to the interviewees. However, differences within the group make them connect to this term to varying degrees. While she is not of indigenous descent, Tina Kurvits works for an organisation advocating for justice for Arctic communities and small island states, which are mostly constituted by indigenous peoples. Vibeke Larsen, in turn, is a politician with the Sami parliament that works within the Norwegian delegation. All interviewees are united by their advocacy for indigenous rights in relation to climate change.

3 In Berglez’s (2008) and van Dijk’s (1988) accounts, thematic analysis is merely one part of critical discourse analysis. It is generally combined with schematic analysis, micro-analysis of texts, and analysis of the sociocultural context. Because schematic analysis is suited to manufactured texts, particularly media texts, rather than utterances in interviews, it is not considered here (although we do of course pay attention to utterances that are emphasized by interviewees). We connect loosely to the microanalysis of texts by paying attention to power relations. However, the bulk of our emphasis is at the thematic level, where we distinguish how natural and media ecology themes are constructed by interviewees. The sociocultural context is addressed in the contextualization of our results.

4 Our previous research (Roosvall and Tegelberg 2015) elaborates on the experience of taking part in press events organised by these organisations.

5 The interview with Puanchir was originally conducted in Spanish and later translated into English by Matthew Tegelberg.

6 See, see also Eide 2012, 87.

Table des illustrations

Titre Fig. 4.1. Inuit Youth Delegation Booth in the NGO tent
Fichier image/jpeg, 184k
Titre Fig. 4.2. Press event with the Inuit Youth Delegation in the NGO tent
Fichier image/jpeg, 156k
Titre Fig. 4.3. Tito Puanchir of the Confederation of Indigenous Nationalities of the Ecuadorian Amazon being interviewed by Matthew Tegelberg in the NGO tent
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Anna Roosvall (anna.roosvall[at] is Associate Professor of Media Studies (IMS) at Stockholm University. Her research is centred on the nation-globalisation continuum and theories of justice and solidarity in relation to media in four related areas: climate change and indigenous peoples; migration, mobility and the politics of place; world new images; and cultural journalism. She is currently working with Matthew Tegelberg on the book Media and Transnational Climate Justice: Indigenous Activism and Climate Politics, which will be published by Peter Lang

Matthew Tegelberg (mtegel[at] is Assistant Professor of Social Science at York University, Canada. His research on cultural tourism, media representations of indigenous peoples and environmental communication has appeared in Tourist Studies, Triple C: Communication, Capitalism, & Critique, International Communication Gazette, and in several edited collections. His current work places emphasis on the impact new media technologies and practices are having in these areas of study. He is part of the research network MediaClimate.


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