Reimagining Education: Recognising Indigenous Communities’ intrinsic connection with nature

“Education is the key that unlocks the doors of opportunity, enabling indigenous communities to reclaim their heritage and shape their own destiny” – Dr B.R Ambedkar

Emerging trends of a uniformed global education

For decades education has shared an inseparable bond with progress, both walking hand in hand towards self-reliance, enrichment, economic empowerment and more. Globally education has been synonymously used with economic prosperity, personal growth and societal advancement.  It has led us forward, by opening avenues to newer opportunities and getting us together as a collective. Additionally, with the global efforts of equity and inclusion, our perception, requirements and demands from education is expanding.

Moving beyond being a tool for individual or community growth, education is becoming a powerful means of celebrating and preserving our diverse cultural heritage. Education now shoulders the responsibility of safeguarding our identities and traditions, nurturing them into the very essence of knowledge and learning. This long pending journey of intertwining indigenous communities’ culture inclusion, preservation and progress within education is what regenerative transformation of culture-inclusive education curriculum is all about. This regenerative transformation is giving rise to a new paradigm, where education acts as a bridge/link between the future and the past, empowering those voices and cultures which essentially constitute the holistic societal identity at large.

Etymologically “education” traces its origins to the latin term “educare” which means – to bring up or to rear. Refocusing on the original meaning of education to lead or draw out knowledge, skill and personality growth of an individual or a community. Somewhere along the line the meaning of education started to get universalised, albeit maybe even diluted to encompass a broader concept of formal instruction, to acquiring knowledge through just teaching and learning materials.

On this World Indigenous Day, there is a need for taking a step back and recognising the inherent wisdom, insights and practices possessed by indigenous communities and individuals. This requires a nurturing environment for cultivating their wisdom and practices into transferable knowledge. The deeper value of celebration and preservation of diverse cultures has been diminishing over the years, branding education as a stepping stone for emerging global markets and the economics around it.

The Intrinsic Connection: Indigenous Lives and Forest Knowledge

Global debates around the paramount importance of indigenous culture presencing in educational spaces has been on-going for many years now. Drawing from the recent news of 4 children from the indigenous Huitoto people – aged 13, 9, 4 and 1 – survived 40 days in the amazon rainforests. 93 people from various indigenous communities came together to assist the soldiers search team to evacuate the children from the forest. For both the sets, the 4 survivors and the search team, the reason why their survival and the search for the children was possible is due to their traditional way of life which includes a deep understanding of the rainforests. 13-year-old Lesly Mukutuv was able to identify edible fruits, drinking water, built a makeshift shelter, and kept her 3 other siblings alive due to the indigenous knowledge on forest life being passed down to her by her grandmother.

Traditional indigenous knowledge intrinsic to understanding the pulse of the forests are embedded in their way of life, which is then passed down from generation to generation. This wealth of knowledge was put in practice by a 13-year-old stranded in the rainforest with her 3 younger siblings. This traditional knowledge is what instils a sense of survival instincts amongst indigenous communities, furthering an intrinsic part of their being. Over countless millennia, indigenous communities have cultivated a profound and sophisticated understanding of their territories, not only adapting to their surroundings but actively moulding them.

Significance of Indigenous wisdom beyond the definition of education and learning

In the face of ongoing planetary crises such as climate change, biodiversity loss, and environmental degradation, it is imperative that we move beyond viewing education as merely a means of individual and societal progress. The survival of our planet and humanity calls for a shift in our understanding of education. By integrating indigenous wisdom into the educational framework, we can unlock the invaluable insights and practices that have sustained indigenous communities in harmony with nature for generations.


By developing an intimate understanding of their ecosystems, these communities have honed their survival instincts and skills which are intricately tied to their environment. By recognising and valuing this wisdom, we will have the capacity to equip future generations with the tools and perspectives necessary to address the complex challenges presented by the on-going planetary crisis. Their profound respect for nature and their empathy towards all living beings, along with the traditional and sustainable practices embedded in indigenous wisdom can inspire newer generations to be environmentally conscious and responsible global citizens.

Furthermore, the escalating impacts of climate change, environmental degradation, and global crises needs a generation that is not only well-equipped with knowledge and skills but also possesses the resilience and adaptability to navigate through adversity. Embracing indigenous wisdom and survival skills in education can instil resilience in students, empowering them to thrive in this currently unpredictable world. Future generations which are resilient will be better prepared to adapt to emerging planetary conditions and global challenges. By incorporating resilience into the educational framework alongside indigenous knowledge, we can shape a generation of compassionate, responsible, and forward-thinking individuals who can lead us towards a more harmonious coexistence with nature and collectively address the emerging demands of the 21st century.


Indigenous knowledge and culture inclusive curriculum

 This extraordinary feat of 4 children surviving the rainforests has brought to light the significance of indigenous knowledge and survival skills that have been honed by generations living in harmony with nature. In response to such real-life occurrences, it becomes apparent that the modern education curriculum needs to embrace indigenous knowledge to equip students with essential survival skills and a deeper understanding of their environment.

By emphasising the contextual relevance of indigenous survival skills, promoting cultural appreciation and inclusivity, while simultaneously addressing social justice concerns, governments can enhance survival education and build a more resilient global community. Indigenous communities have excelled and thrived for centuries, coexisting harmoniously with nature, developing survival skills which are tailored to their unique environments.

While we are already in the process of decolonising education which is important for reviving demographically contextualised education, the additional steps that can be taken into account for this to happen are:

1. Acknowledging indigenous knowledge – Indigenous communities’ deep connection with nature has given birth to a large repository of knowledge with reference to plant identification, weather forecasting and other essential survival skills. These communities have thrived for centuries in diverse ecosystems, acquiring an in-depth understanding of their environments’ intricate patterns and functioning. Yet this particular knowledge/heritage is often overlooked in our modern curriculums.


2. Strengthening cultural identity – By valuing and preserving this heritage, learners can feel empowered to contribute positively to society while upholding their traditions and wisdom. This aspect of the curriculum is essential for promoting inclusivity and celebrating diversity. Furthermore, integrating indigenous knowledge into education fosters cultural appreciation and self-identity among indigenous students.


3. Nurturing Resilience and Adaptability – Survival training based on indigenous practices goes beyond imparting practical skills. It instils a sense of resilience and adaptability, enabling children to face challenges with courage and creativity. This resilience is exemplified by the incredible survival story of the four children in the Amazon rainforests, who relied on their inherited knowledge to brave the surroundings and survive unscratched.


4. Empathy oriented education – Education rooted in indigenous knowledge encourages a sense of empathy towards the natural world. Students learn to view nature as a living entity which deserves respect and care. This mindset nurtures future environmental enthusiasts who will advocate for sustainable practices and the protection of our planet’s precious ecosystems.




As we reimagine education, it is crucial to recognise the wisdom and expertise that indigenous communities bring forward. By acknowledging and embracing their knowledge and practices, we can build a more resilient, inclusive, sustainable, and harmonious future for all. Taking this opportunity to bridge the gap between modern education and indigenous wisdom, will foster a world where knowledge is drawn from diverse sources and where every child can thrive, learn, and flourish. Moreover, integrating indigenous culture in survival skills education is not just about teaching practical techniques but embracing a holistic approach to survival, well-being, and community cohesion.

By incorporating this invaluable and age-old wisdom into the education curriculum, we will be equipping the next generation with essential survival skills, a deeper understanding of nature, and a profound respect for cultural diversity. Embracing indigenous knowledge will not only prepare students for unforeseeable challenges but also empower them to be compassionate, resilient, and responsible advocates of the environment. This approach holds the potential to strengthen local communities, contribute to environmental conservation, and inspire global efforts towards building a more sustainable and interconnected world.

The author, Anushree Rai, is a Senior Consultant with ST, SC Development, M& BCW Department, Odisha