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Human Rights, Ethics, and Climate Change in This Time of COVID-19


Author: Tara Smith


  1. Keri Iyall Smith, Associate Professor, Sociology and Criminal Justice, Suffolk University
  2. Lesley Iaukea, PhD Candidate, University of Hawai‘i Mānoa, Member, Rising Voices Center for Indigenous and Earth Sciences at the National Center for Atmospheric Research

Session Summary

Lesley Iaukea shared perspectives on the effect of the COVID-19 pandemic on Indigenous and Native communities in Hawaii and the disproportionate difficulties that are experienced by such communities. During the question and answer section, a number of issues were discussed including Native science, the effect of tourism on the responses to COVID-19 that affect Native and Indigenous communities, and engaging with decision-makers.


  1. Indigenous and traditional knowledge are important. While the current pandemic might be unique in our lifetimes, it may not be unique in history and there is much to learn from our ancestors.
  2. Responses to COVID-19 in Hawaii may not have considered ways of navigating change in a way the respects Indigenous culture and cultural needs.
  3. The effect of tourism on community morale and resilience in adhering to COVID-19 restrictions is concerning and warrants further consideration by decision-makers and in Hawaii.
  4. There may be a lack of trust amongst Native/Indigenous communities in vaccines as a result of past history and experience. Preference is for use of traditional medicines and remedies.
  5. Different world views between Native and contemporary science and knowledge present interesting opportunities for discussion and dialogues in relation to climate change, disasters, and sustainability.


  1. The perspectives and needs of Indigenous and Native communities should be better taken into account in planning responses to COVID-19.
  2. Native and contemporary science are not mutually exclusive, and dialogue and discussion are important to foster understanding in this regard.


Key Words

  1. Indigenous knowledge
  2. Cultural needs and perspectives
  3. COVID-19
  4. Native science