Changing Planet

Ancient Voices Through a Modern Microphone


For all the expansion and urbanization of some human cultures over the past few centuries, the indigenous people of the world have not disappeared.

Some groups live just outside major urban areas, others are integrated into broader cultures, and others occupy traditional homelands seen by the rest of the world as “untouched” and without any human population.

The truth is of course that those areas do have people, those people often live more lightly upon nature than urban cultures do, and as a product of developing intimately entwined with their local environment over countless generations, have much they can teach the rest of the world about how those environments function, and how humans can interact with them fruitfully and sustainably.

Major development plans, mining, fracking, damming, and more have often put these often-ignored people at risk of pollution, environmental destruction, and more.

Jon Waterhouse and his colleagues are working to change that. Using modern technology they are creating a Network of Indigenous Knowledge to connect traditional cultures around the world with each other and with the rest of society.

On February 23, 2014, the long-standing U.S. public television show NewsHour presented a ten-minute report on Waterhouse, his team, and their work. Watch the full piece above, and read the transcript at

“Those tens of thousands of voices, they have been ignored over the years,” Jon says in the program, “They’ve been disenfranchised. But as they come together, there’s been some realizations along the way.”

“There’s just a wealth of information in indigenous knowledge that can really help Western scientists to focus their research questions even more,” adds Ryan Toohey of the US Geological Survey, and a collaborator on the project.

Mary Marshall, a photographer for the Network for Indigenous Knowledge, summed it up. “There are so many unheard voices in this world,” she said. “For them to be found and recognized and then handed a microphone, is just huge.”

When I asked Jon what it means that these people and this project are being featured on such a prominent news program he said, “It means that the important voice and contribution of the Indigenous People to the healing of mother earth will be heard.”


Read all posts by and about Jon Waterhouse.  

Andrew Howley is a longtime contributor to the National Geographic blog, with a particular focus on archaeology and paleoanthropology generally, and ancient rock art in particular. In 2018 he became Communications Director at Adventure Scientists, founded by Nat Geo Explorer Gregg Treinish. Over 11 years at the National Geographic Society, Andrew worked in various ways to share the stories of NG explorers and grantees online. He also produced the Home Page of for several years, and helped manage the Society's Facebook page during its breakout year of 2010. He studied Anthropology with a focus on Archaeology from the College of William & Mary in Virginia. He has covered expeditions with NG Explorers-in-Residence Mike Fay, Enric Sala, and Lee Berger. His personal interests include painting, running, and reading about history. You can follow him on Twitter @anderhowl and on Instagram @andrewjhowley.
  • Marika van der Walt

    We sent out a call for papers on the role of water in the development of Southern Africa, from Mapungubwe and Great Zimbabwe to the present day Southern African Development Community last year. We received dozens of abstracts, but the researchers were so underfunded that they did not have the money to attend the conference. One of the papers that was presented dealt with the ability of clay pots to kill bacteria.

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