Indigenous Conservation

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Definitions of so-called first peoples as aboriginal, indigenous, autochthonous, or native are made in relation to later immigrant population groups occupying the same or adjacent territories. Although there is no universally accepted definition of indigenous peoples, the term is generally understood to refer to those tribes, nations, or ethnic groups historically inhabiting lands before the advent of colonizing settlers. In addition, they are usually minorities within larger societies, discriminated against in socioeconomic life, at a comparative disadvantage in terms of power and opportunity in their respective states, and linguistically or culturally distinct from the majority. A further criterion, which is replacing older racial parameters in many censuses and official classifications, is self-identification by individuals as indigenous or of mixed heritage. According to language adopted by the United Nations in 1987, the term indigenous refers to peoples experiencing colonialism during the past 500 years. Some ancient European peoples such as Basques are thus classified as ethnic minorities rather than as indigenous peoples. In Asia indigenous status applies to more than 150 million tribal, semitribal, and nomadic peoples, many of them in India, Russia, the Philippines, and Malaysia.

Throughout history, battles of conquest have been fought over territory and the control of natural resources. Historically, the global incursions of European colonization and imperialism from the sixteenth to twentieth centuries placed local peoples in a subordinate position throughout much of the world. In the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, European military and economic power both enabled and was achieved through colonial domination, leaving a trail of economic dependency in its wake. In the postcolonial era, structural inequality has had drastic effects on poverty and wealth, mortality, and health. Indigenous locals are typically marginalized and dispossessed. In recent generations, people tied to the land by tradition have been uprooted and dispersed, through decentralizing policies like transmigration in Indonesia and the acceleration of globalization at the turn of the twenty-first century.

The Caribbean ecosystem encountered by Columbus has been entirely transformed over the past 500 years by the introduction of alien species and plantation systems of cultivation. The eastern woodlands of North America have also been radically transformed by patterns of habitation and exploitation in the postcontact era. Yet ethnohistorical research has revealed that landscapes once thought to be "pristine" at the time of European settlement had already been greatly affected by indigenous occupation, landscaping, and harvesting practices. Environments that are taken for natural, meaning unmodified by man, often turn out to have undergone transformation by humans. Even the vegetation of some old-growth forests has long been affected by the controlled use of fire. The stated goal of some conservationists to restore a particular habitat to a prior state before colonization and tech nologically driven modification thus selects a somewhat arbitrary point in the history of climate change, species diversification, and the coexistence of man and nature.

Acknowledgments of indigenous impact on the ecosystem and traditional techniques of resource management mean that the establishment of baselines for change and the strategic planning for preservation and restoration must always take human development into account. However, loss of traditional knowledge, as in the native southwestern United States, produces another kind of extinction, that of the firsthand experience of rare and endemic species. The disruption of generational transmission of ecological knowledge from elders to youngsters severs cultural continuity from the biodiversity with which it has coexisted in some places for more than 10,000 years.

In southern Africa, small indigenous cultures have been dominated by larger African tribal groups, settlers, and colonialists. As much as one-quarter of South Africa's vast land area has been affected by development, with a high cost to wildlife. Over several centuries, extinctions in South Africa have included fifty-six known plant species, two bird species, and two mammal species. In Madagascar, a megadiversity hot spot, international conservation leaders are becoming increasingly aware of the need to include local people in endangered species preservation and forest management efforts for the long-term sustainability and viability of both people and the environment, which is home to many endemic species including the world's only lemur populations. The training and employment of Malagasy rangers, wildlife biologists, and guides provides an economic alternative to continued degradation of the forest habitat in one of the world's poorest nations, and is key to the success of internationally directed antipoaching and land conservation efforts.

Anthropogenic, or human-formed, landscapes are far more pervasive than was previously assumed. The mounds built by woodland Indians in prehistoric Mississippi and Ohio are one example of anthropogenic landscapes; the "forest islands" created by Kayapó people in Brazil in the midst of savanna land are another. New studies are showing that many areas once thought to be original wilderness are actually characterized by overgrowth conforming to older landscaping patterns. Some are old growth forests; others, like the Ojibway wild rice fields in Ontario, are plantations gone to seed and still providing sustenance. The anthropogenic character of such landscapes is often invisible to planners from outside native communities. Many "natural" areas and resources have been shaped by human activity, but the term wilderness suggests that they are formed entirely by forces of nature, with the connotation that they should belong to everybody equally. In practice, this means that marginalized local and tribal peoples, the traditional stewards of these lands and resources, are denied property rights and usage permits on many such territories.

In the Amazon, internationally organized efforts to promote indigenous stewardship over biodiversity are being incorporated at the policy level into initiatives to establish protected biosphere reserves and sustainable development zones. Unique ecological knowledge and cultural resources are rooted in the histories and oral traditions of indigenous peoples, linking them to their traditional lands. In some places the narratives of folklore, mythology, and genealogy are being considered by legal and state authorities as admissible evidence of ancient title to the tribal ownership of sacred sites. As stewards of the land, indigenous peoples have engaged in the theory and practice of conservation as sustainable environmental knowledge for millennia. For Maa-

sai people and other East African pastoral-ists, sacred oases are protected zones that can save lives in times of drought.

Conservation of the natural ecology of sacred sites according to indigenous principles has roots in ancient ritual practices held in ancient sacred groves of India, Ghana, Sierra Leone, Côte d'Ivoire, Australia, Canada, Siberia, and other places. The 1972 UNESCO Convention Concerning the Protection of the World Cultural and Natural Heritage (The World Heritage Convention) introduced the category of "cultural landscape." The designation of landscapes as World Heritage sites recognizes that ecosystems are shaped by long interaction with humans as well as evolution and the elements. Since 1978 the World Heritage List has inscribed more than 700 properties for protection in 124 states. Only about 20 percent are natural sites, with the rest designated as cultural or mixed sites. The first protected site was Tongariro National Park in New Zealand, a region held sacred by the Maori people. In New Zealand, bicultural heritage resource management is resulting in cooperative programs and institutions run by Maori and non-Maori together according to the cultural practices and sensitivities of both groups. Indigenous conservation and curatorial traditions are valued and used in combination with scientific and museological methods and standards.

Despite greatly uneven development, indigenous activists the world over face common challenges and are largely agreed on issues of concern. Rain forest peoples in Ecuador, Brazil, Indonesia, and other tropical zones find themselves dealing with many of the same problems associated with deforestation and negotiating with many of the same multinational corporate logging interests. Mining activity in Australia and the southwestern United States has often raised issues of native land rights, as well as pollution and environmental controls. Grassroots organizing and international activism by indigenous peoples' movements to defend and promote their common interests have arisen in the past few decades. The first networking initiatives were taken during the 1970s, when native American activists formed alliances with their counterparts in the circumpolar Arctic and Oceania. At a meeting called by the American Indian Movement in 1974, more than 5,000 local representatives of native peoples from throughout the Western Hemisphere gathered to form the International Indian Treaty Council. The following year, the National Indian Brotherhood of Canada founded the World Council of Indigenous Peoples.

Many local, regional, and transnational community organizations have followed. Land and water rights are major issues for indigenous peoples everywhere, especially in the developing world, where they must compete with mining, logging, and commercial interests to sustain their traditional territories, and with them their modes of economic subsistence and their cultures. The rights of self-determination for indigenous peoples in former colonies are tied to the persistence of ecological lifeways. A combination of indigenous practices and new approaches must ensure that local notions of conservation and associated knowledge are sustained together with the coevolved species of a continuously preserved environment.

See also: Conservation; Cultural Survival, Revival, and Preservation; Ethnoscience; Land Use


Bowles, Ian A., and Glenn T. Prickett, eds. 2001. Footprints in the Jungle: Natural Resource Industries, Infrastructure, and Biodiversity Conservation. New York: Oxford University Press; Brush, Stephen B., and Doreen Stabinsky. 1996. Valuing Local Knowledge: Indigenous People and Intellectual Property Rights. Wash ington, DC: Island Press; Canadian Museum of Civilization. 1996. Curatorship: Indigenous Perspectives in Post-Colonial Societies. Mercury Series Directorate Paper No. 8. Hull, Quebec: Canadian Museum of Civilization; Carmichael, David L., et al., eds. 1994. Sacred Sites, Sacred Places. One World Archaeology Series No. 23. London: Routledge; Independent Commission on International Humanitarian Issues. 1987. Indigenous Peoples: A Global Quest for Justice. London: Zed; Native American Council of New York City. 1994. Voice of Indigenous Peoples. Santa Fe, NM: Clear Light; United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP). 1999. Cultural and Spiritual Values of Biodiversity. Edited by Darrell Addison Posey. Nairobi: Intermediate Technology.

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Homeowners Guide To Landscaping

Homeowners Guide To Landscaping

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