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Supporting Indigenous Stewardship and Conservation

April 22, 2018 Written by Athena Gam


Today on the 48th Earth Day, we find ourselves in a time that has been referred to as the Antropocene, when human presence on this planet has impacted climate, geology, biodiversity and ecosystems worldwide. This impact has led to Earth’s sixth major extinction as millions of species of plants and animals have been lost, including half of the wildlife on the planet in the last 40 years. With this awareness and especially with recent political push-back against environmentalism, many people are expressing overwhelm with the state of our human trajectory, leading to hopeless and even nihilism. Even so, there ARE solutions to the destruction we are inflicting on the planet (Project Drawdown offers a comprehensive scientifically backed solutions list).

Indigenous peoples are leading the way in the advocacy for Mother Earth and the protection of it’s waters such the water protectors at Standing Rock and the indigenous opposition to the Belo Monte Dam in Brazil. Hand in hand with indigenous-led environmental movements, indigenous traditional knowledge and the land stewardship practices that they maintain are slowly being recognized as holding the key to climate change and conservation.

Contrary to the picture painted by early conservation movements of pristine idyllic nature, untouched by human presence, science is now catching up to the ancient and modern positive impacts that indigenous peoples have on the environment. Hunter-gatherer people have a stabilizing effect on local ecosystems that leads to high-biodiversity and traditional indigenous land management practices are being used to manage forests and combat drought and wildfires.

Unfortunately, the mindset of conservation being in opposition to people is still being used to persecute and evict many indigenous groups such as the San Bushmen, the Maasai and the Hmong. According to the Guardian, “Most of the world’s 6,000 national parks and 100,000 protected places have been created by the removal of tribal peoples. The director of the Rainforest Foundation, Simon Counsell says,

“A new model of saving nature is urgently needed because the anti-people agenda now being practiced by many countries is not working and undermines attempts to protect nature. Not only is the present anti-people model which is being practiced unjust, it marginalizes the very people who have protected forests for millennia and who represent one of our best hopes for doing so in the future.”

Even so, conservationists are beginning to recognize that only by preserving cultural diversity can biological diversity be protected, and vice versa. The UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples urges us to recognize indigenous peoples as nature’s stewards, “Indigenous peoples have the right to conservation and protection of the environment.” Now it is more important than ever to stand in solidarity and support with indigenous peoples worldwide and work to bridge the gaps between indigenous traditional practices and knowledge with climate science and conservation movements.

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