Hegemony or Harmony? Conservation Refugees: A Conflict of Nature and Culture

URL http://www.resurgence.org/magazine/article2624-Heg...
Summary If in the course of saving biological diversity we destroy cultural diversity, what have we accomplished?

Hegemony or Harmony?

If in the course of saving biological diversity we destroy cultural diversity, what have we accomplished?

I HAVE JUST completed my very first good guy vs. good guy story. I normally write investigative reports and histories where the white and black hats are quite obvious. This is not so in the complex and nuanced history of transnational conservation. This is a book I have been working on for the past four years, tentatively entitled Conservation Refugees: A Conflict of Nature and Culture.

The major contestants in the long global struggle I describe are transnational conservation and the worldwide movement of Indigenous

peoples. These two august and ancient movements share a goal that is vital to all of us: a healthy and diverse biota. Both are communities of integrity led by some of the most admirable, dedicated people in modern civilisation. Both care deeply for the planet, and together are capable of preserving more biological diversity than any other two institutions on it. Yet, sadly, they have been terribly at odds with one another over the past century or more; violently so at times, due mostly to conflicting views of Nature, radically different definitions of ‘wilderness’, and profound misunderstandings of each other’s science and culture.

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I wrote this book with the hope that as conservationists and native people make their uneasy convergence they will come to agreement that they both own the interdependent causes of biodiversity conservation and cultural survival, that they need each other badly, and that together they can create a new conservation paradigm that honours and respects the lifeways of people who have been living sustainably for generations on what can only be fairly regarded as their native land.

It is my hope that native people will blend their ancient traditional knowledge systems with the comparatively new sciences of ecology and conservation biology, in search of new and better ways to preserve the diversity of species that is vital not only to their own security but to all life on Earth. At this point, as the entire planet seems poised to tip into ecological chaos, with almost 40,000 plant and animal species facing extinction and 60% of the ecosystem services that support life on Earth failing, there may be no other way.

Conservation Refugees: A Conflict of Nature and Culture is to be published by MIT Press in spring 2009.

Mark Dowie is an investigative historian based in Point Reyes Station, California.

Resurgence 250 Sept/Oct 2008