Indigenous People and Conservation: From Rights to Resource



Indigenous People and Conservation: From Rights to Resource
Edited by Kristen Walker Painemilla, Anthony B. Rylands,
Alisa Woofter and Cassie Hughes
Edited by Kristen Walker Painemilla, Anthony B. Rylands,
Alisa Woofter and Cassie Hughes
Conservation International
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Arlington, VA 22202
Tel: +1 703-341-2400
Editors : Kristen Walker Painemilla, Anthony B. Rylands, Alisa Woofter and Cassie Hughes
Cover design : Paula K. Rylands, Conservation International
Layout: Kim Meek, Washington, DC
Maps [except where noted otherwise] : Kellee Koenig, Conservation International
Conservation International is a private, non-profit organization exempt from federal income tax under section 501 c (3) of the Internal Revenue
ISBN 978-1-934151-39-6
© 2010 by Conservation International
All rights reserved.
The designations of geographical entities in this publication, and the presentation of the material, do not imply the expression of any opinion
whatsoever on the part of Conservation International or its supporting organizations concerning the legal status of any country, territory, or area,
or of its authorities, or concerning the delimitation of its frontiers or boundaries.
Any opinions expressed in this publication are those of the writers, and do not necessarily reflect those of Conservation International (CI).
Suggested citation: Walker Painemilla, K., Rylands, A. B., Woofter, A. and Hughes, C. (eds.). 2010. Indigenous Peoples and Conservation: From
Rights to Resource Management. Conservation International, Arlington, VA.
Cover photos:
Background: Red-and-green macaw (Ara chloroptera) with two Kayapo children, Pará, Brazil. © Cristina G. Mittermeier.
Left column (from top to bottom):
Man in native dress at the Celebration of the YUS (Yopno, Uruwa, and Som watersheds) Conservation Area Dedication in Teptep village,
Papua New Guinea. © Bruce Beehler/Conservation International.
Woman carrying firewood, Valparai, Annamalai range, Western Ghats, Tamil Nadu, India. © Russell A. Mittermeier/Conservation International.
Net-fishing in winter: Pikangikum First Nation in the Canadian boreal forest, northwestern Ontario. © N. Deutsch.
Aboriginal man, Uluru-Kata Tjuta National Park, sacred site of the Anangu aboriginal people, Northern Territory, central Australia.
© Sterling Zumbrunn/Conservation International.
Section photos:
Page 3
Kaieteur Falls (226 m), Potaro River, Kaieteur National Park, southern Guyana. © Russell A. Mittermeier/Conservation International.
Page 4
War orphans living at the Tayna Center for Conservation Biology, North Kivu province, in eastern Democratic Republic of Congo. The center
is an educational project to reinforce the operational and scientific capacities of the Union of Associations for Conservation of Gorillas and for
Development in the East Democratic Republic of Congo (UGADEC) that comprises eight community conservation reserves in the region,
including the Tayna Gorilla Reserve created in 1998 nearby. © John Martin/Conservation International.
Page 60
Floating markets are a common tradition throughout Southeast Asia where the numerous rivers and waterways are a primary means of
transportation and commerce between villages: Bangkok, Thailand. © Art Wolfe.
Page 196
Fijian farmer with taro leaves. Taro roots and leaves are important foods for Fijians. © Haroldo Castro/Conservation International.
Page 256
Woman feeding her butterflies in Amani Nature Reserve, Tanzania. Bee-keeping and butterfly farms are providing income for the people living
near the reserve. © 2009 Per-Anders Pettersson.
Table of
Preface .......................................................................................................................................... vii
Victoria Tauli-Corpuz
Foreword ........................................................................................................................................ ix
Russell A. Mittermeier
Introduction .................................................................................................................................... 1
Kristen Walker Painemilla
Human Rights and Conservation .................................................................................................... 5
Salmon Feeds Our People: Challenging Dams on the Klamath River ................................................7
Ron Reed and Kari Marie Norgaard
Conflicts about Biocultural Diversity in Thailand : ​Karen in the Thung Yai Naresuan
World Heritage Site Facing Modern Challenges .............................................................................17
Reiner Buergin
Indigenous Peoples and the Struggle for Governance of Natural Resources
in Belize . .......................................................................................................................................27
Gregory Ch'oc
Co-Management, Conservation, and Heritage Land in the Kalahari ..............................................39
Cassie Hughes
Indigenous People and the Kahuzi-Biega National Park in the
Democratic Republic of the Congo . ..............................................................................................49
Dominique Bikaba
Table of Contents
Natural Resource Management .................................................................................................... 61
Beauty, Power, and Conservation in the Southeast Amazon: How Traditional
Social Organization of the Kayapo Leads to Forest Protection.......................................................63
Barbara Zimmerman
Indigenous People and Conservation: The Suledo Forest Community in Tanzania .........................73
Joseph L. Massawe
Dhimurru Indigenous Protected Area: A New Approach to Protected Area Management
in Australia ....................................................................................................................................81
Dermot Smyth, Djawa Yunupingu and Steven Roeger
Marine-Based Community Conserved Areas in Fiji: An Example of Indigenous
Governance and Partnership .........................................................................................................95
Mark A. Calamia, David I. Kline, Sireli Kago, Kerry Donovan, Sirilo Dulunaqio, Taito Tabaleka and
B. Greg Mitchell
Building a Shared Vision with Indigenous People: Biodiversity Conservation in
the lower Río Caquetá, Colombia ................................................................................................115
Erwin Palacios, Adriana Rodríguez, Darío Silva Cubeo, Celina Miraña and Célimo Mora Matapí
Conservation in Amazonian Indigenous Territories: Finding a Common Agenda
in the Wetlands of the Abanico del Pastaza ................................................................................125
Aldo Soto, Mariana Montoya and Hernán Flores
Beekahncheekahmeeng Ahneesheenahbay Ohtahkeem (Pikangikum Cultural Landscape) :
Challenging the Traditional Concept of Cultural Landscape from an Aboriginal Perspective ......137
Iain Davidson-Hunt, Paddy Peters and Catie Burlando
The Impact of Participatory Forest Management: The Experience from Lulanda
Village, Southern Tanzania ..........................................................................................................145
Charles Meshack and Kerry A. Woodcock
Managing Traditional Lands for Conservation and Development: The Wai Wai
in Southern Guyana ....................................................................................................................155
Community Members of Masakenari, Susan Stone, Andrew Demetro, Margaret Gomes and
Curtis Bernard
Indigenous Peoples and Conservation: From Rights to Resource Management
Table of Contents
Biodiversity Management in New Caledonia: The Co-management
Conservation Project in the Mount Panié Reserve . ......................................................................171
Henri Blaffart† , Djaek Folger and François Tron
Indigenous and Local Community Based Conservation in India: Current Status
and Future Prospects ...................................................................................................................181
Ashish Kothari and Neema Pathak
Traditional Knowledge ................................................................................................................ 197
The Bugakhwe and the || Anikhwe San of the Okavango Panhandle:
Traditional Knowledge, Conservation and Empowerment ...........................................................199
Alison White and the || Anikhwe and the Bugakhwe San of the Okavango Panhandle
The Tlingit Way of Conservation: A Matter of Respect . ...............................................................211
Thomas F. Thornton and Herman Kitka Sr.†
Traditional Ecological Knowledge for Improved Sustainability: Customary Wildlife
Harvests by Maori in New Zealand ..............................................................................................219
Henrik Moller and Phil O’B. Lyver
Using Traditional Knowledge to Address Climate Change: The Fiji Scenario ................................235
Joeli Veitayaki and Loraini Sivo
Indigenous Wildlife Monitoring in Canada’s North: A Community-Based
Initiative on the Beverly-Qamanirjuaq Barren-Ground Caribou Range .........................................247
Anne Kendrick and Micheline Manseau
Innovative Approaches ............................................................................................................... 257
Chalalan — The Process and Impacts of an Indigenous Ecotourism Enterprise . ...........................259
Cándido Pastor Saavedra
The Forest Stewards: An Innovative Approach to Conserving Cultural and
Biological Diversity in the Heart of New Guinea ..........................................................................269
William Thomas
The Amani Butterfly Project: Butterfly Farming and Forest Conservation in
the East Usambara Mountains, Tanzania .....................................................................................277
Theron Morgan-Brown
Table of Contents
Table of Contents
Establishing an Indigenous-Run Ecolodge and Protected Area in Southern Suriname .................287
Annette Tjon Sie Fat, Stanley Power and Krisna Gajapersad
La Gran Reserva Chachi: Integrating Biodiversity Conservation and Indigenous
Community Development in Ecuador ..........................................................................................299
Margarita Mora, Aaron Bruner, Wilton Díaz, María Cristina Félix, Free de Koning, Marina Kosmus,
Tannya Lozada, Alonso Moreno, Luis Suárez, Damian Villacrés and Patricia Zurita
Kokolopori and the Bonobo Peace Forest in the Democratic Republic of Congo:
Prioritizing the Local in Conservation Practice .............................................................................311
L. Alden Almquist, Albert L. Lokasola, Sally J. Coxe, Michael J. Hurley and John S. Scherlis
Indigenous Peoples and Conservation: From Rights to Resource Management
t is a known fact that there have been, and still are, tensions between conservation NGOs and indigenous
peoples. I still remember the first time I visited Greenland in 1993. An issue raised by the Inuit was the
ban on seal hunting; severely undermining their subsistence hunting livelihood and the incomes they earned
from trading seal fur. The seals compete with the Inuit for the fish catch. This is a clear example of how conservation objectives and economic development can be in conflict.
The intensity of tensions such as these is abating over the years. This is due to a number of factors. One
is the increasing efforts of indigenous peoples and conservationists to come together to deal with problems raised by indigenous communities in relation to the conservation efforts which affect them. Indigenous
peoples’ movements, from local to global, are gaining strength, and governments, corporate business and
the conservation community cannot continue to ignore our assertion of our rights to our lands, territories
and resources, and to self-determination. The adoption of the UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous
Peoples by the United Nations General Assembly on 13 September 2007 is a second factor. This declaration sets the minimum standards that should be adhered to by nation-states and broader society to ensure
our dignity and our continuing survival as distinct and diverse peoples and cultures.
Another factor is our success in creating spaces and bodies within the United Nations that address our
issues and which are mandated to provide advice to States and the international community. These bodies
within the UN monitor whether our well-being and rights are promoted, respected and protected. The United
Nations Permanent Forum on Indigenous Issues is an example. I chaired the Forum over the past five years,
and continue now as a member. The Forum provides for dialogue between indigenous peoples, states, the
UN system, civil society, and academia to address the tensions between them and to search for solutions.
Last, but not least, is our increasing participation in the processes of multilateral environmental agreements such as the UNFCCC and the CBD1. We are championing the need to ensure that the ecosystems
approach and the human-rights-based approach to development are the guiding frameworks for the policies, agreements and the implementation of these conventions. Our worldview is driven by the imperative to
live in harmony and in reciprocity with Mother Earth and all of creation. It defines who we are and underpins our practices, and we are striving to make the Parties and dominant society understand that it comprises
many solutions to the ecological crisis facing the world today.
1 United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCC) and the Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD).
It is in this context that this book is important, providing as it does more visibility to the collective practices and thinking of both indigenous peoples and conservationists. As our generation is simultaneously
confronted with the global ecological crisis and the global economic crisis, we are compelled to seriously
address the balance between conservation and human rights and development at multiple scales, and to
demonstrate in practice that it is possible to maintain it.
We indigenous peoples have proven that we are still active custodians of Mother Earth. Many of the
case studies in this book provide evidence for this. Our capacity to continue carrying out this noble task is
limited, however. The partnership between us and the conservation NGOs has to be nurtured to achieve this
mission but should be within the framework of the respect for and implementation of the UN Declaration on
the Rights of Indigenous Peoples.
I congratulate the authors and Conservation International for compiling this book. The stories told testify to the continued determination and capacity of indigenous peoples worldwide to secure their rights and
maintain their traditions, values and ways of life — livelihoods which are so closely entwined with and dependant on the wildlife and natural resources that are essential to the wellbeing of all of humankind.
Victoria Tauli-Corpuz
Executive Director, Tebtebba Foundation and
Member, United Nations Permanent Forum on Indigenous Issues
Indigenous Peoples and Conservation: From Rights to Resource Management
am delighted to be able to write the foreword to this important book, a publication that I think is long overdue. Since entering the conservation business more than 40 years ago, I have always believed that those of
us who work on issues of biodiversity conservation and those who focus on the rights, well-being, and aspirations of indigenous peoples really have much in common, and that we stand to gain an enormous amount by
working in close collaboration. Indeed, many of the highest priority areas for biodiversity conservation fall within
the borders of indigenous lands, and many of the world’s indigenous cultures, always so strongly dependent on
nature, require the continued maintenance of intact natural landscapes. What is more, the vast wealth of traditional knowledge held by indigenous peoples, though often undervalued and rapidly disappearing, can make
a major contribution to providing economic justification for biodiversity conservation, in addition to the great
importance that such knowledge continues to have for the people themselves. Another common element is that
neither biodiversity conservation nor the rights of indigenous peoples has ever been very high on the list of priorities of the global community, and both have been, and continue to be, grossly under-funded at both global
and national levels. To be sure, the past has seen conservation-induced injustices to indigenous peoples, and
at times they have been disastrous for local communities. These pale, however, beside the injustices wrought by
poorly-planned development, be it from massive hydroelectric dams, commercial logging, or widespread land
conversion for agriculture, not to mention the large scale take-over of indigenous lands since the earliest days of
European colonization. With the world facing a never-ending onslaught of threats from climate change that put
at risk the survival of entire island nations, to large-scale conversion of rain forests to commercial monoculture
agriculture, to oil spills of unimagined scale, to the continued environmental impacts of war, if ever there was a
time to elevate the importance of both issues and to demonstrate their commonalities, it is now. We can and we
must find common cause, and work in the closest possible collaboration to counter the real threats that face us all.
Conservation International has been involved in indigenous issues since its creation in 1987. We have
always recognized the need to work with people in order to achieve biodiversity conservation objectives, and
this has been reflected in every project that we have conducted or helped to support. Our new mission, articulated in 2009, puts human well-being as the principal focus of our work, and very often this translates to work
with indigenous communities. Some of CI’s most important long-term projects, such as our efforts with the Kayapo
people of the southeastern Brazilian Amazon, the Trio people of southern Suriname, the Wai Wai of Guyana,
and the Mayan people of southern Mexico, Guatemala, and Belize, date back to the late 1980s and early
1990s, and we now work with more than 50 indigenous groups around the world. We are particularly proud
to have been one of the first conservation organizations to develop “Principles for Partnership with Indigenous
Peoples”, as long ago as 1996. We updated this statement in 2003, and, with input from many indigenous
leaders, a new revision is underway which will be finalized in 2010. In 2003, we consolidated our work with
indigenous peoples into the Global Indigenous and Traditional Peoples Program, and we also provide major
support for projects by indigenous peoples through our CI Field programs present in over 30 countries, and
through the Global Conservation Fund, the Critical Ecosystem Partnership Fund, and our Conservation Stewards
Program. Last but not least, CI has recently signed onto a Conservation Initiative on Human Rights (CIHR) that
affirms the commitment of the CEOs of major conservation organizations to improve the practice of conservation
by integrating a human rights approach into existing conservation policy and practice.
Although conflicts still exist, there is a growing recognition of the fact that biodiversity conservation and the
well-being of indigenous peoples have much in common. The role of indigenous people in international conventions such as the CBD and the UNFCCC, along with the various international gatherings organized by the
International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN), including the World Parks Congress and the World
Conservation Congress, has grown significantly over the past decade. This is due in part to the struggle of indigenous peoples for the recognition of their rights over the past thirty years, and reflected globally with the adoption of the UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples in 2007. One of CI’s most important objectives is
to support and strengthen the capacity of indigenous peoples to engage as full partners in policy dialogue and
negotiations in conservation-related events and the design and implementation of conservation programs, with
the full range of knowledge and a complete understanding of the options available to them. A recent example of
this is the creation, in 2009, of the CI-facilitated Indigenous Advisory Group, which will give indigenous peoples
a voice in the development of conservation- and climate-related activities, not only of CI as an organization, but
also in influencing the CBD, UNFCCC, and national level processes that affect their rights. In 2010, CI launched
the Indigenous Leadership Conservation Fellowship Program at the meeting of the United Nations Permanent
Forum on Indigenous Peoples.
From a personal perspective, I have had a strong interest in indigenous cultures since childhood and a strong
commitment to indigenous peoples since my first field work in Amazonia in the early 1970s. Although I am first
of all a primatologist and herpetologist, both my undergraduate degree and my PhD are in biological anthropology, and part of my PhD research was on the interactions between wildlife and indigenous cultures (the African
Maroons and the Amerindians) in the rain forests of Suriname. Indeed, I have spent a large portion of my fieldwork visiting indigenous communities in many parts of the world to better understand their needs and aspirations,
their relationship with the wildlife that is such an essential part of their lives and cultures, and how to resolve whatever conflicts might exist. I have no doubt that this personal commitment will continue into the future, and that it
will be reflected both in my own activities and in the priorities of our organization.
In closing, I would like to congratulate the editors and authors of this volume, which is sure to be the most
influential of its kind to date and hopefully the first of many to come. I have no doubts that it will make a major
contribution in demonstrating the strong links between indigenous peoples and biodiversity conservation and
that it will help us to develop more and greater opportunities for close collaboration in the near future.
Russell A. Mittermeier
President, Conservation International and
Vice-President, International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN)
Indigenous Peoples and Conservation: From Rights to Resource Management
any indigenous communities depend directly on natural ecosystems for their livelihoods — wild plants and
animals for food, for clothing, for fuel, medicine, and shelter. The economy, identity, and cultural and spiritual values, as well as the social organization of indigenous peoples, are closely linked to biological diversity
and natural ecosystems. Many of the landscapes where indigenous people live are of extraordinary value not
only for their beauty and the regional ecosystem services they sustain, but also for their biodiversity. As such,
indigenous peoples and their land holdings are a vital strategic component in regional and national conservation strategies.
However, indigenous territories are often situated in landscapes experiencing rapid social and economic
change resulting from factors such as the immigration of farmers and ranchers, and from logging and mining.
Deforestation and forest fragmentation increasingly affect indigenous lands as road networks expand into wilderness areas. Climate change also undoubtedly threatens indigenous communities through increased drought conditions, exacerbated by regional deforestation and wildfires. Forest degradation and impoverishment is decreasing the availability of natural resources for indigenous communities. Amplifying these issues is the creation of
international and national market mechanisms focused on carbon offsets that can easily target intact indigenous
Fortunately, indigenous communities have responded to these threats and raised their voices to demand their
traditional rights and greater protection for the renewable resources of the forests, wetlands, lakes, rivers, and
streams upon which they depend. They have initiated successful (and ongoing) campaigns to maintain their rights
to natural resources and legally-define territories where they can establish adaptive management schemes that
are based on their traditional knowledge. Indigenous organizations have engaged in international discussions
on climate change and biodiversity and have supported initiatives to conserve forest habitats. After a 30-year
struggle, the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples1 was adopted in September 2007.
This declaration, along with internationally recognized legal instruments, has proven a strong instrument for indigenous peoples in their struggle to defend their rights and manage their natural resources both at the national
level and in international negotiations concerning such as the UNFCCC and CBD.2
1 The Declaration is a set of principles which describe equality, non-discrimination, partnership, consultation and cooperation between Indigenous peoples and governments. It is a comprehensive
standard on human rights for Indigenous Peoples. The Declaration is not legally binding and it does not compel governments to certain actions. Rather, it is an instrument for aspirations concerning
human rights that explicitly encourages harmonious and cooperative relations between governments and Indigenous peoples.
2 United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCC) and the Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD).
The purpose of this book is to document case studies from across the globe that will cover the diverse
approaches that indigenous peoples and their partners have taken to achieve territorial rights, conserve biodiversity and improve their livelihoods. The book also discusses the major issues facing indigenous people and
conservation groups, and the enormous challenges they face to obtaining long-term success. The authors include
indigenous peoples and organizations, conservation practitioners and academia, providing as such a wide
array of perspectives, perceptions, and realities to local contexts and situations. The book is divided into four sections, addressing the themes of Human Rights and Conservation, Natural Resources Management, Traditional
Knowledge and Innovative Approaches. While the themes of the book are interrelated, all are underpinned by
the urgent need for the conservation of nature and natural resources and support for livelihood development of
indigenous peoples. The division of the book provides the opportunity to look at similar case studies and different approaches, albeit in a small sample of the extraordinary cultural and biological diversity that is so massively
threatened worldwide.
Kristen Walker Painemilla
Indigenous and Traditional Peoples Program
Conservation International
The editors sincerely thank the staff of Conservation International’s Indigenous and Traditional Peoples Program, particularly
Susan Stone, Johnson Cerda, Theresa Buppert and Adrienne McKeehan, and also Suzanne Zweizig, John Watkin, Kim Meek
(layout), Kellee Koenig (maps), Paula K. Rylands (cover design), Olivier Langrand, Russell Mittermeier and Vicky Tauli-Corpuz,
whose support and wisdom in their various areas of expertise has been invaluable. The publication of this book would not have
been possible without the generous support of the Gordon and Betty Moore Foundation, The Edward E. Hills Fund, and an anonymous private donor. We are most grateful to the following for allowing us to publish their photographs: Vitus Antone, Bruce
Beehler, Martin Bendeler, Curtis Bernard, Haroldo Castro, Raju Das, N. Deutsch, Julie Futter, Marna Herbst, Vinicio Linarez,
Isidore Kikukama, John Kahekwa, Brian Karl, Paiakan Kayapo, John Martin, Betsie Meyer, Hamadiel Mgalla, Adam Mgovano,
Cristina G. Mittermeier, Russell A. Mittermeier, Henrik Mouritson, Takeshi Murai, Jamie Newman, Josh Newman, Jeffry Oonk, Par
Oscarson, Michael Tweddle and Robert Urassa. Finally, the editors would like to acknowledge and pay respect to indigenous
peoples across the world in their struggle for their rights, and the preservation of their cultures, traditions and livelihoods, and the
wildlife, lands, rivers, and seas so vital to them.
Indigenous Peoples and Conservation: From Rights to Resource Management
Human Rights
and Conservation H
uman well-being and environmental protection are interconnected and essential goals of the global
community, as reflected in the Universal Declaration on Human Rights1, in Principle 1 of the Stockholm
Declaration 2, and, more recently, in the Millennium Development Goals, and the 2007 passing of the
Universal Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples (UNDRIP). Throughout the world, land and natural resources provide indigenous people with their primary sources of food, their freshwater, their traditional
medicines, and the materials for their needs (houses, cooking utensils, canoes, hunting weapons, and cultural artifacts, etc.), and are tightly interwoven with their cultural identity and livelihoods. Indigenous peoples have always protected their lands and the rich resources they hold; managing their resources through
customary laws and traditional practices. Some of the best protected biodiversity-rich areas are those in the
lands and territories of indigenous peoples.
Indigenous peoples have been using UNDRIP as a mechanism to leverage their rights and secure their
participation in local, national and international processes that directly or indirectly affect their communities. Securing their basic human rights, their rights to their lands, and their access to the natural resources
they depend upon is increasingly affected, however, by the shocks and stresses induced by such as climate
change, violent conflicts and natural disasters, as well as the developmental trends of, for example, population growth and agricultural expansion, and megaprojects such as the construction of large dams and
highways. Many indigenous peoples have suffered discrimination within their national context in terms of their culture, language, and religious beliefs, and their rights to use and occupy lands where they have lived
for hundreds of years or even millennia. Reed and Noorgard document the devastating effects of six dams
affecting the fish stocks, principally salmon, that are the mainstay of the diet and livelihoods of the northern Californian Karuk Indians. In Belize, the Sarstoon Temash National Park of 16,590 ha was created in
1994, and no one doubted the immense importance of the lands, rivers and wildlife that it was to protect.
Ch’oc relates how the indigenous communities (Q’eqchi and Garifuna) there faced not only judicial difficulties in establishing their permanence but also had to fight the subsequent concession of rights for petroleum
companies to enter the park, in contravention to the very decree that was resulting in their exclusion. Other
1 The Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR) is a declaration adopted by the United Nations General Assembly on 10 December 1948 in Paris. The Declaration has been translated
into at least 375 languages and dialects, making it the most widely translated document in the world [1]. The Declaration arose directly from the experience of the Second World War and
represents the first global expression of rights to which all human beings are entitled. It consists of 30 articles which have been elaborated in subsequent international treaties, regional
human rights instruments, national constitutions and laws.
2 Stockholm Declaration on the Human Environment (1972), laid out common principles to inspire and guide the peoples of the world in the preservation and enhancement of the human
Human Rights and Conservation
examples can be found in the section on Natural Resource Management, notably the report by Soto et al.
on the fight of the Achuar and Kandozi peoples to put a stop to the pollution and degradation of rivers and
forests resulting from the poor environmental practices and negligence of petroleum companies in the wetlands of the Abanico del Pastaza, Peru.
As with the Mayan communities in southern Belize, threats to the livelihoods of indigenous communities
also come paradoxically from the efforts of conservationists and governments to halt environmental degradation and protect the very natural resources upon which they depend. Setting aside extensive areas of
wilderness as protected areas has been the single most successful means for the long-term conservation of
nature, threatened species, and entire landscapes worldwide. The original model for this was the national
park that excluded all human activities — nature left to thrive without the depredations and pollution of
human communities. The implicit notion that humans cannot be a part of natural ecosystems comes ironically from an acceptance that the modern industrial developmental models are, in very large part, entirely
destructive of nature and ruinous for current ideals of healthy ecosystems and the maintenance of ecosystem services. This exclusionary approach has of course been disastrous for many indigenous peoples. It has
been rightly criticized for its disregard of internationally recognized human rights, and in many cases it is
seen as directly, and perversely, undermining the very conservation objectives themselves3.
Buergin discusses the situation concerning protected areas and resettlement of Hill tribe communities, in
Thailand, particularly focusing on the Karen living in the Thung Yai Naresuna Wildlife Sanctuary. Gregory
Ch’oc reports on the remarkable struggle of Mayan communities in asserting their rights to return to land
decreed as the Sarstoon Temash National Park in the Toledo District of Belize; land they have occupied
since well before European colonization. Hughes documents the extraordinary story of the Khomani San
Bushmen who achieved their right to return to the Kalahari Gemsbok National Park in 1999 after nearly
70 years of exile following its creation in 1931. Last in this section, Bikaba relates the complex situation of the
Pygmy communities living in and around their ancestral lands that now constitute the Kahuzi-Biega National
Park in the Democratic Republic of Congo, created in 1970 and expanded in 1975 to 600,000 ha. The
creation of the park was followed by forced expropriation and exile. The situation of the Pygmies is still undefined and many will probably never return, having already lost their capacity to live in the forest. Bikaba
argues that an appropriate solution for the Pygmies is vital not just for their welfare but also for the future of
the park, it being impossible to preserve the forests and wildlife without the direct and positive involvement
of the communities around it.
3 Rights-based Approach (RBA) to Conservation:
Human Rights and Conservation
Salmon Feeds Our People:
Challenging Dams on
the Klamath River
Ron Reed and Kari Marie Norgaard
Quick Facts
Country: United States of America
Geographic Focus: Klamath River Basin on the California
Oregon border
Indigenous Peoples: The Klamath River Basin is a national
ecological treasure, encompassing steep mountains and
canyons, high desert, lush rainforests and wetlands, and
salmon spawning streams.
Author Information
Ron Reed is a traditional Karuk Dipnet Fisherman and Cultural
Biologist for the Karuk Tribe of California. He works for the
Department of Natural Resources.
E-mail: [email protected]
Dr Kari Marie Norgaard is a Sociologist and Professor of
Environmental Studies at Whitman College in Walla Walla, WA.
E-mail: [email protected]
This is a story of how an impoverished northern California tribe challenged a massive Goliath — a huge private utility corporation. It is
about one piece in the current struggle of the Karuk People in the
Klamath River Basin to retain cultural traditions and restore their river
ecosystem. Here we describe how a study was conducted that articulated a formerly unseen connection between human and environmental health, and which became an important piece in legal proceedings
underway that may result in the largest dam removal effort in history.
With over 3,200 members, the Karuk Tribe is the second-largest
American Indian tribe in California. The Karuk are a fishing people,
who have managed their Klamath River fishery in a way that provides for its sustainability through the use of ceremony and harvest
techniques in coordination with neighboring tribes. This they have
been doing for tens of thousands of years or, as the Karuk say, since
the beginning of time. However, the salmon populations have been
damaged by over-fishing and the degradation of their habitats since
the arrival of non-Indians in the 1850s. Today, farmers in the upper
reaches of the river basin remove so much water for agriculture that
river flow drops to very low levels during summer and fall when water
temperatures are highest. A series of five dams, built from 1917 to
1962 and operated by PacifiCorp, blocks access to 90% of the spawning habitat of the most important salmon run, the Spring Chinook. As
a result, the populations of this and many other aquatic species, such
as lamprey and sturgeon, which are so important to the Karuk people,
have plummeted.
Interestingly, despite more than 100 years of onslaught, salmon
populations maintained numbers sufficient to continue as a significant
food supply for the Karuk until the 1980s. Because the area is remote
and many Karuk people retain their traditional culture, a large number of people were able to continue eating salmon several times a day
Human Rights and Conservation
when in season, right up to this time. In 2005 however, the entire tribe caught less than 100 fish all year. Since that time
fish consumption has averaged less than five pounds per person per year. Consumption has been estimated at 450 lbs per
person per year — over one pound per person per day — prior to European contact (Hewes 1973). This gives the Karuk
the dubious distinction of suffering one of the most dramatic recent diet shifts of any tribe in North America. Due to the
absolute degree to which Klamath river-dams are squelching the salmon runs, and despite the ongoing tribal traditions,
surviving only by a thread, it is the belief of the authors that the dams on the Klamath are currently responsible for the
most significant human rights violation resulting from any dam construction in the United States.
Power companies are granted licenses to operate dams in the public interest by the Federal Energy Regulatory
Commission (FERC). In 2006, the current license application for the dams on the Klamath River expired. If these
licenses are not renewed, the dams that have so damaged the river ecosystems and the tribal people who depend upon
them can be removed. Fisheries, biologists and tribal people have viewed this license expiration as the largest restoration
opportunity of their lifetimes, and the only chance for the survival of the salmon. Many fear that by granting another
30- or 50-year license for dam operation, the FERC would effectively eliminate the salmon — and with them many fundamental aspects of Karuk culture and livelihood.
The relicensing process involves years of scientific investigation and input and discussion from the communities that
have been affected by the dam. Beginning in 2001, the first author, a traditional Karuk dipnet fisherman and a cultural
biologist for the tribe, served as the Karuk tribal representative for the relicensing process. Reed attended meetings for
one week of every month for five years. During that time his mother and several of his aunts died, all of them in their
seventies or younger. Reed became convinced that the lack of healthy food, specifically the loss of salmon, was directly
affecting the health of his people, leading to high rates of diabetes and heart disease and a decreased life expectancy. He
spoke passionately about this problem in the meetings. In February 2004, PacifiCorp filed their final license application for the operation of the five dams. Despite years of meeting with the Karuk and other tribes who gave extensive
Figure 1. The Karuk are a fishing people who have sustainably-managed their Klamath
River fishery through the use
of ceremony and harvest techniques for tens of thousands of
years. Since the arrival of nonIndians in the 1850s, however,
the salmon populations have
been damaged by over-fishing
and the degradation of their
habitat. Photo © Karuk People.
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Figure 2. Ron Reed served as
the Karuk tribal representative
for the relicensing process.
Reed became convinced that
the lack of healthy food, specifically the loss of salmon, was
directly affecting the health of
his people, leading to high
rates of diabetes, heart disease
and a decreased life expectancy. Photo © Karuk People.
Figure 3. Klamath River Watershed with the designated dams and the Karuk Territory. Map courtesy of Conservation International.
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Human Rights and Conservation
testimony as to the ecological and cultural impacts of the dams (not to mention testimony by commercial fishermen, scientists and environmental groups), the power company claimed that there were no impacts from their operation below
the dams. In the words of Reed, “the document was five feet tall and contained no mention at all of our needs.”
It was at this time that the authors of this essay began working together. Ron Reed approached Kari Norgaard and
asked whether, as a professor of sociology, she could document, in scientific terms, how the loss of salmon affected
the health of tribal members. Together we conducted a study and produced a report that made visible the relationship
between ecological and human health in an entirely new way. Our report, the preliminary draft of which was written in
a few short months, became the first example of a tribe articulating how the denial of access to traditional foods led to
a spike in the rate of diabetes. It was also the first example of research that showed how dams led to major diet-related
disease. The tribe has seen new doors open at decision-making tables as a result of these findings.
The Invisible Struggle
Since time immemorial Karuk people have relied directly on the land and rivers for food. With the invasion of their lands
by European Americans, the circumstances of the Karuk people changed considerably. They suffered systematic, state
genocide followed by decades of extreme discrimination and human rights violations. Today, the Karuk Tribe still struggles to recover from past genocide and ongoing discriminatory policies instituted by local, state and federal governments.
As is the case for many native peoples around the world, much of their struggle is invisible. This invisibility is perpetuated by myths that American Indians are gone, or that they are fully assimilated.
The recent political history of the Karuk Tribe is a story of success in the face of continued injustice. Despite direct
genocide, forced relocation, economic hardship, and the lack of a reservation, a high percentage of tribal members continue to live in their ancestral territory. The Karuk did not gain Federal Recognition as an American Indian Tribe until
1979. The Karuk still have no reservation and no hunting and gathering rights, and only have rights, besides, to fish at
one specific site for subsistence and ceremonial purpose. Beginning in the 1960s, as federal recognition accompanied
changes in the political climate and gains in the courts for Indian people across the United States (for example, concerning fishing rights), the Karuk people experienced a political, economic and ethnic renewal (Nagel 1996; Bell 2002;
Wilkinson 2005). Tribal members are now actively recovering cultural traditions, including the use of their language, ceremonial practices and traditional basket weaving. The Karuk Tribe today has an active Department of Natural Resources,
which has a Fisheries Program, and is prominently involved in local land management.
The present-day struggles of the Karuk people, however, are still significant. Poverty, food insecurity, diabetes, and
emotional challenges plague them. As of 2007, the fundamental cultural, political and economic issues faced by the
Karuk Tribe revolve around environmental policies affecting the Klamath River anadromous fishery and related cultural and natural resources. The Klamath River was once the third-largest salmon-producing river in the western United
States. Early anthropologists marveled at the enormous abundance of natural resources available to the people living
there. The Karuk, together with their neighboring tribes the Yurok and Hoopa, are considered to have been the wealthiest of all Indian people in California, and this wealth was a direct result of the Klamath River’s year-round abundance of
food resources, particularly salmon. Today Karuk tribal members are amongst the poorest Californians; median income
for Karuk families is US$13,000, and 90% of tribal members in Siskiyou County live below the poverty line (Norgaard
According to both Karuk observations and the scientific literature, a number of factors either deny or limit the
access of people to their traditional foods. Genocide and forced assimilation over the past century have led to a loss of
traditional knowledge of the land (including the preparation and acquisition of traditional foods), and a change in the
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people’s tastes and desires. Yet, despite dramatic events early in the century, the testimonies of elders about foods they
ate indicate that considerable changes have also occurred just within the last generation. These most recent changes are
largely due to denied access to traditional foods. In particular, a series of four dams block the access of fish and other species to some 350 miles of spawning habitat in the upper basin. The Spring Chinook was a most important source of food
for the Karuk people, not just in terms of the salmon species, the decline of which is most visibly linked to the construction of the dams, but because of many other species. At least 25 species of plants, animals and fungi that formed part of
the traditional Karuk diet are currently limited or denied outright to the Karuk people (Norgaard 2005). The two foods
that were most central to the Karuk diet, providing the bulk of energy and protein — salmon and tan oak acorns — are
among the missing elements. The Karuk people are currently denied access to foods that represented upwards of 50%
of their traditional diet.
Until quite recently, the abundance of freshwater and upslope forest resources to which Karuk people had access provided a safety net of foods should one or other species fail to produce a significant harvest in a given year. Thus, while
salmon were centrally important, other foods were also available, fresh and preserved, to provide nutrition throughout
the year. Yet in 2006, populations of every freshwater food species consumed by Karuk tribal members were in decline.
Now, so few fish exist that even ceremonial salmon consumption is limited. The elimination of traditional foods, including multiple runs of salmon, Pacific lamprey, sturgeon and other aquatic species, has had extreme adverse health, social,
economic, and spiritual effects on the Karuk people. A series of health problems has emerged as the presence of healthy
traditional foods has declined in the Karuk diet.
Although ruination of their principal source of food was not employed as an intentional means of genocide of the
Karuk people in the way that the destruction of the buffalo was for the Plains Indians the effect is very much the same.
The Karuk People have a sacred inherent responsibility to protect salmon, which are even viewed as part of one big family with the people. The annual return of the salmon defines the reciprocal spiritual relationship between the Karuk people, the “Great Creator” and “Mother Earth.” On a material level they are an abundant, healthy food source, and their
loss has had a profound effect on the physical health, economic circumstances and cultural practices of the Karuk. This
is the perspective from the Karuk country. This is the perspective that the power company disregarded in their report on
the impacts of their dams.
What We Did: Changing the Discourse with the Altered Diet Study
Previous research on the loss of traditional foods and tribal health focused on environmental contaminants such as mercury and Persistent Organic Pollutants. The focus of our work was different, however. People described their situation
as a case of “denied access” to traditional foods. The inability to continue to eat their traditional foods — and the corresponding rise in diet-related diseases — was neither coincidental nor the fault of the Karuk people (who had somehow, it
was implied, mysteriously become “poorly educated” with respect to healthy eating); rather it occurred because the state
failed to protect tribal trust resources, despite their mandate to do so.
We began our research by contacting anyone who might help us: diabetes researchers, medical practitioners, and
traditional food experts and advocates. These people shared important research perspectives, medical data, and reports
that formed the basis of our research design. We also began a series of interviews. We spoke to elders and gathered their
testimony in oral interviews, including elders whose declining heart conditions had improved after eating salmon. To
evaluate the prevalence of diet-related disease among the Karuk, in 2005 we obtained medical data on current rates of
diabetes, heart conditions, high blood pressure, and obesity from the records of the Happy Camp Tribal Office, Happy
Camp, California (see Norgaard 2005).
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In-depth interviews were conducted with 18 tribal members, gathering information on health, diet, food access and
consumption, and economic conditions. Information was also gathered on family history and health conditions over
time. These individuals served as “key informants” regarding a range of cultural and fisheries topics. Interviewees were
women and men, ranging from age 30 to the mid-70s, and representative of various aspects of the community (members
of Tribal Council and Staff, as well as people who had no role in the tribal organization).
We also conducted a survey to obtain a wider view of community experience. The 2005 “Karuk Health and Fish
Consumption Survey” had a response rate of 38% (90 of 238 questionnaires in all) (see Karuk Tribe 2005). Although
we are unable to know the views of those who did not respond, we speculated, given the community demographics, that
many of the non-respondents were more traditional, and had lower incomes than those who did respond. Through the
survey we were able to see that, as suspected, there was a direct relationship between the disappearance of the Spring
Chinook salmon and the emergence of diet-related diseases.
What We Found
In October 2004, the preliminary study, “The Effects of Altered Diet on the Health of the Karuk People”, was released;
the full report was completed one year later (see Karuk Tribe 2005). The central thesis of the report was that the Karuk
people were facing significant and costly health consequences as a result of denied access to many of their traditional foods.
Not only does a traditional diet prevent the onset of conditions such as obesity, diabetes, heart disease, kidney trouble
and hypertension, but, a traditional diet of salmon and other foods is one of the best treatments for such conditions.
Salmon was estimated to have made up almost 50% of the energy and total protein intake in the diet of the Karuk before
European contact (Hewes 1973). Limited access to traditional food forces the present Karuk population to buy most
of their food in stores and/or rely on government commodities. These changes represent a major dietary shift. Through
our survey we learned that, despite the reduced availability of salmon and other fish, a high percentage of Karuk families
reported that someone in their household still fishes or hunts for food (Fig. 4).
In 2004–2005, fishing for eels (Pacific lamprey and other lamprey species), Spring and Fall Chinook salmon, Coho
and sturgeon all reached record lows. As shown in Figure 5, over 80% of the tribal members surveyed indicated that they
were unable to gather adequate amounts of eel, salmon, stonehead, or sturgeon to fulfill their family needs.
Figure 4. Results of the 2005 Karuk Health and Fish Consumption Survey
(n = 90 households). Fish diversity in the Karuk diet. The graph shows
the percent of households that reported fishing for the different species
in 2005. Source: Karuk Tribe (2005).
Figure 5. Results of the 2005 survey of Karuk tribal members (n = 18).
Percent of members recording a shortfall in the Karuk People’s requirements for the four major fishery species in 2005. Source: Karuk Tribe
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Figure 6. Results of the questionnaire survey (n = 90). Dates when the
households perceived that Spring Chinook was no longer a significant
food source. The marked increase in the 1960s and 1970s, was associated with the completion of Iron Gate dam, the lowest of the five dams
on the Klamath River. Source: Karuk Tribe (2005).
Figure 7. The percent incidence of diabetes in the Karuk by age group
and in the entire population (gray columns) compared to the statistics for
the entire USA (black columns). Sources: CDC (2003), Karuk Tribe (2005).
Furthermore, 40% of tribal members reported that
there are species of fish that their family gathered in the
past, but which they can no longer harvest. For most
of these species the decline is quite recent. For example,
over half the respondents reported that Spring Chinook
lost significance as a food source during the 1960s and
1970s, within a decade of the completion of Iron Gate
dam, the lowest of the five dams on the Klamath (Fig. 6),
and only a few families continued to fish significant
amounts into the 1980s and 1990s.
Based on medical, survey and interview data, the
Figure 8. The occurrence of diabetes rose significantly in families during
identified health consequences of an altered diet for the
the 1970s when Spring Chinook salmon dropped out of the diets of most
Karuk people. Source: Karuk Tribe (2005).
Karuk people included high rates of Type II diabetes,
heart disease, and hypertension. The estimated diabetes
rate for the Karuk Tribe in 2005 was 21%; nearly four
times the US average (Fig. 7) (CDC 2003; Karuk Tribe 2005; Karuk medical data since 2005). The estimated rate of
heart disease for the Karuk Tribe in the same year was 39.6% — three times the US average (Norgaard 2005). Despite
the current epidemic levels, diabetes has only recently appeared in the Karuk population. Self-report data from the Karuk
Health and Fish Consumption Survey (see Norgaard 2005) indicate that diabetes first appeared in most families (over
60%) after the 1960s (Fig. 8).
It was during the 1960s and 1970s that Spring Chinook dropped out of the diets of most Karuk tribal members
(Fig. 6), and shortly following this event, that diabetes was reported in high numbers (Fig. 8). Note below that diabetes begins to appear in about 30% of Karuk families roughly ten years following the loss of Spring Chinook salmon as
a significant food source.
The relationship between loss of fish in the diet and the incidence of diabetes may or may not be causal. The drop
in Spring Chinook harvests and the rise in diabetes could be happening by chance, or due to some other outside force
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(such as people moving away from the river, or some dramatic event). Causality cannot be determined from the
statistical analysis itself, but can be inferred from available information. First there was the fact that Native
people around the world have experienced skyrocketing rates of diabetes concurrent with shifts from a traditional to a western diet. Second, doctors would recommend salmon as the ideal food to both prevent and cure
diabetes. These two facts, together with the close temFigure 9. Graph showing the relationship between the decline in Spring
poral association between the two events, make a very
Chinook salmon populations after the building of the Iron Gate dam (the
furthest downstream of the five built on the Klamath River during the
compelling case for a causal relationship (Fig. 9). Lack of
period 1917–1962) and the rise in the incidence of diabetes among the
traditional food affects tribal members not only in that it
Karuk. For more information on the dams, see <
press/press.php>. Source: Karuk Tribe (2005).
decreases their nutritional intake related to specific foods,
but also due to an overall lack of food. Poverty and hunger rates for the Karuk Tribe are among the highest in
the state and nation. The poverty rate is between 80 and
85% (Data from 2004 Karuk Demographic Survey1).
Finally, that Karuk tribal members are denied access to the healthy foods that have supported them since time immemorial also has costs for the broader society. Research by the American Diabetes Association has revealed that diabetics
incur an average annual per capita health care cost of US$13,243 per person per year in the USA (American Diabetes
Association 2003). Given the 148 diabetic tribal members in 2004, we calculated an estimated annual cost for Karuk
tribal members at over 1.9 million dollars (ibid.). PacifiCorp does not reimburse the Karuk Tribe, nor do the Siskiyou
and Humboldt Counties, for the increased health care costs. We argued that any cost-benefit analysis of the dams should
include $1.9 million annually to provide medical services for the artificially high incidence of diabetes in the Karuk Tribe
(Karuk Tribe 2005).
The Difference It Made: A Place at the Table
The above information was submitted to the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission. In 2005, we also released the
report “The Effects of Altered Diet on the Health of the Karuk People” to the general public (Karuk Tribe 2005). It represents the first time in a dam re-licensing process that a tribe has described how dams have led to an environmental
decline that, in turn, led to loss of traditional food sources and declining human health. It was a key moment when allies
in the environmental movement put Reed in touch with a reporter at the Washington Post, who came for a full day visit
and wrote a story that made the paper’s front page. That first story generated a second in the Associated Press, which
was widely reprinted; there were dozens of additional news stories as well as coverage by local and regional radio stations.
Since the release of the report and the political pressure it brought to bear, we found that our requests on behalf of
the Karuk Tribe carried considerably more weight in meetings with PacifiCorp and other players. We spoke publicly on
the report’s findings, and through contacts from these speaking engagements and as a result of the news coverage people
1 An internal survey conducted by the Karuk Tribe of California, Happy Camp Tribal Office, Happy Camp, CA.
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stepped forward offering resources, political connections and opportunities for future speaking. Reed now sits on the
California Environmental Justice Advisory Board and was one of a handful of California delegates to the World Social
Forum in 2007.
Conclusion and Next Steps
The Karuk and other Native American tribes in the United States and around the world are seeking to continue their traditional activities, including the use of their language, their ceremonial practices, land management systems and the consumption of traditional foods. The Karuk Tribe, in particular, is a poor people fighting one of the largest energy companies in the world. Many other tribes are also engaged in such fights against large corporations. Although their issues may
vary according to the region, the type of environmental threat, and the extent the tribe has remained land-based, native
peoples around the world face common challenges to their human rights, religious freedom, and access to traditional
resources. What they all face, additionally, is the invisibility of their reality and their daily lives to the general public. This
lack of awareness works together with outright racism, such as that which denied legitimacy to Reed’s voice until it was
backed with evidence resulting from Norgaard’s research.
Most Americans are so removed from the land that the concept of incurring real health effects from the loss of traditional foods is foreign to them. They are unaware of the connection between human and ecological health. One of the
reasons our work was successful in changing the terms of the debate for the Karuk is that it made this connection visible
along with the reality of daily life for Karuk people in ways that the dominant society could not ignore.
As of this writing, Reed is participating in settlement negotiations that are now geared towards the real possibility
of removing the dams. Reed and his family are working on many fronts to restore the river and the Karuk tribal culture,
including continuing the practice of dipnet fishing at their ceremonial site and distributing fish to the community. They
hope to begin culture camps for the youth and develop a facility for tribal members returning from prison to become
involved in cultural practices. Norgaard is a Professor of Sociology and Environmental Studies at Whitman College, a
small liberal arts school in eastern Washington. During the summer she takes her students to the Klamath area where
they participate in research for the tribe. We continue to work together on research projects designed to increase the visibility of tribal needs in terms of diet and health.
It has been no small task for a poor tribe such as the Karuk to challenge the will of a large multinational corporation.
One important step was a media campaign and a trip overseas. In June of 2004, some two dozen members of four tribes,
the Pacific Coast Federation of Fisherman’s Association and an environmental group, Friends of the River, traveled to
Edinburgh, UK, to attend the shareholders meeting of Scottish Power, then owner of PacifiCorps. They captivated the
Scottish media. On the day of the meeting, they rallied outside, obtained permission to speak inside the meeting and
secured a private meeting with the CEO.
If the dams on the Klamath River are removed it will be the largest peacetime dam removal project in history. This
victory will be the achievement of the extended efforts of many people — we are just a few of the small army dedicated
to the restoration of the river. We hope that other tribal people will be able to use some aspects of our approach as a template for their own work and to communicate the relationships between environmental and human health, and their circumstances within the continuum of genocide.
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Our work was supported by many people who shared their time and knowledge in the survey, interviews and throughout
the research process. We thank all who made this project possible through their assistance. We are grateful to our families
and also to Malcolm Terence for his editing.
Literature Cited
American Diabetes Association. 2003. Economic costs of diabetes in the U.S. in 2002. Diabetes Care 26(3): 917–932.
Bell, M.K. 1991. Karuk: The Upriver People. Naturgraph Publishers, Happy Camp, CA.
CDC. 2003. Diabetes Prevalence Among American Indians and Alaska Natives and the Overall Population–United States
1994–2002. Center for Disease Control (CDC), Atlanta. 2003/52 (30): 702–704.
Hewes, G. 1973. Indian fisheries productivity in pre-contact times in the Pacific Salmon Area. Northwest Anthropological
Research Notes 7(2): 133–155.
Karuk Tribe. 2005. The Effects of Altered Diet on the Health of the Karuk People. Report on the Karuk Health and
Fish Consumption Survey, Karuk Tribe, Happy Camp Tribal Office, Happy Camp, CA. 116pp. [Filed on behalf of
the Karuk Tribe in the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission process on the relicensing of the Klamath Hydro
Electric Project, November, 2005].
Nagel, J. 1996. American Indian Ethnic Renewal. Oxford University Press, New York.
Wilkinson, C. 2005. Blood Struggle: The Rise of Modern Indian Nations. W.W. Norton & Co., New York.
Indigenous Peoples and Conservation: From Rights to Resource Management
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Conflicts about Biocultural
Diversity in Thailand : ​
Karen in the Thung Yai
Naresuan World Heritage Site
Facing Modern Challenges¹
Reiner Buergin
Deforestation, Conservation and Community Forests
Quick Facts
Country: Thailand
Geographic Focus: The Thung Yai Naresuan Wildlife
Sanctuary covering 320,000 ha is located on the western
international border with Burma and is the core area of
the Western Forest Complex, Thailand’s largest remaining
forest area.
Indigenous Peoples: People of the Karen ethnic minority
group have been living in the area declared a Wildlife Sanctuary in 1974 for at least 200 years. Since the 1970s, various villages of ethnic minority groups, including Karen, have
been resettled. In the late 1990s, some 3,000 almost
exclusively ethnic Pwo Karen lived in the Wildlife Sanctuary.
The remaining villages are threatened by resettlement and
restrictions on their traditional sustainable land use system.
Author Information
Reiner Buergin is an Anthropologist with a background in Forestry.
For his PhD project he carried out extensive field research in Thung
Yai, studying problems of local change and land use in the context of
national forest policies and international environmentalism. He is currently a lecturer at the Institute of International Forestry in Tharandt,
Technical University Dresden, and researcher in the Working Group
Socio-Economics of Forest Use in the Tropics at the University of
E-mail: [email protected]
Biodiversity conservation in Thailand has focused on the establishment of protected areas that are controlled by the government. This
modern approach to nature conservation gained strength in the 1950s
during a period of pronounced nationalism, and resulted from the
predominant international trend of presupposing an inherent incompatibility between nature conservation and resource use by local communities. Legal provisions for protected areas (PAs) were created in
the 1960s, and the Royal Forest Department (RFD) was made responsible for their creation and management.
During the first half of the 20th century, the main concern of
the RFD was to allocate concessions for teak extraction. After World
War II, tropical forests were increasingly seen as important resources
for both industrialized and developing countries, and swidden cultivation was stigmatized as inefficient and detrimental to tropical forest resources. By the mid-1960s, almost 40% of Thailand’s land area
was assigned to concession areas, and swidden cultivation was prohibited. At the same time, the demarcation of protected areas had
begun, although it proceeded slowly at first. The global spread of
modernization and the expanding world market was also influencing
national agricultural policies. Thailand’s rapid economic growth during the 1960s and 1970s was based on the state-propagated extension
of agricultural areas for the cultivation of cash crops for the world
market. Along with a fast growing population, this policy resulted in
rapid deforestation.
From 1950 to the early 1980s, the forest cover in Thailand
de­creased from almost two-thirds to less than one-third of the country,
and deforestation was increasingly perceived as a problem. The RFD
had then to explain this rapid deforestation to a conservation-sensitive
1 The data and references on which this paper is based can be found in Buergin (2002).
Human Rights and Conservation
urban public with growing political power. It also had to deal with some 10 million rural people — about one-fifth of
the total population — who were living “illegally” in areas declared forest reserves. Of these “forest areas,” more than onethird were used for agriculture, constituting at least one-third of Thailand’s entire agricultural area. In this situation of
contested competence and growing resistance, the RFD concentrated on implementing a Protected Area System (PAS)
that was to encompass 28% of the total land area of Thailand (Fig. 1).
The issue of people in forest reserves, however, became an important societal controversy over social justice, resource
control, land rights, and democratization (see Buergin and Kessler 2000). On the one side, the Forest Department
together with primarily conservation-oriented NGOs and academics, concentrated on conservation issues. For them
“people and forests cannot co-exist” and forest protection required the removal of human settlements. On the other side,
peasant-movement groups, socially concerned academics, and people-oriented NGOs focused on the interests and problems of rural communities. They presupposed a vital interest of local communities in protecting their forests as a source
of livelihood, as well as for ecological and cultural functions.
To a large extent, this controversy developed in the context of drafting a Community Forest Bill (CFB), which
was fiercely disputed throughout the 1990s (see Brenner et al. 1999). A so-called “people’s draft” was submitted to
Parliament and passed in October 2001, but met heavy resistance in the Senate. It was adopted in March 2002, but
only with significant revisions, triggering renewed national and international debates. In December 2007, the National
Figure 1. After World War II, the forest cover in Thailand decreased rapidly due to logging and the extension of
agricultural areas. Until the 1980s, most forest areas where designated as concession areas. It was not until the
1970s that forest reserves and protected areas were increasingly demarcated. The discrepancy between areas declared forest reserves and real forested areas reflects growing societal conflicts about forests since the 1980s. The
implementation of a Protected Area System (PAS) free of human settlement that encompasses 28% of the land
area of Thailand complies with national and international calls for nature conservation. It threatens livelihoods and
cultural identities of many people living in or close to protected areas, which predominantly are people of ethnic
minority groups stereotyped as ‘hill tribes’.
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Legislative Assembly (set up after a military coup in 2006) approved the Bill just before dissolving, leaving its finalization to a new government. Specifically, the problem of communities and community forests in protected areas remained
unsolved and controversial.
Protected Areas and “Hill Tribes”
The particularly problematic issue of ethnic discrimination is rarely addressed in the debate on forest legislation; most of
the people living in areas designated for the PAs are members of “hill tribes”, who have a precarious status in Thai society. The term came into use in the 1950s as a generic name for various non-Tai 2 ethnic groups living predominantly in
the uplands of northern and western Thailand. It soon acquired a negative stereotype, being associated with destruction
of the forest, the cultivation of opium, and dangerous non-Thai troublemakers. During the 1960s and 1970s, the fight
against opium cultivation and communist insurgency dominated hill tribe policies. By the mid-1980s, both issues had
lost their urgency, but forest conservation had risen to a high level of public interest. The settlement areas of hill tribes
were those areas where most of the remaining forests were to be found, and the hill tribes were conceived as the main
“problem group” regarding deforestation. Forest conservation came to dominate hill tribe policies, and resettlement was
the preferred solution. On ethnic minority groups and hill tribe policies in Thailand see Buergin (2000).
On the local level as well, conflicts between ethnic Tai and hill tribe groups rose during the 1980s. Resource conflicts
over land, forests, and water occurred as ethnic Tai farmers spread into the uplands, and as the populations of hill tribes
grew and some of them took up cash cropping. Increasingly in the late 1990s, ethnic minority groups in the uplands
were arbitrarily arrested, forcibly resettled, and terrorized.
In the international debates on environment, development, and human rights, however, new conceptions of “traditional” or “indigenous” people 3 gained strength; increasingly conceiving them as promising partners in biodiversity
conservation rather than as foes. In Thailand, likewise, an alternative image of “benign environmentalists” emerged in
the 1990s for at least some of the ethnic minority groups in the uplands; prominent among them the Karen. In contrast
to the stereotype of the forest-destroying hill tribes, which still prevails in Thailand, the Karen are increasingly referred
to as “people living in harmony with nature.” This alternative stereotype — in Thailand as well as on the international
level — meets with reproaches from various sides as being partly fictional, over-generalizing, or violating people’s rights
to development. For the Karen, however, who never had access to the discussions in which these stereotypes were framed,
this image of the benign environmentalists is one with which they can identify, at least to some degree. And for many of
them who live in forests and protected areas it has become their most important asset in the national and international
debates that will decide their future.4
History and Identity of Karen in Thung Yai
The case of the Karen groups living in the Thung Yai Naresuan Wildlife Sanctuary, on which the following account
focuses, received considerable national and international attention, but cannot be easily generalized. In the late 1990s,
some 3,000 people were living in Thung Yai. They were almost exclusively ethnic Pwo Karen, most of them born in
2 The term “Tai” is conventionally used to refer to linguistic or ethnic categories, while “Thai” indicates aspects of formal nationality and citizenship.
3 On problems regarding the concept of ‘indigenous people’ in Asia see specifically Kingsbury (1998).
4 Regarding ambiguities of these stereotypings see Buergin (2003).
Conflicts about Biocultural Diversity in Thailand : Karen in the Thung Yai Naresuan World Heritage Site Facing Modern Challenges
Human Rights and Conservation
Thailand and within the sanctuary. Their ancestors had come to the area in the 18th century fleeing political and religious
suppression in Burma. In the early 19th century, their leader was conferred a Siamese title of nobility as head of a principality with considerable importance for the Siamese Kings, as it guarded part of their western border with British-Burma.
It was only in the beginning of the 20th century, after the establishment of the modern Thai nation state, that the Karen
in Thung Yai lost their status. When they reappeared on
the political scene towards the end of the 20th century, it
was as forest encroachers and illegal immigrants.
The Thai name Thung Yai (“big field”) refers to a
savannah in the centre of the sanctuary. In Karen language this place is called pia aethala aethae, which may
be translated as “place of the knowing sage,” referring to
mythological hermits who are important for the identity of the Karen. The Karen see themselves as people living in and off the forest, part of a complex community
of plants, animals, humans, and spiritual beings. Within
this community, the Karen do not feel superior, but
highly dependent on the other beings and forces. Living
there requires adaptation as well as specific knowledge
about the interdependencies and rules of this commuFigure 2. Karen village in the Thung Yai Naresuan Wildlife Sanctuary. In
nity. Fostering relations with the various spiritual carethe late 1990s, some 3,000 people were living in Thung Yai. They were
takers of this “forest community” is an important part
almost exclusively ethnic Pwo Karen.
of Karen life in the sanctuary. In these rules and norms,
as well as in their daily practice of livelihood, the Karen
conserve a very rich and specific knowledge about their
environment, which — like their real and imagined history in Thung Yai — is at the heart of their identity.
Interethnic Encounters and Socio-political
Figure 3. Ceremony for the guardian of the forest rukkhajue. As long as
matrifocal cult groups were crucial for Karen social organization, ritual
heads called thei ku fostered the relationship between each individual village and the “spirit of trees” rukkhajue. After the weakening of the matrifocal cult groups due to external influences, the Karen have started to pay
respect to rukkhajue on a regional level as part of a big festival where all
villages participate. This festival takes place in the big savannah (thung
yai) to honour the aethae, mythological hermits who are important for
the identity of the Karen. In Karen language this savannah is called pia
aethala aethae, which may be translated as “place of the knowing sage.”
Until the second half of the 20th century, when state
institutions expanded into peripheral areas to control
resources and people, external influences in Thung Yai
were minimal. A crucial feature of Karen social organization in Thung Yai is their ancestor cult, ong chre. Until
the 1960s, most of the households in Thung Yai practiced ong chre, which may be translated as “eating with
the ancestors.” It is organized in matrifocal cult groups
based on matrilineal descent. Children are born into
their mother’s group, and men become members of their
wife’s group when they marry, without leaving their
mother’s group. Generally, the eldest female of the group
Indigenous Peoples and Conservation: From Rights to Resource Management
Human Rights and Conservation
is the ritual head of the cult groups. Households practicing ong chre are forbidden to raise chickens or pigs, or
to consume alcohol, opium or marihuana. Furthermore,
ong chre requires the purity of the village, which has to
be restored in an annual village ceremony that has all villagers present while all outsiders have to leave the village.
These requirements became difficult to meet after
ethnic Tai people started to live in the Karen villages
as government officials in the 1960s. As they generally
raise pigs and chicken, and consume alcohol, they offend
the purity of the village while simultaneously preventing its purification through their presence. As a result,
many households adopted a new, less demanding form
of the ancestor cult, called ba pho (“to do flowers”). This
change was accompanied by transformations of the village organization. As long as ong chre was the predominant form of ancestor cult, matrifocal cult groups were
the most important social units structuring the community beyond the household level. The ritual head of one
of the matrifocal cult groups, called thei ku (“head of the
tree”), fostered the relationship between the village and
the rukkhajue, the “spirit of trees” who resided inside a
village tree called thei waplieng. The relation to the powerful spirit of the trees was crucial for the well-being of
the village within the forest. The thei ku was also responsible for keeping moral norms and for performing the
Figure 4. Novices in a Karen Buddhist Wat. Besides their specific ancestor
annual village purification ceremony. The permanent
cult, a particular form of Buddhism different from Thai-Buddhism has
presence of ethnic Tai in the Karen communities made
long constituted an important part of Karen culture in Thung Yai. Traditionally, the Buddhist monasteries provided the only formal education
it difficult if not impossible to perform these functions.
for the Karen. Since the 1960s, Thai schools have been established in
The change from the matrifocal ong chre to the more
the sanctuary which all children have to attend. Regarding the tradition
of their own culture, the Karen see these schools as highly problematic;
household centered ba pho form of the ancestor cult furthe Tai teachers deliberately debase Karen culture and all-day schooling
ther diminished the position of the thei ku.
restricts children’s possibilities to partake in this culture.
In the context of these changes, in most villages the
cult of the village tree thei waplieng and its spirit rukkhajue was substituted by a village cult called priao. Compared to the cult of the village tree, which references the forest
spirit, the village cult priao addresses a kind of village tutelary spirit called phu pha du or “very old grandfather,” which
resembles spirits honored in Tai villages and shows closer connections to the “human,” “male,” and Buddhist sphere.
These social and religious changes in Karen communities indicate a growing similarity between the Karen and the
Thai society, as well as a weakening of the Karen’s traditional identity and their practice of maintaining a close relationship
to their forests. While these changes have been unintentionally brought about by external actors, other political, educational, and economic transformations of the Karen communities are much more purposefully supported and enforced
by people and institutions in Thailand aimed at assimilating and modernizing the Karen. With the incorporation of the
Conflicts about Biocultural Diversity in Thailand : Karen in the Thung Yai Naresuan World Heritage Site Facing Modern Challenges
Human Rights and Conservation
Karen communities into the Thai nation state and the expansion of its institutions to the peripheries of the country, frictions between the internal, largely autonomous, egalitarian, and consensus-oriented organization of the Karen villages
on the one hand, and the dominant, highly hierarchical and external bureaucratic system on the other, have increased
considerably, and pose serious threats to the Karen way of life and identity.
The Karen are even more concerned about the Thai schools in their villages, where their own culture is deliberately
debased by the Tai teachers, and all-day schooling considerably restricts the children’s possibilities to experience their parent’s everyday life as well as efforts of Karen elders to establish supplementary Karen schools. Most threatening to their
existence and particular way of life as Karen people in Thung Yai, however, are the persistent plans to resettle them or to
enforce the modernization of their subsistence-oriented land use system.
Nature Conservation, Resettlement, and Enforced Modernization
Until the 1980s, the extension of state institutions into the peripheral areas triggered transformations and adaptations
of the social, political, and ideological organization of the Karen communities in Thung Yai. Profound changes to their
economic organization occurred in the late 1980s and are closely related to the declaration of Thung Yai as a protected
area. The wildlife sanctuary was established in 1974, and in 1987-1988 Thung Yai attracted international attention concerning conflicts over the construction of the Nam Choan Dam, which would have flooded most of the sanctuary. After
the dam project was stopped due to the protest of a broad public alliance, in 1991 the international community acknowledged the outstanding ecological value of
Thung Yai by declaring it a Natural World
Heritage Site. Together with the adjoining Huai Kha Khaeng Wildlife Sanctuary,
it constitutes the core area of the Western
Complex — Thailand’s
remaining forest area with considerable
importance for biodiversity conservation
in mainland Southeast Asia and worldwide (Fig. 5). Since the establishment of
the sanctuary, villages have been removed,
and the remaining Karen villages became a
political issue when it was declared a World
Heritage Site. The RFD and the Military
used violence, and placed restrictions on
their land use system, to induce them to
resettle “voluntarily.”
Most households in Thung Yai live on
subsistence farming, predominantly growing rice on swidden fields and some paddy
fields, although since probably at least
Figure 5. The Thung Yai Naresuan Wildlife Sanctuary together with the adjoining Huai Kha
the middle of the 19th century, Karen in
Khaeng Wildlife Sanctuary was declared a Natural World Heritage Site in 1991. The two
Wildlife Sanctuaries constitute the core area of the Western Forest Complex, Thailand’s
Thung Yai have earned small incomes by
largest remaining forest area with considerable importance for biodiversity conservation in
mainland Southeast Asia as well as globally.
selling traditional cash crops such as chilis,
Indigenous Peoples and Conservation: From Rights to Resource Management
Human Rights and Conservation
tobacco, forest products and domestic animals. These income sources have been important for the subsistence economy
of most of the households until today. Since the late 1980s, monetary incomes increased mainly due to wage labor outside of the sanctuary, even though this increase was very moderate in absolute terms. The mean annual cash income per
person in 1996 was less than US$50, and for more than one-third of the people it was below US$20. There was no evidence for a general shift from a subsistence to a market orientation.
The future of the Karen’s subsistence economy in Thung Yai was threatened by the RFD’s restrictions, which prohibit the use of fallow areas older than three years. In the long term, this will necessarily lead to the breakdown of
the traditional swidden system, as the soils under constant use lose their productivity. In the villages where RFD and
military control was most effective, people were already reporting decreasing yields in the second half of the 1990s.
Furthermore, the RFD started to plant tree seedlings on swidden fields in some villages, leaving the Karen to choose
between being charged as forest destroyers or facing severe subsistence problems. The only possibility to adapt to these
restrictions — apart from trying to avoid them — seemed to be economic modernization; to either try to increase the
productivity of the fields using fertilizers and pesticides, which most of them cannot afford, to turn to cash cropping
inside the sanctuary, or to wage labor outside of it. Intensification of agriculture and cash cropping is already propagated
by some government institutions and NGOs working in the sanctuary, although most of the Karen in Thung Yai try to
carry on with subsistence farming. Furthermore, intensification of land use, cash cropping, and increased market orientation endangers their reputation as “forest people living in harmony with nature,” their most important asset in the
debate about the future of their villages.
Adaptation and Resistance
The transformations on the local, national, and international level over the last 50 years are highly interdependent, as
this paper indicates. Locally, the most important changes are the decreasing importance of matrifocal kinship groups
accompanied by the emergence of a more household centered and patrifocal village cult; the clash of a predominantly
egalitarian and consensus-oriented internal political organization with a more authoritarian and hierarchical external
political system; the challenge of the Thai education system to local Karen identity and tradition; and resettlement and
the pressures on their subsistence economy. They were stereotyped as alien hill tribes, and their living place, the forests
in Thung Yai, were first defined as economic resources for national development, and later — when the costs of development became more obvious — as national and global biodiversity assets that have to be protected against local people.
Efforts to incorporate the Karen into the nation focused mainly on surveillance, cultural assimilation, resettlement, and
enforced economic modernization. While “otherness” was assigned to the Karen, they themselves express a strong desire
to retain a different way of life closely related to their living space. Far-reaching adaptations to the external challenges
allowed them to retain a distinct identity as Karen in Thung Yai until today.
Even though all of the Karen in Thung Yai believe that resettlement is neither justified nor desirable, they take different positions towards external influences. There is a small group, including most of the Phu Yai Ban (the village head in
the context of the Thai administrative system), that is open to moderate economic modernization. But even these “moderate modernists” do not want to abandon their local Karen identity. The vast majority is rather more reluctant to modernization, preferring to “live like our grandparents did”, as a common saying goes.
Among the Karen, there are marked differences in their reaction to external challenges and allies. A rather big group,
including many influential elders as well as young people, can be labeled “extroverted traditionalists.” They are trying
to shape the changes by strengthening Karen culture and identity, as well as seeking support from outside of Thung Yai.
They emphatically participate in activities promoting environmental awareness, sustainable resource management, and
Conflicts about Biocultural Diversity in Thailand : Karen in the Thung Yai Naresuan World Heritage Site Facing Modern Challenges
Human Rights and Conservation
indigenous knowledge. Another group of more “introverted traditionalists” also focuses on tradition, but
invokes to a higher degree “exclusive” frames of Karen
culture. They base their hopes on a strict compliance
to the rules of a local millenarian buddhist sect and its
promises of redemption. Regarding their relation to
non-Karen outsiders, they rather tend to avoid transcultural exchange and support.
Despite their differences in position and strategy, all
groups wish to remain in their villages and protect their
culture and homeland, even if offered improved living
standards outside of the sanctuary. So far, the Karen in
Thung Yai have had no chance to participate directly in
the national and international discourses regarding their
homeland. To defend their rights and interests, they
Figure 6. Indigenous knowledge project in the savannah thung yai. When
depend on advocates. They find allies predominantly in
Thung Yai was declared a Natural World Heritage Site, the Karen people
were perceived only as a disruptive factor which had to be eliminated.
the peasant and civil society movement, even though it
Studies carried out there since then clearly indicate that they are an integral part of Thung Yai. In their culture they keep a unique body of
is a sometimes precarious alliance. Many of the Karen
knowledge about their natural environment to which they maintain a
feel that they cannot accurately communicate their own
specific and deep spiritual relationship. To defend their rights on local
resources and their own way of living they depend on external support
views, and that their own urgent needs and interests may
and advocacy.
not necessarily be shared and supported by their external
To explain their current situation, an important spiritual and political leader in Thung Yai, who belongs to the group of “extroverted traditionalists,” told a story which may
be recounted in a very condensed form as follows: Peoples of different origins were living on a big ship, among them Tai,
Farang (Westerners), and Karen. Most of them had killed their ancestors, but not so the Karen. They had hidden their
ancestors in a basket, being afraid the other people would kill them too. One day an enormous storm threatened to sink
the ship. In this desperate situation, the Karen offered to ask their ancestors for advice, if the other people promised not
to kill them. The advice of the Karen ancestors was to prepare a fish-hook with a cow as bait to catch a very big fish which
would pull the ship out of the storm into safety.
To understand the advice of the Karen ancestors requires an explanation of the symbols employed in the parable,
which can be done here only in crudest terms. According to the Karen elder, the fish which saved the ship refers to a way
of life respecting traditional habits, values, and ancestors, while the cow figures as a symbol for “religion,” and the fishhook indicates “faith”. By relating the threats to local Karen culture and identity (symbolized in the killing of the ancestors) to a global crisis (signified by the possible sinking of the ship) traditional Karen culture, in this parable, becomes
crucial for the salvation of the local as well as the global crisis.
On another level, the parable implies a criticism of “modernity.” In this perspective, uncontrolled greed, which the
Karen personify in the figure of a mighty, vicious and devouring witch called My Sa Le Pli, is conceived of as a basic feature of modernity. Unleashed due to the loss of traditional values by “people who killed their ancestors,” greed is conceived as being at the root of the threats to the Karen way of life in Thung Yai as well as the global crisis. With their own
“traditional” way of life, the Karen in Thung Yai see themselves not as a cause of the problem, but much more as a part
of the solution, even regarding the global crisis, as the parable suggests.
Indigenous Peoples and Conservation: From Rights to Resource Management
Human Rights and Conservation
Biodiversity Conservation and Cultural Diversity
From a modern, ethical point of view there can be little doubt that the Karen in Thung Yai have a right to stay there.
Their resettlement or the prohibition of their subsistence-oriented swidden system is hardly reasonable, even under strict
objectives of nature conservation. Although the Karen were perceived as a disruptive factor when Thung Yai was declared
a Natural World Heritage Site, studies done there clearly indicate that they are an integral part of Thung Yai. With their
traditional sustainable land use system they have shaped the sanctuary considerably over a long time and increased its
biodiversity. In their culture they keep a unique body of knowledge about their natural environment to which they maintain a specific and deep spiritual relationship. This history and relationship even suggests a reconsideration of the status of Thung Yai. The sanctuary may be better conceived of as a Cultural Landscape World Heritage Site, which would
acknowledge the profound interdependence between “nature” and “culture” in Thung Yai, and may provide a frame supportive to the survival of a distinctive living culture as well as to the protection of the unique biological diversity of the
There are strong forces in Thailand that support either the exclusion or a complete assimilation of the so-called hill
tribes, as well as their removal from protected areas. However, over the last 30 years, Thailand has undergone a remarkable process of democratization, has committed itself to the principles of human rights, and has enacted a constitution (in 1997) that explicitly grants rights to local communities for cultural self-determination and the use of local
resources. Unfortunately, these commitments are not always easy to implement. Furthermore, their interpretation is
often contentious and subject to political bargaining where weaker social groups may be at a disadvantage. Regarding
the still-pending Community Forest Bill, the vulnerable position of ethnic minority groups in the uplands should be
reconsidered and provisions included that support their traditional land use systems and land claims. The case of the
Karen in Thung Yai and the more general problem of integrating the hill tribes into Thai society remain a challenge for
democratic forces in Thailand.
In international environmental discourses, forced resettlement is no longer a legitimate option; participation and
cooperative resource management are prominent concepts in protected area management. After having adopted Thung
Yai as a World Heritage Site, responsible international institutions should have disapproved the pressures and violence
towards the Karen, even more so, as “indigenous knowledge” and “cultural diversity” are increasingly seen as significant
factors for sustainable development and biodiversity conservation.
Furthermore, as so called “biodiversity hotspots” frequently coincide with areas of extraordinary cultural diversity,
the protection of cultural diversity is increasingly propagated as a strategy for global biodiversity conservation. In practice, however, interdependencies between biological and cultural diversity often find their expression in conflicts about
biocultural diversity, in which biological as well as cultural diversity are threatened, be it due to continuing tendencies
of modern societies to exploit natural resources and overwhelm non-modern groups, or by way of fortress conservation
strategies depriving indigenous people of their homeland and resources for subsistence.
Protecting biological as well as cultural diversity on a global scale not only requires a reconsideration of exploitative
environmental relations, but also a new respect and support for non-modern groups at the fringes of modernity, with
their different ways of life and world views.
Conflicts about Biocultural Diversity in Thailand : Karen in the Thung Yai Naresuan World Heritage Site Facing Modern Challenges
Human Rights and Conservation
Literature Cited
Brenner, V., Buergin, R., Kessler, C., Pye, O., Schwarzmeier, R. and Sprung, R.-D. 1999. Thailand’s community forest bill: u-turn or roundabout in forest policy? University of Freiburg, Freiburg. Website: <http://www.freidok.>. Accessed: 7 June 2009.
Buergin, R. 2000. ‘Hill tribes’ and forests. University of Freiburg, Freiburg. Website: <http://www.freidok.uni-freiburg.
de/volltexte/768>. Accessed: 7 June 2009.
Buergin, R. 2002. Lokaler Wandel und kulturelle Identität im Spannungsfeld nationaler Modernisierung und globaler
Umweltdiskurse. PhD Dissertation, University of Freiburg, Freiburg. Website: <http://www.freidok.ub.uni-freiburg.
de/volltexte/1754>. Accessed: 7 June 2009.
Buergin, R. 2003. Trapped in environmental discourses and politics of exclusion. In: Living at the Edge of Thai Society,
C.O. Delang (ed.), pp.43–63. Routledge Curzon, London.
Buergin, R. and Kessler, C. 2000. Intrusions and exclusions: democratization in Thailand in the context of environmental discourses and resource conflicts. GeoJournal 52: 71–80.
Kingsbury, B. 1998. ‘Indigenous peoples’ in international law: a constructivist approach to the Asian controversy.
American Journal of International Law 92: 414–457.
Indigenous Peoples and Conservation: From Rights to Resource Management
Human Rights and Conservation
Indigenous Peoples and the
Struggle for Governance of
Natural Resources in Belize
Gregory Ch'oc
Quick Facts
Country: Belize
Geographic Focus: Toledo District of Southern Belize
Indigenous Peoples: There are five Q'eqchi communities
and a Garifuna community in the vicinity of the Sarstoon
Temash National Park, Belize.
The Sarstoon Temash National Park (STNP) is in southern Belize in
the district of Toledo, along the border with Guatemala. It lies on
the Bay of Amatique in the Gulf of Honduras, with approximately
10 miles of coast and 29 miles of terrestrial border. Created in 1994,
the STNP is the second-largest park in Belize’s protected areas system,
harboring unique ecosystems and a number of threatened species.1
It was created over what the Belizean government considered to be
vacant “National Land,” that is, land belonging to the government.
However, the realities on the ground contradict the government’s
perceptions of the status of the park. The lands inside and outside
the park, as well as those in other parts of Toledo District, have been
used and occupied by Mayan communities since time immemorial. The conflicting view of land ownership in southern Belize has
been the source of controversies between indigenous peoples and the
government. In a landmark decision on 18 October 2007, however,
the Supreme Court of Belize changed this by declaring that Conejo
(Q’eqchi’ Maya community) and Santa Cruz (a primarily Mopan
Maya community) hold collective native title to the land they traditionally used and occupied. Conejo’s land claim included the northern portion of the STNP, while that of Santa Cruz included a western
portion of the Rio Blanco National Park. This landmark ruling by the
Supreme Court has the potential to change the governance of natural
resources in the region, moving it towards addressing indigenous people rights to continue stewardship of the natural resources and wildlife of the region.
Author Information
Gregory Ch'oc is the Executive Director of the Sarstoon Temash
Institute for Indigenous Management (SATIIM). He is a Q'eqchi'
Maya from San Miguel, Toledo. Ch'oc has been working with SATIIM
since 2001.
E-mail: [email protected], [email protected]
1 The STNP was created by Statutory Instrument No. 42 in May 1994 and was assigned IUCN Protected Area
Management Category II.
Human Rights and Conservation
The Wildlife of the Sarstoon Temash National Park
The Sarstoon Temash National Park comprises 16,590 ha
(41,000 acres) of relatively undisturbed wetland in southern Belize along the Guatemalan border (Fig. 1). There
are four distinct primary vegetation types; permanently
and seasonally inundated tropical evergreen lowland forest, Manicaria swamp forest, and lowland peat shrubland
with sphagnum moss (Harcourt et al. 1996; Meerman
et al. 2003).
The fauna includes 226 species of birds, 24 mammals, including jaguar (Panthera onca), jaguarondi
(Herpailurus yagouarundi), ocelot (Felis pardalis) and
manatee (Trichechus manatus), 22 reptiles, including Morelet’s crocodile (Crocodylus moreletii), 42 fishes
(most of them marine) and 46 species of Lepidoptera
(Meerman et al. 2003). The park contains the only
Comfra palm forest (Manicaria saccifera) in Belize, and
the only known lowland sphagnum moss bog in Central
America, and is said to contain the best stretches of
Figure 1. The Sarstoon Temash National Park is located in the southern
Belize district of Toledo, along the border with Guatemala including The
undisturbed Red mangrove (Rhizophora mangle) forest
Sarstoon Temash National Park Management Plan zones (SATIIM 2005).
in the region. There are a number of species that are on
It is the second-largest park in Belize’s protected areas system created in
1994. Map © Kellee Koenig/CI.
the IUCN Red List, including the Critically Endangered
Hickatee turtle (Dermatemys mawii), the Endangered
black howler monkey (Alouatta pigra) and Baird’s tapir (Tapirus bairdii), and the West Indian manatee which is ranked as
‘Vulnerable’ (IUCN 2008). The Neotropical river otter (Lontra longicaudis) is classified as ‘Data Deficient’, and the Great
Curassow (Crax rubra) and jaguar are ‘Near Threatened’. This is also an important refuge for Morelet’s crocodile that the
IUCN Red List classifies as of Least Concern but dependant on conservation measures for its continued survival. Local
people report that cacomistles (Bassariscus sumichrasti) occur in the area. This species is rare throughout most of Belize,
and the only places where it is apparently common are in certain areas along the Maya Mountains (Meerman et al. 2003).
The STNP is an important wildlife corridor for other protected areas in Belize and neighboring Guatemala, and is
also pivotal for the protection of the watershed protecting the Belize Barrier Reef system. The STNP, along with its adjacent protected area, the Rio Sarstún Multiple Use Area in Guatemala, were both declared Ramsar wetlands of international importance in 2006, creating the first bi-national Ramsar site in Central America.
Indigenous and Traditional Peoples
Like all of Belize, the Toledo District was inhabited by Mayans long before the arrival of the Europeans and the establishment of the State of Belize. The numerous Mayan temples in the district and their continuous use for religious purposes testify to the connection between contemporary and ancient Maya. Today, the Toledo District has a population
of 30,100, consisting of Creole, East Indian, Garifuna, Mestizo, and Maya (Belize, SIB 2008). The Maya are the largest group, accounting for 70% of the district’s population. A breakdown between the two Maya subgroups, Mopan and
Indigenous Peoples and Conservation: From Rights to Resource Management
Human Rights and Conservation
Q’eqchi’, in the 2000 census shows the Q’eqchi’ to be
the larger group, accounting for 45.8% of the population (Belize, SIB 2008).
Six indigenous communities living in and around
the STNP have ancestral and historical connections to
the area, rooted in their economic, social, cultural and
spiritual well-being. They are Barranco, Midway, Conejo,
Sunday Wood, Crique Sarco and Graham Creek. Five
are inland Q’eqchi communities with a total population
of approximately 900 people. Barranco, located on the
coast, is the only Garifuna community, with a population of 241 (SATIIM 2003, p.37). The region’s years
of isolation has led the Q’eqchi and Garifuna people to
develop strong social and economic relationships.
The Q’eqchi’ still live in traditional wooden huts
with thatched roofs and earth floors. They maintain
traditional subsistence farming practices; growing corn,
beans and rice as staples as well as cash crops. The Q’eqchi
have an intimate relationship with the forest, as it provides them with food, shelter and medicine. They have
traditional systems of governance visible in their institutions and processes. One such institution is the Rujhil li
calebal or Alcalde System, which is the Maya traditional
government. A significant number of Q’eqchi communiFigure 2. The jaguar, a Near Threatened species according to IUCN
(2008), can be found in the STNP. Photo © CI/Haroldo Castro 1999.
ties hold on to elements of their traditional governance
systems even though they continue to be undermined
by the State through the introduction of western social
structures, policies and burocratic procedures.
The Garifuna People, or Afro-Caribs, arrived in Belize at the start of the 19th century from the Caribbean island of Saint
Vincent where escaped African slaves had intermarried with the native Carib inhabitants. During the British and French war
to control the island, the Afro-Caribs allied themselves with the French, who eventually surrendered to the British in 1796.
As a result, the British deported the more African looking Caribs to the islands of Roatan Bay off the coast of Honduras.
Migration by the Garifuna north and south has resulted in settlement along the Caribbean coast of Central America. In 1823,
the Garifuna obtained permission to migrate to Belize, where they started small settlements along the coastline. This brought
them to the region that is now Sarstoon Temash National Park.
The Garifuna farmed, fished, hunted, and gathered in the coastal plains. One of their homesteads is the village of
Barranco. This settlement provided productive fishing grounds and areas to collect traditional construction material such
as timber, bush sticks, palm leaves and vines. The Sarstoon region proved to be important to the traditional life style of
the Garifuna People. Since the 1960s, however, Barranco has experienced a steady economic decline caused by a large
exodus of its residents to other areas and countries. The Garifuna, who are traditionally expert farmers and fishers and
exported rice and bananas, found their means of livelihood affected during the 1980s as a result of fish stock depletion
and the domination of markets by large growers.
Indigenous Peoples and the Struggle for Governance of Natural Resources in Belize
Human Rights and Conservation
Lack of Land Tenure Rights and its Consequences
The Toledo District has been the milieu of many development, environmental and natural resource management projects.
While some have achieved modest success, others have failed miserably and have been a disappointment to the indigenous peoples. Disillusioned, they are establishing their own paths for development. Notable among these experiences is
the indigenous-people-initiated management of the Sarstoon Temash region, in particular the national park.
The region’s indigenous population has been at the forefront of the battle for change, fuelled by the desire to assert
their rights. To bolster their claims, they have been engaged in scientific research documenting the region’s archaeological,
biological, social, economic and cultural landscape as a means to defend their ancestral relationship to the region. Armed
with this scientific research and their documented traditional knowledge, they are advancing their rights in the courts
and in the political arena in order to regain their custodial rights over their land and forests. These issues have given rise
to conflicts between the State and the indigenous peoples that continue to unfold today. These conflicts are largely the
result of i) the increased capability of indigenous leaders to access international support for projects aimed at demonstrating their peoples’ ability to maintain active stewardship of natural resources in both traditional and contemporary manners, and their demands for legislative and policy reforms to formalize this, ii) the sustained proactive strategy of indigenous leaders who have been advocating for globally emerging rights that they view as imperative for the engendering of
their people, and (iii) the strong opposition to the government’s decision to grant an oil-prospecting concession in the
Toledo District, in particular, the Sarstoon Temash National Park.
To understand the complex nature of the indigenous people’s actions in the Sarstoon Temash region, it is important
to understand the context that fuels them. As noted earlier, the communities surrounding the STNP depend almost
entirely on subsistence farming of corn, beans, rice, and numerous other fruits and vegetables. Despite the dependence
on their lands, there was, until 2007, no specific provision in Belizean national law recognizing ancestral Maya or historical Garifuna land claims. Thus, the government considered these villagers to be “squatting” on national lands. This lack
of land tenure security has created not only disincentives for investment (i.e., in improvements, permanent crops, and
the proper management of natural resources) but has also fostered the threat of physical dislocation, as lands traditionally used for farming, hunting or harvesting are increasingly leased out to loggers and speculators.
The land tenure situation for the indigenous
Garifuna and Q’eqchi Maya is precarious at best. While
the Garifuna have integrated their traditional land tenure
systems into the individual private tenureship promoted
by the State, the majority of the Maya have resisted.
Despite their long-standing use and occupancy of the
land, they have no formal recognition of their farms,
orchards, hunting grounds or even house lots. Instead,
the government has issued leases, which are basically
rental agreements, over typically 30-acre (12.1-ha) plots
of land. Although the expansion of individual land leases
has progressed over the past few years, very few villagers have benefited from land leases because a significant
Figure 3. The Sarstoon Temash National Park comprises 16,590 ha
number of them continue to practice, use and believe in
(41,000 acres) of relatively undisturbed wetland. The STNP, along with its
their traditional land tenure system, rooted in the notion
neighbouring protected area, the Rio Sarstún Multiple Use Area in Guatemala, were both declared Ramsar wetlands of international significance
of communal usage and ownership as opposed to indiin 2006, creating the first bi-national Ramsar site in Central America.
vidual private titles.
Photo © SATIIM.
Indigenous Peoples and Conservation: From Rights to Resource Management
Human Rights and Conservation
Insecure land tenure is widely recognized internationally as a cause of both deforestation and short-term, unsustainable land-use practices. In Belize, tenure insecurity is a strong disincentive for Maya communities to make long-term
investments in improving their land. Mayas have seen their land alienated from them by a stroke of the ministerial pen
and given away to politically connected non-Mayans or foreign investors. Despite these injustices, many communities
continue to guard their traditional custodian role over their remaining forests.
The lack of legal recognition for their traditional land tenure also makes it difficult or impossible for Mayans to access
capital or negotiate benefit-sharing agreements with development concessionaires, which further limits their ability to
invest in sustainable land and resource management. The government’s failure to recognize traditional indigenous land
management practices carries additional consequences. When the government leases out communally held lands to individuals without considering the communally-designated use of the land, this forces members of a community to move
to new areas to farm. This, combined with growing population pressure and tenure insecurity, is undermining the long
fallow periods in the shifting cultivation system of milpa farming, and magnifying the negative impacts of forest clearing for agriculture. Degraded agricultural lands also intensify the pressure on communities to give up on sustainable
practices and join in the rush to cash out the forest for its many values, including timber, animals and non-timber forest
products, such as xate (leaves from three Chamaedorea palm species, C. elegans, C. oblongata and C. ernesti-augustii, used
in the floral industry), orchids, and palm leaves for roof thatch.
For indigenous peoples, logging and the expanding agricultural frontier are no longer the only threats to sustaining
Toledo’s high biodiversity and interconnected ecosystems; oil exploration has also been gaining ground. The Belizean
government has, in fact, granted most of the Toledo District to foreign oil companies, now engaged in an “oil rush” to
discover the next reservoir of black gold. Most of these companies are small and under-capitalized, using outdated technologies and unfamiliar with international best practices for high biodiversity areas; they have little interest in preventing
or mitigating their environmental impact. The potential for widespread damage from roads, drilling platforms, oil pipelines, spills and contamination of waterways is high, especially in a context where the government is unwilling or unable
to monitor their compliance with existing environmental laws and agreements.
With the land base for the indigenous communities being lost, essentially an entire culture and way of life is being
destroyed. Mayan languages and cultural norms are left behind as families migrate out of the village in search of employment. With this disappearance comes the loss of traditional knowledge about indigenous land and the forest management practices that kept the exploitation of these forests sustainable for generations. This traditional knowledge could
be incorporated into western-style management plans to help reconcile conservation and community needs and create
successful models of biodiversity protection and sustainable use.
Securing rights for the land tenure systems of indigenous peoples is, then, perhaps the single most important step
that can be taken to protect Toledo’s high biodiversity forest ecosystems. Indigenous peoples in Belize have a strong interest in managing natural resources sustainably, one that runs deep in their culture and world view, and they are the best
suited to sustainably manage the district’s natural resources. Recognition of indigenous rights to traditionally-used and
occupied lands could remove many of the direst threats to ecosystem maintenance, such as short-term forest concessions
that will involve deforestation and ill-conceived attempts to drill for petroleum without due consideration of the environmental impacts.
Indigenous leaders recognize that control of Toledo’s forests would not only benefit the environment, but would significantly improve their peoples’ well-being. Sustainable agriculture, forest management and environmentally friendly
businesses such as eco/ethno-tourism could generate employment and sustainable revenue streams for the communities. Land-tenure insecurity in Toledo is a major obstacle, therefore, to the conservation of the environment and to sustainable development — one that has repeatedly been identified by national and international development projects,
Indigenous Peoples and the Struggle for Governance of Natural Resources in Belize
Human Rights and Conservation
researchers and practitioners. Resolving this issue would advance both human rights and community conservation, while
helping to bring about a long-term reduction in the high levels of poverty among the communities around the Sarstoon
Temash National Park.
The Creation of Protected Areas in Belize and the Role of the Indigenous Peoples as
The survival of the Toledo district’s immense biological resources, particularly Sarstoon Temash’s unique wetlands and
mangrove complex, owes a great deal to the careful management of the local indigenous peoples who have historically
depended on its resources. Southern Belize’s pronounced physical isolation from the hubs of national economic and
infrastructure development has also been a major contributing factor. Indigenous peoples recognize that the “natural
protections” are being weakened, and the national park’s relatively pristine status is now under acute and serious threat
from legal and illegal logging, hunting, fishing and the illicit trade in wild animals (largely iguana), large-scale mining,
and petroleum prospecting.
As the indigenous peoples came to terms with these inevitable challenges, they have also had to deal with the protected areas established around their communities. Over the last 25 years, Belize has established a number of parks and
reserves to ensure proper management of the country’s natural resources; most of them without the knowledge of indigenous communities. These parks have affected the indigenous peoples, as they excised and restricted the indigenous communities’ access to the lands and resources they traditionally used and occupied.
In establishing these protected areas, such as the STNP, the government was operating under the modus operandi of
the time, where developing countries were urged to adopt environmental protection measures in exchange for aid by the
international community. Although the government created several protected areas, however, it did not establish the necessary institutional support to manage them effectively.
This situation has been compounded by budget cuts that
have severely limited the abilities of the various statutory agencies involved, forcing the government agencies
with management jurisdiction to explore management
collaboration with communities living near protected
areas. Collaborations have been through a co-management framework. However, the models promoted and
presumed by state planners are seemingly at odds with
the rights and traditions of the indigenous peoples. This
assumption has created tension between state planners
and indigenous peoples over the governance of protected
The government’s management of natural resources
in Belize has been autocratic. The government dictates
the terms of all co-management arrangements, leavFigure 4. SATIIM, a non-profit, founded by community leaders docuing indigenous peoples and civil society with little
ment the region’s biological landscape. The region’s indigenous populaor no room to accommodate their interests. The law,
tion have been at the forefront of the battle for change, armed with this
scientific research and their documented traditional knowledge; they are
which has vested interests concerning the ownership of
advancing their rights in the courts and in the political process to regain
the resources by the State, has been used to define the
their custodial rights over their land and forests. Photo © Vinicio Linarez.
Indigenous Peoples and Conservation: From Rights to Resource Management
Human Rights and Conservation
relationship. Indigenous peoples have always been troubled by this, seeing it as an infringement on their rights and dismissive of their traditions.
Despite this apprehension, and perhaps seeing no other alternative, indigenous peoples reluctantly entered into
co-management with the Belizean Forest Department. The indigenous communities around the STNP did so because
i) they wanted to influence and safeguard their interest in the management of the STNP, ii) they wanted to continue
to be the stewards of the park’s resources, and iii) they wanted to advance their traditional and customary rights to the
land and resources, since state planners were promoting the concept of co-management as having the potential to share
authority and responsibility.
One of the major fallacies of the co-management agreement in this case was that it would address issues of customary and traditional rights; a fundamental flaw was that it failed to take into consideration Mayan traditional processes
and structures of governance. Governance and resource management activities that were difficult to capture in the procedures were excluded, creating a crisis for some of the communities.
SATIIM and the Creation of an Indigenous Management Plan
The Sarstoon Temash Institute for Indigenous Management (SATIIM) has challenged the status quo of natural resources
governance in Belize. It was created to undertake the work of co-managing the park, and represents the six communities
that surround it. It is Belize’s most successful indigenous park management organization and has, by the government’s
own admission, surpassed the expectations of the co-management agreement. Since 1997, SATIIM’s work in the STNP
has come to represent a new model for the direct participation of indigenous peoples in protected areas’ management. It
promotes the conservation of the STNP in ways consistent with indigenous people’s cultural practices and with an eye
towards the sustainable well-being of the indigenous peoples who live around it. As such, SATIIM is on the cutting-edge
of community-based natural resource management in Central America.
SATIIM was founded by community leaders in 1997 as the Sarstoon Temash National Park Steering Committee
( It was incorporated in December of 1999 as a non-profit, and duly registered as a non-governmental organization. SATIIM’s mission is to safeguard the ecological integrity of the Sarstoon
The Sarstoon Temash Institute for Indigenous
Temash region and use its resources in an environmenManagement promotes the conservation of
tally sound manner for the economic, social, cultural and
spiritual well being of its indigenous peoples. SATIIM
the STNP in ways consistent with indigenous
has a nine-person elected Board of Directors made up of
people’s cultural practices.
elected representatives from the five buffer zone communities, indigenous NGOs (including the National Garifuna
Council, the Q’eqchi Council of Belize and the Toledo Alcaldes Association) and the Belize Forest Department. The five
buffer-zone communities have a majority of seats on the Board. A General Assembly made up of residents from the buffer-zone communities (called a Gathering) meets every two years to elect Board members and decide overall policy and
strategic direction. A cadre of young professionals implements the resolutions from the Gathering in partnership with
the Board of Directors.
Through SATIIM, the indigenous peoples of the Sarstoon Temash Region have developed one of the most comprehensive management plans for a protected area in Belize; the Sarstoon Temash National Park Management Plan (SATIIM
2005). It was completed in September 2004, and is based on extensive scientific data and the traditional ecological
knowledge of the indigenous peoples. Both data sets were gathered by expert researchers working with the indigenous
Indigenous Peoples and the Struggle for Governance of Natural Resources in Belize
Human Rights and Conservation
peoples through an innovative project in community-based park management, sponsored by the Global Environment
Facility (GEF) through the World Bank. The STNP management plan broke new ground for both Belize and Central
America in reconciling the needs of indigenous communities with the need to protect the environment. A number of
aspects of the plan call for significant changes in the national policy framework regarding protected areas and natural
resource management. Most notably, it calls for the creation of an indigenous harvesting zone in the national park, and
multiple use zones, recognizing both the ancestral rights of indigenous communities, and their reliance on its resources
for their survival (Fig. 1). The plan also sets forth a comprehensive set of conservation strategies; the result of a broad
consultation with the communities, and ratified by their representatives. These include the development of alternative
livelihoods and the promotion of sustainable community development.
Challenges for SATIIM and Indigenous Peoples’ Action
Besides addressing the ecological aspects of the park’s administration and management, SATIIM developed the plan on
the basis of the government’s promise to address the rights of Maya and Garifuna to their land and resources. During the
negotiation stage of the plan with the Forest Department, however, the government objected to the provisions for customary usage, including hunting, fishing and extraction of building materials. They cited the National Park System Act
in prohibiting any form of resource extraction, and providing only for research and recreation (Belize, National Parks
System Act 2003). After intense negotiations at the Ministerial level, the Forest Department accepted the plan, but only
after diluting the provisions for customary and traditional access and rights. The Forest Department only agreed, for
example, to activities such as the extraction of medicinal herbs and traditional fishing, reasoning that they were unlikely
to undermine the ecological integrity of the park.
Although the Forest Department accepted the park plan developed by SATIIM, there was no legal framework to give
it legitimacy and validity. The very nature of co-management agreements is that they should provide both parties with
equal decision-making capacity, and this was not the case with SATIIM. All of this became evident in 2004–2005, when
the government of Belize negotiated and ultimately granted a production-sharing agreement (PSA) with US Capital
Energy, a company based in the United States, for oil exploration over 700,000 acres in southern Belize, and including
the STNP (Geology and Petroleum Department PSA I99/2001). The Forest Department granted a seismic survey permit to US Capital Energy, ignoring the park plan’s conservation and management strategies. Moreover, the legality of
the co-management agreement that authorized SATIIM to develop the management plan was challenged by the Belize
Forest Department lawyer in the Supreme Court case between SATIIM and the Forest Department of the Ministry of
Natural Resources.
On becoming aware of the permit granted to US Capital Energy, SATIIM initiated discussions with the Forest
Department to question the legality of the permit issued within the STNP. Meanwhile, US Capital Energy, armed with
its permit, commenced operations, mobilizing personnel and machines. Company personnel visited communities and
urged them to sign up for employment, and shortly thereafter commenced the clearing of seismic trails. US Capital
Energy was moving forward fast with its plan, and the government became reluctant to further discuss SATIIM’s
SATIIM sought legal advice. It became clear that they had a case for a Judicial Review Order to revoke the permit
issued to US Capital Energy. The permit was challenged on the following grounds:
The National Parks System Act, under which the STNP was created, does not permit seismic testing or
oil exploration activities in protected areas;
Indigenous Peoples and Conservation: From Rights to Resource Management
Human Rights and Conservation
the permit was not issued under the proper authorization procedures, since under Belizean law, only the
park administrator not the chief forest officer, may issue such permits;
SATIIM’s legitimate expectation under the signed co-management contract with the government, was
violated, since the permit was granted without any proper consideration of, or even the opportunity to
discuss, the objections made by SATIIM;
Belize’s international treaty obligation under the Ramsar convention, to which Belize is a signatory and
the park a designated site, was violated, since that treaty requires Belize to protect and prevent any activities that would undermine the ecological value of the wetlands; and
the actions of the government violated the Environmental Protection Act, since that Act requires that
an Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA) be carried out prior to the issuance of a permit, and no
such EIA had been conducted or even required by the state agency.
On 15 May 2006, SATIIM filed an unprecedented lawsuit in the Belize Supreme Court asking for a judicial review
to seek an order revoking the permit issued by the Forest Department and an injunction order restraining US Capital
Energy–Belize Ltd. from proceeding or continuing with entry into, and/or seismic testing, in the SarstoonTemash
National Park until trial of the action or further order.
On the 29 September 2006, the Supreme Court delivered it decision in the case of SATIIM vs. the Forest Department,
with US Capital Energy as the interested party. Of the five grounds on which SATIIM argued, only one succeeded.
Judge Sam Lungole Awich agreed with SATIIM that the Environmental Protection Act mandated an Environmental
Impact Assessment. The lack of compliance with this procedure was sufficient to squash the permission given by the
Forest Department to US Capital Energy–Belize Ltd. to enter the Sarstoon Temash National Park to carry out seismic
surveys, until the Environmental Impact Assessment was completed (Belize, Supreme Court 2006).
While SATIIM succeeded in having the court revoke the permit, it fell short of stopping seismic testing inside
the park; it merely delayed these activities until the EIA was carried out. When the EIA for US Capital Energy–Belize
Ltd. Seismic Survey – Block 19 was completed, it was up to the Forest Department to review the findings and decide
whether or not to renew the permit. As anticipated, in September 2007, the government agency responsible for rejecting or accepting the EIA, the National Environmental Appraisal Committee (NEAC) gave its approval to US Capital
Energy to carry out the seismic testing. This decision signalled the continued violation of the rights and interests of the
indigenous peoples in the STNP.
This action was further exacerbated by the refusal of the government and US Capital Energy to have SATIIM’s
involvement in the EIA process, and has cast a shadow of uncertainty over SATIIM’s role in managing the Park. SATIIM
objected to both the manner in which the EIA was developed and the technical soundness of the recommendations
put forth to the NEAC, and requested involvement in the development of the Environmental Compliance Plan (ECP).
SATIIM’s exclusion from the development of the EIA significantly undermined its role as co-manager of the Park under
a co-management agreement with the government. Its future role as an environmental and social watchdog of activities
in the Park remains unclear.
The most damaging aspect of the government’s decision to proceed with oil exploration will be the potential political response that will likely generate future conflict. For a decade, the Garifuna and Maya people who live around the
park have restricted their use of the Park’s resources in accordance with the law governing the protected area. For years,
the indigenous communities were told that they could not carry out traditional activities such as hunting and farming
(upon which their livelihood and culture depend), because these acts posed a threat to the natural environment that the
Park was attempting to protect. The recent government actions to allow oil exploration in the park indicate a selective
Indigenous Peoples and the Struggle for Governance of Natural Resources in Belize
Human Rights and Conservation
application of the law in favour of multi-national companies and environmental interests, and to the detriment of the
rights of indigenous communities. This unequal application of the law has exacerbated and fuelled new political and
legal conflicts with indigenous peoples that could undermine the advances that have been made in engaging them in
protected areas management.
Indigenous Rights as the Basis for Sustainable Management
The continued failure of the government to recognize and protect Garifuna and Maya land rights, coupled with the
impending threats of the oil exploration, catalyzed the Maya people of the Toledo District to expedite their long standing
land right claim, which has ricocheted between domestic and international legal forums for over a decade. In April 2007,
with the help of Maya leaders and SATIIM, two Maya villages, Conejo and Santa Cruz, filed a Constitutional Claim
in the Supreme Court of Belize to seek redress for violations arising from the government’s failure to recognize, protect,
and respect the customary land rights of the Maya people, which are based on their traditional land use and occupancy.
The trial took place from 18–21 June 2007, during which time Chief Justice Dr. Abdulai Conteh heard the claimants,
experts, and government witnesses.
On 18 October 2007, the Supreme Court of Belize handed down its landmark decision in the case of the Mayan
communities of Conejo and Santa Cruz vs. the Attorney General and Ministry of Natural Resources (Belize, Supreme
Court 2007). The Supreme Court accepted the arguments of Conejo and Santa Cruz villages that Mayan customary
property rights, like other forms of property, are protected by the Belize Constitution and international human rights
law. The Chief Justice held that the government’s failure to recognize, respect, and protect the land rights of the Mayan
claimants violated constitutionally-protected rights to property, non-discrimination, and life.
The Supreme Court declared that the Mayan people of Conejo and Santa Cruz have rights to the lands and resources
that they have used and occupied according to Mayan customary practices and ordered that the Government of Belize:
Determine, demarcate and title Conejo and Santa Cruz village lands in accordance with Maya customary practices; and
cease and abstain from any acts that might affect the value, use, or enjoyment of Conejo and Santa Cruz
village lands (including issuing leases, land grants, or concessions for logging and oil), without adequate
consultation and agreement of the Mayan villagers.
This judgment set a precedent affecting over thirty-eight Mayan communities that use lands in the southern Toledo
District. The order to determine, demarcate, and title the traditional lands of Conejo and Santa Cruz villages requires
that the government carry out legislative and administrative reforms and initiate a consultation and demarcation process that will extend to other Maya communities. Indigenous leaders are educating communities on the ruling and its
significance, and have attempted to collaborate with the government to develop a framework to implement the decision
of the court.
The ruling will necessarily usher in a new relationship between the government of Belize and the Mayan people that
will shift the balance of power, particularly concerning control over lands and resources. It is still too early to ascertain
whether the judgment will strengthen other areas of indigenous self-determination, such as self-governance and customary law. In addition, as stipulated by the court decision, the government will have to re-evaluate all previously issued
development concessions over Mayan lands, since these were granted without the informed consent of the Mayan people
and under the erroneous presumption that the land belonged to the government.
Indigenous Peoples and Conservation: From Rights to Resource Management
Human Rights and Conservation
SATIIM will work the communities that now have direct decision-making powers as owners of the land in the Park.
The models for protected areas governance in southern Belize will need to be re-evaluated in light of the fact that land and
resources are legally vested in the communities rather than the government. SATIIM thus has the challenge of implementing its comprehensive park management plan to reflect a true indigenous-managed protected area that accommodates the traditional land tenure practices of the indigenous land owners. This is an opportunity that should strengthen
all facets of Mayan traditional governance structures and processes, so that the Maya become active participants in all
areas of their development, including protecting the lands and resources upon which they depend. The Maya have succeeded in asserting their rights over their land and its resources in Toledo; it is left to be seen whether the government
will honor and implement the Supreme Court ruling in partnership with the Maya People.
Literature Cited*
Anonymous. 1998. Sarstoon-Temash National Park: Transcript of Stakeholders’ Workshop, 22 February, 1997,
Community Center, Barranco Village, Toledo Distrct, Belize. Producciones de la Hamaea, Caye Caulker, and
Community Conservation Consultants, Gays Mills, Wisconsin. 38pp. Websites: <
sarstoon.html> and <>. Accessed:
20 December 2008.
Belize, National Parks System Act. 2003. Chapter 215 Revised edition 2003: Showing the subsidiary laws as at
31st October, 2003. Revised edition of the Subsidiary Laws, prepared by the Law Revision Commissioner under the
authority of the Law Revision Act, Chapter 3 of the Substantive Laws of Belize, Revised Edition 2000, Government
of Belize, Belmopan, Belize. Website: <>. Accessed:
20 December 2008.
Belize, SIB. 2008. 2008: Mid-Year Population Estimates by Region and Sex. Statistical Institute of Belize (SIB),
Government of Belize, Belmopan, Belize. Website: <>.
Accessed: 20 December 2008.
Belize, Supreme Court. 2006. Claim No. 212 Sarstoon Temash Institute for Indigenous Management v. Forest
Department Ministry of Natural Resources and Environment and U.S. Capital Energy – Belize. Justice S. L. Awich.
Website: <>. Accessed: 20 December 2008.
Belize, Supreme Court. 2007. Consolidated Claims No. 171 and 172 Santa Cruz and Conejo Maya Communities v.
Attorney General and Ministry of Natural Resources and Environment. Chief Justice Dr. A. O. Conteh. Website:
of%202007%20(Consolidated)%20re%20Maya%20land%20rights.pdf>. Accessed: 20 December 2008.
Harcourt, C. S., Bird, N., Gray, D., Palmer, J. and Burton, J. 1996. Belize. In: The Conservation Atlas of Tropical Forests:
The Americas, C. S. Harcourt and J. A. Sayer (eds.), pp.151–159. Simon and Schuster, New York.
IUCN. 2008. 2008 IUCN Red List of Threatened Species. International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN),
Species Survival Commission (SSC), Gland, Switzerland, and Cambridge, UK. Website: <http://www.iucnredlist.
org>. Accessed: 20 December 2008.
Iyo, A., Tzalam, F. and Humphreys, F. 2007. Belize New Vision: African and Maya Civilizations. National Institute of
Culture and History (NICH), Ministry of Education, University of Belize, and Image Factory of Art Foundation,
Belmopan, Belize.
Meerman, J. C., Herrera, P. and Howe, A. 2003. Rapid Ecological Assessment. Sarstoon Temash National Park, Toledo
District, Belize. Volume I. Appendices: Species Lists and Raw Data. Volume II. Report prepared in Partnership
Indigenous Peoples and the Struggle for Governance of Natural Resources in Belize
Human Rights and Conservation
with the Garifuna and the Q’eqchi Maya People of the Sarstoon Temash Region, Sarstoon Temash Institute for
Indigenous Management (SATIIM), December 2003. 80pp. Websites: <
SarstoonTemash_REA_Report_s.pdf>, and <
appendix.pdf>. Accessed 12 December 2009.
SATIIM. 1999. Transcript of Governance and Management of NGO Workshop. Punta Gorda, 23 February 1999.
Sarstoon Temash Institute for Indigenous Management (SATIIM), Punta Gorda, Toledo, Belize. Website: <www.>. Accessed: 20 December 2008.
SATIIM. 2003. Socio-Economic Assessment of the Sarstoon Temash Region. Sarstoon Temash Institute for Indigenous
Management (SATIIM), Punta Gorda, Toledo, Belize.
SATIIM. 2005. Sarstoon Temash National Park Management Plan. Sarstoon Temash Institute for Indigenous Management
(SATIIM), Punta Gorda, Toledo, Belize. June 2005.
* Note – in press
The Mayan communities have won an historic court case against the Government of Belize. On 28 June 2010, Chief
Justice Doctor Abdulai Conteh’s ruling for 38 Mayan Communities in the Toledo District was in line with the 2007 ruling that the villagers of Santa Cruz and Conejo have constitutionally protected customary land tenure rights over the
areas surrounding their communities. The Chief Justice’s judgment was in favor of all rights for the Mayan communities.
Indigenous Peoples and Conservation: From Rights to Resource Management
Human Rights and Conservation
Conservation, and Heritage
Land in the Kalahari
Cassie Hughes
Quick Facts
Country: South Africa
Geographic Focus: Kgalagadi National Transfrontier Park
is a bi-national park between Botswana and South Africa,
bordering Namibia in the west.
Indigenous Peoples: In South Africa, indigenous peoples
are the Khoekhoe, the Nama, and the San. The San are
the traditional indigenous inhabitants of the Kalahari region.
The Khomani San are the group living outside of Kgalagadi
Transfrontier Park in South Africa. The community is estimated to be around 500 people strong, a small percentage
of the population of the district.
In 1999, nearly 70 years after their exile from the Kalahari Gemsbok
National Park, the Khomani San Bushmen celebrated their successful land claim for a home in the Kalahari.1 Then Deputy President
Thabo Mbeki presided over the ceremonies and stated, “This is a step
towards the rebirth of a people that nearly perished because of oppression.” The claim was the culmination of four years of research, negotiations, and the reunification of the Khomani San diaspora. With
the claim, the Khomani San won six farms in the region, in addition
to the more symbolically important gain of land in the newly named
Kgalagadi Transfrontier Park2, of which they were now owners and comanagers with South African National Parks (SANP) — an organization with whom the Khomani San had had an acrimonious past. In
post-apartheid South Africa, however, these two groups are learning to
work together, despite very different views of the land.
The Kgalagadi Transfrontier Park is a bi-national park straddling
South Africa and Botswana.3 The South African portion, once known
as the Kalahari Gemsbok Park, is wedged between the international
borders with Botswana on the east and Namibia on the west, in the
remote far northwest of South Africa. This triangle of land was declared
a national park in 1931 to prevent the extinction of several key species
(including the Gemsbok or Oryx, Oryx gazella) from over-hunting by
the few hardy settlers in this inhospitable land and by white trophy
hunters. While it is a transfrontier park, the South African portion
Author Information
Cassie Hughes was a volunteer for South African National Parks in
Kgalagadi from 2003–2004. She received her Masters in Practical
Anthropology from the University of Cape Town. She is currently
the East Africa Program Specialist for the USDA Forest Service
International Programs, based in Washington, DC.
E-mail: [email protected]
1 The term San was developed in the 1930s by anthropologists who found the term ‘Bushman’ to be derogatory.
In academic discourse today, ‘San’ and ‘Bushman’ are virtually synonymous. As the literature on the Khomani San
and the official agreement with South African National Parks (SANP) refer to ‘the San’, I use this term. However, in
the Kgalagadi region, residents refer to the Khomani San as “die Boesmans” (the Bushmen).
2 The transition of the Kalahari Gemsbok Park to the Kgalagadi Transfrontier Park occurred in the same year as the
Khomani San winning their land claim. The transition from a national park to a transfrontier park was nearly unnoticeable; no fences had ever existed on the South Africa/Botswana border.
3 The Mier Community, a local ‘colored’ community, joined the land claim and also won land in the Park, north of
the Khomani San Heritage Land, as seen in the map, Figure 2.
Human Rights and Conservation
of Kgalagadi is still managed by South African National
Parks, the parastatal national parks authority.
South African National Parks manages the park as a
“wilderness” area with little human influence — a “handsoff” policy. Waterholes are the main alteration to the
landscape, with some 60 waterholes spread throughout the South African portion of the park, ostensibly
to provide previously migratory species with perennial sources of freshwater during the dry season (many
waterholes are close to the road and also provide visitors with sightings). The park is fenced on the Namibian
and South African sides, while the transfrontier portion
in Botswana is unfenced. Park infrastructure consists of
three “rest camps”, each with a petrol station, overnight
accommodation in cabins, a small shop, and an office.
Six remote “wilderness camps” with simple overnight
Figure 1. Kgalagadi National Transfrontier Park (in green) is a bi-national
facilities are spread throughout the northern portion of
park between Botswana and South Africa, bordering Namibia to the
west. In 1931, this land, which had been home to San Bushmen hunter
the park. Park staff manage a system of roads: two graded
gatherers for thousands of years, was delcared a national park.
sand roads carved into the two riverbeds and one that
crosses the dunes between the two. A 4 × 4 trail crisscrosses the park from north to south across dunes, and
is used (at most) a few times a week. This park infrastructure exists to support tourism and, to a lesser extent, conservation research. Park entry fees, accommodation costs, and activity fees (guided safari drives and walks) provide financial
support for the park.
The Southern Kalahari, in which Kgalagadi is located, is an arid landscape of dunes that range in color from a
dark yellow to bright orange, and scrubland unfolding in waves across thousands of kilometers of southern Africa. The
Kalahari is the largest sand basin in the world, stretching from the Congo River in the north to the Orange River in
northern South Africa. This is the southernmost portion of the Kalahari and is considered semi-arid savannah. The
“fossil” sand dunes are sparsely covered with tufts of annual and perennial grasses and Rhigozum (Bignoniaceae) scrub.
Occasional Grand camel thorn trees (Acacia erioloba, Fabaceae) grow in the dry ancient riverbeds (with their high water
table), while the Petite grey camel thorn (Acacia haematoxylon) dominates the dune slopes, and squat Shepherd’s trees
(Boscia albitrunca, Capparaceae) sprawl in the dune valleys. Rainfall averages 150 mm per year in the northern portion
of Kgalagadi and 300 mm per year in the south. Summer temperatures can reach highs of 45°C/115°F (November–
December), with nighttime lows of around 20°C/68°F. In winter (April–September) temperatures often fall below
0°C/32°F at night.
Remarkably, the park is extraordinarily biologically diverse for such a harsh climate. Many species are well adapted
to survive long periods of drought; gemsbok (Oryx), Blue wildebeest (gnu), Eland, Red hartebeest, Springbok, duiker,
and Steenbok antelopes, Bat-eared and Cape foxes, porcupines, pangolins, two species of mongoose, and Meerkat colonies. Carnivores include genets, caracals, jackals, both Brown and Spotted hyenas, and the African wild cat, as well as the
larger cats: cheetahs, leopards, and lions are found in the park. There is a diverse bird fauna, including substantial raptor
populations and unusual birds such as social weavers and Pygmy falcons.
Indigenous Peoples and Conservation: From Rights to Resource Management
Human Rights and Conservation
Other than park staff, people are only visitors; they do not live within the park’s boundaries. As it is a “wilderness”
area, there is an implication that people do not belong there, except as visitors. Given this traditional notion of conservation, the success of the Khomani San’s land claim in 1999 required a drastic change in SANP’s approach to conservation.
The Khomani San and Their Land Claim
San Bushmen had inhabited land in the Kalahari for thousands of years as nomadic hunter-gatherers. In the 19th century,
South African military moved into this land to defend the border and the farmer settlers who then also moved in. In the
years following the creation of the Kalahari Gemsbok Park in 1931, the San were forced to leave the park. Without land
or income, they dispersed throughout the country. A few lived and worked in the new national park as maids, field staff,
and camp staff, but by 1970 Khomani San were no longer living their traditional lifestyle in the Kalahari Gemsbok Park.
Roger Chennells, the lawyer for the Khomani San land claim, best explains their situation in the years after the park’s
Where men hunted game for food, they were persecuted and arrested for trespassing on private
land. Similarly freedom to gather bush foods and medicines became severely restricted, and the
use of traditionally collected foods, practices and rituals began to fall away.4 The old languages
spoken by the San had fallen into disuse, and the language loosely described as the Khomani
language (in fact the correct name for the language is N/u, (Crawhall, Nigel) was prematurely
declared to be officially “dead” in 1970. In many cases children did not know that they were
members of the San peoples, and the official assumption was that the N/u language was no longer in use, anywhere. The community, dispersed and demoralised, had ceased to exist. (Chennells
2002, p.51)
For the South African National Parks Board in 1931, allowing nomadic hunter-gatherers to occupy land set aside for
conservation was inconsistent with conservation ideals. Conservation of natural resources, and the new idea of ‘national
parks,’ rested on the philosophy that man naturally exploits nature (as had been the case in the region from over-hunting) and must be restricted from certain areas of biological importance. This was conservation by exclusion, now sometimes called “fortress-style conservation.” So for SANP, allowing the Khomani San rights to access the land within the
park was contentious.
What Made the Claim Possible
Inescapably, relations between the Khomani San Community living outside the park and the South African National
Parks’ staff inside the park were, for decades, tense and hostile. Specifically, it was the Khomani San in the early 1990s
who confronted SANP managers on many occasions; by sitting under the park manager’s desk and refusing to leave, by
talking to tourists in the rest camps or, on at least one occasion, climbing a radio tower in the park and announcing that
this land belonged to them. Senior park staff actively excluded the Khomani San from the park, forcibly removing them
4 The impetus for the South African Human Rights Commission (SAHRC) to come to the region in 2004 was the untimely death of Optel Rooi at the hands of local police a few months earlier. Questions surrounded the death, and there were also reports of discrimination towards the Khomani San Community by local authorities (police, schools).
Co-Management, Conservation, and Heritage Land in the Kalahari
Human Rights and Conservation
on each of these instances and making entry difficult. However, more commonly, the Khomani San’s vocal and tireless
struggle for recognition was simply ignored by senior park staff.
By the early 1990s, tension between the senior park staff and several Khomani San were at a peak. Despite a lack
of community cohesion, a small clan of Khomani San were living at the Kagga Kamma tourist resort in the Western
Cape province. They started to plan a return to the Kalahari. This group was led by Regopstaan Kruiper, one of the
few remaining San to remember living in the park. Regopstaan once had a dream that led him to prophesy, “When
the strangers come, then will come the big rains. And the Little People will dance. And when the Little People in the
Kalahari dance, then the Little People around the world shall dance too” (Isaacson 2001, p.55). Regopstaan believed
that “strangers” would help his people once again walk their land. From 1992 to 1995, he and his clan acquired a lawyer
(Roger Chennells), set up a committee and, with support from the Minister for Land Affairs, lodged a claim for land in
the Kalahari Gemsbok Park.
With the official end of apartheid in 1994, the legal landscape of South Africa began to change dramatically. New
legislation was created to address issues of equity in a country that had been divided unequally by race for decades. The
Restitution of Land Rights Act was one of the first and most important pieces of rights legislation. This act was instrumental in the Khomani San claim for land. The Act mandated “the restitution of rights in land to persons or communities dispossessed of such rights after 19 June 1913 as a result of past racially discriminatory laws or practices” (Restitution
of Land Rights Act 22 of 1994). This legislation also came around the opportune time of several international declarations on the rights of indigenous peoples. The International Labor Organization (ILO) conventions 107 and 169 (1991),
Article 22 of the Rio Declaration in 1992 with Article 8J of the Convention on Biological Diversity, and provisions
relating to indigenous peoples in “Agenda 21” were all drawn on for support. In addition, 1993 was declared the Year
of Indigenous Peoples by the United Nations, followed by the formal Decade of Indigenous Peoples from 1994 to 2004.
Roger Chennells, the lawyer for the Khomani San, explains the process that the community underwent:
Borrowing from other struggles of indigenous peoples abroad, in particular the Native Americans
of the Far North, a process known as “Cultural Resource Audit and Management” was commenced. In essence this process involved the interviewing of elder (initially) San individuals in
order to record all they could tell, in particular their priceless knowledge relating to land, history,
culture and identity. Thereafter the process would ensure that the body of knowledge recording
their culture was managed in the most beneficial and effective manner.
Elders were approached to recount their life stories in such a way as to indicate their clan and
familial relationships, traditional knowledge, rituals, stories, songs, myths, healing and medicinal
practices, hunting and gathering places, landmarks, burial sites, sources of water, shelter, and sustenance. As the process continued to gather information on the unique life experiences and cultural knowledge of these elders, far-flung members of families and clans became re-united, and
the concrete proof of this common cultural identity became a tangible and central core around
which the community began to recognise their interconnectedness as a cultural community. The
youth began to express a sense of pride in their San identity, and an eagerness to acquire the
knowledge that had become submerged. Many are committed to the task of rebuilding the community around the reclaimed land. (Chennells 2002, p.52)
Indigenous Peoples and Conservation: From Rights to Resource Management
Human Rights and Conservation
The Ae!Hai Kalahari Heritage Park Agreement
The successful Khomani San land claim made Regopstaan’s dream, in theory, a reality. With the successful claim, the
Khomani San gained ownership rights to 26,000 ha of land in the park, in addition to 38,000 ha of farming land outside the park. As shown on Figure 2, the park land granted to the Khomani San is designated as ‘San Heritage Land,’
while the Khomani San have ‘symbolic and cultural rights’ to the remaining 400,000 ha of the South African portion of the park. The zone between the San land and the Auob River is a “San preferential commercial zone,’ where
the San have the first right to develop tourism products. The 26,000-ha Heritage Land has been transferred in deed to
the Khomani San Community, but is co-managed by the
Joint Management Board (a panel of SANP Kgalagadi
managers, Khomani San Community representatives
and representatives from the local Mier Community
[“colored” settlers] who also won park land in the claim)
under a 99-year lease. This land is a “contractual park”
with SANP, which is responsible for the day-to-day
“conservation management” of the land. Deciding exactly
how SANP and the Khomani San would manage and
use the land, within the concepts of both “conservation”
and “heritage”, was the task of the next three years.
From 1999 to 2002, the Khomani San, with the
help of their lawyers, along with independent mediators
appointed by the Department of Land Affairs, negotiated with South African National Parks, the Department
of Environmental Affairs and Tourism, and the Mier
Community. The process included workshops attended
by hundreds of interested parties to outline the uses
and management of the Khomani San land inside the
park. The Ae!Hai Kalahari Heritage Park Agreement was
the product of these discussions. The Agreement specifies that these heritage lands are explicitly intended for
“activities pertaining to conservation and sustainable economic, symbolic and cultural use compatible with conservation “(Ae!Hai Agreement, 2002, sec. 18.1).
So the Khomani San Community may “sustainably” use the flora and fauna, conduct “cultural activities”
including gatherings, festivals, religious ceremonies, and
other activities considered important to the community.
All of these activities, however, must be “compatible with
conservation.” This requirement has two consequences.
Figure 2. With the post-apartheid government and international recogniFirst, and most significantly, while Regopstaan and the
tion of indigenous people’s rights, the time was right for the Khomani
original claimants had aspired to once again reside on
San to reestablish their claim to the land. This they achieved in 1994. They
were granted 26,000 ha in the park lands, called The San Heritage Lands,
land within the park, Khomani San can only visit this
which they co-manage with the South African National Parks. The San
Heritage Lands are in the area within the boundaries CDEFGC.
land and not live on it. The Agreement states that land
Co-Management, Conservation, and Heritage Land in the Kalahari
Human Rights and Conservation
may not be used for “residential”, “agriculture” or “mining” purposes (Agreement, 2002: sec.18). Secondly, it is
up to SANP to decide what exactly is “compatible with
conservation.” The relationship between the Khomani
San Community and parks officials often appears, therefore, very much the same as it was before the claim. So
while the Agreement followed a lengthy process of negotiation, the end result of the land claim, just like the
notion of “heritage land,” is difficult to quantify. Often,
for the Khomani San community, there is a sense that
“nothing has changed” (pers comm.). This is not entirely
true though, while change is slow, it does inevitably
Figure 3. The park was created to prevent the extinction of a number
of key species, including the Gemsbok (Oryx) antelope. The Kgalagadi
Transfrontier Park has a great diversity of wildlife despite its harsh climate.
The Agreement also allows for “economic” uses. The
Photo © Marna Herbst.
idea is that the lands should produce some economic benefit for the community. To achieve this, the Agreement
mandates the development of a joint tourist lodge venture between the Khomani San Community and the neighboring Mier community.5 In 2007, after several missteps (the original concessionaire backed out, construction was slow and
sometimes faulty, etc.), the !Xaus Lodge opened for business. Owned jointly by the Khomani San Community and the
Mier Community, the Lodge is a 24-bed thatched luxury eco-lodge run by the concessionaire Transfrontier Trails. The
Khomani San will receive one-third of the profits and rights to employment. The main draw is walking safaris led by San
trackers as they unravel the stories of the countless animal prints in the Kalahari sand. Many hopes are pinned on the
success of the !Xaus lodge, with the potential of some employment and revenues reaching both the communities, and it
is hoped that the lodge’s economic success will rectify some of the poor management and unfair allocation of communal
property and assets in the years after the claim (see below).
The Agreement also mandated the establishment of a Joint Management Board (JMB) to aid the co-operative management of the “contractual park.” It is composed of representatives from South African National Parks, the Khomani
San Community, and the local Mier Community. The JMB is intended to be a forum for each party to inform the others
of “actual or intended development” on their areas (Ae! Hai Agreement, 2002: sec.41) and to discuss any issues of relevance to the park land. The group is mandated to meet monthly; however, between 2002 and early 2007 they met irregularly, sometimes with gaps of many months. In 2007, the JMB began to operate as required in the Agreement, meeting
every three months and dealing with practical issues relating to the contractual Community Parks. In 2008, they began
revising the Management and Development Plan for the contractual parks and developing a work plan and budget. The
JMB hopes to attain funding for an implementation officer who can administer and implement programs on behalf of
the JMB on a day-to-day basis.
5 The Mier community also has Heritage Land in Kgalagadi Transfrontier Park, which abuts the Khomani San land and is also considered a contractual park with South African National Parks.
Indigenous Peoples and Conservation: From Rights to Resource Management
Human Rights and Conservation
Contemporary Use of the Park Including Resource Rights and Access
In the years following the finalization of the Agreement, the Khomani San made several complaints regarding Kgalagadi’s
response to the land claim. The late Vet Piet Kleinman, while attending the World Parks Congress in Durban, South
Africa in 2003, is quoted as saying:
Our rights are written in the documents, yet park authorities have the same attitude and tend
to prescribe to us what we should do [...].There are a number of problems which need to be
addressed, such as access to our sacred sites and graves as well as support of our active involvement in management. (<http://www.iucn/themes/wpc.html>)
These have been recurring issues for years subsequent to the claim. However, in 2006 the JMB held a workshop to
improve the involvement of the community and to educate the Khomani San and Mier Communities about what the
Agreements allowed and mandated, and what they meant for them.
A history of unfair and restrictive rules also continued into the years following the claim, and were a more tangible
impediment to Khomani San use of park land. One rule in particular was the SANP demand that a park staff member
accompany the Khomani San into the park. For the Khomani San this implied that they were not trusted or that they
did not have the knowledge or ability to navigate the park safely on their own. This issue, and many other rules, has now
been replaced by more fair rules; for example, certified tracker/guides can now lead groups on their own. Many of these
rules have been developed in cooperation with the Khomani San Community, and not by SANP alone. In 2006, for
example, SANP Kgalagadi and the Khomani San developed resource-use protocols on the details of permissible hunting, plant use, and “walkabouts” with traditional overnight stays in the park. “Walkabouts”, for example, are permitted
but must conform to a number of rules that the Khomani San drafted, with a few modifications from SANP. These rules
include: plant harvesting will occur only with the permission of a Khomani San Park Committee, assisted by a Khomani
San Traditional Sub-committee; strict records will be kept for all visits about species hunted and plants collected (to
include the use of electronic data gathering equipment [the “Cybertrackers”] and a GIS system); for hunting, bows and
arrows are permitted, but not the use of hunting dogs; Gemsbok, Blue wildebeest, Springbok, Eland, Red hartebeest and
other species may be hunted with a permit issued by the San Park Committee (comprising San elders).
Complexities of the Khomani San Community
Beyond the relations between the Khomani San and South African National Parks officials, the Khomani San Community
itself faces conflict and division. Since winning the land claim in 1999, the Khomani San Community has grown from
nearly 300 to, in 2007, about 500. As Roger Chennells, the lawyer for the Khomani San, stated, it is “a reconstituted and ‘virtual’ community” (Chennells 2002). There are splinter groups within this group. The primary division
is between the original claimants who advocate living a “traditional” lifestyle (led by Dawid Kruiper, the traditional
leader and Regopstaan’s son and successor) and others (led previously by Petrus Vaalbooi and now by Gert Bok) who
see more promise in livestock farming. There is also some disagreement concerning land outside the park earmarked in
the Agreement for “traditional” use (for example, hunting, gathering, and ceremonies), that some community members
believe should be developed as a township. These significant divisions have often contributed to mismanagement (such
as the allegations of corruption and the pilfering of funds lobbed at the Communal Property Association [CPA] that had
been asked to manage and distribute the community’s assets), and an inability within the community to craft a vision
Co-Management, Conservation, and Heritage Land in the Kalahari
Human Rights and Conservation
of a common future. Beyond these differences, the Khomani San community also suffers from larger societal problems.
Poverty is universal, and alcoholism, disease (including AIDS and Tuberculosis), and violence are common.
In 2004, the South African Human Rights Commission (SAHRC) came to the region to evaluate the Khomani
San’s circumstances; five years after winning the land claim.6 Over the course of four days, the SAHRC interviewed, held
workshops, and arranged meetings with Khomani San Community members. They reviewed the condition of the farms
won outside the park as well as, briefly, the status of the Heritage land inside the Kgalagadi. The SAHRC report reiterated that Khomani San feel they are not granted “free access” to the park by SANP, and that their engagement with their
land has not been any easier:
Allegations have also been made that SANP, as senior and capacitated partner in the Park JMB,
has up to now not facilitated any initiatives to implement the provisions of the agreed upon
Contract Park Management Plan. These relate to capacity building, small business development,
and adequately maintained infrastructure (such as water supply) on the KTP land belonging to
the Khomani San community. (SAHRC 2005, p.16)
SANP Kgalagadi, in return, has few resources or manpower to devote to “initiatives” of capacity building or business development. Only one person in the park is responsible for all local community involvement (there are four towns
within 100 km of the park that are considered ‘local’), including a thriving environmental education program and community outreach.
Including local communities, whether through co-operative management or by incorporating their particular histories,
is a relatively new concept for protected areas and conservation in South Africa. As a result, changes in what was the former operational status quo are required. Considering the history of hostile relations in Kgalagadi, reframing relations is a
complex, but necessary, task for senior SANP officials. Offering a local community access to land, not as tourists, but as
temporary inhabitants, is a new concept here. Nonetheless, SANP must decide that achieving lasting co-operation and
open communication between themselves and the Khomani
San is of utmost importance. Offering goodwill towards the
Khomani San Community and a willingness to help them
understand and access their land in the park would be a sigThe land has been mandated to remain
nificant step in the right direction.
Likewise, for the Khomani San, the new task of man- protected and to belong to the Khomani San
aging land with SANP has been complicated. Participating
in perpetuity. The hard work is behind them;
in land management (through the JMB) and the planning
what remains is to develop new ways to work
and preparation that SANP demands (as seen in the protogether to reach the common goals of land
tocols for use of the Heritage land) are new skills for most
members of the community, and learning to work with
conservation and heritage preservation.
6 To some extent, the difficulties facing Kgalagadi staff and the Khomani San Community are a legacy of apartheid. Shedding historical social division and inequality is a task that all of South Africa
faces. Forging a new future requires an understanding of the way the past affects today, while also dramatically shifting away from the past.
Indigenous Peoples and Conservation: From Rights to Resource Management
Human Rights and Conservation
SANP senior officials requires redefining their relationships with them. Cooperative participation within the
Khomani San Community is also essential, however difficult this may be in a divided community. Developing
ways to work together in the region and reach a common understanding has been the evolving process of the
past six years.
The Ae!Hai Heritage Park Agreement, through the
formation of a “contractual park,” gives the Kgalagadi
Transfrontier Park a comprehensive, formalized framework that outlines how to co-operate with the Khomani
San Community. In the years after the claim, however, it became clear to the Khomani San Community
and SANP that there were contradictions within the
Agreement (such as conferring authority on SANP to
develop rules and protocols while considering the coownership with the Khomani San Community as equal)
and that perhaps the document needs to be revisited.
Regardless, the ultimate goal of successfully implementing the Ae!Hai Agreement should be to reach a
common understanding. Both organizations care passionately about this land, while their approaches to its
use may sometimes — but not always — be different.
The land has been mandated to remain protected and to
belong to the Khomani San in perpetuity. The hard work
is behind them; what remains is to develop new ways to
work together to reach the common goals of land conservation and heritage preservation. For this to, in fact,
be a “rebirth” of a people, as Thabo Mbeki foretold in
1999, SANP must ease and facilitate the return of the
Khomani San to their land, allowing it to be both frequent and meaningful.
Figure 4. A field ranger at Nossob camp looks out over the dry Nossob
riverbed in the northern section of the Transfrontier Park. After the agreement, Khomani San were only allowed to visit, not live, in the park. The
South African National Parks (SANP) decided which activities were “compatible with conservation.” The relationship between the Khomani San
Community and park officials often appears, therefore, very much the
same as it was before the claim. Photo © Betsie Meyer.
Figure 5. The Kalahari after seasonal rains. This southern area of the park
receives on average 150 mm of rain per year, and looks this way for just
a few weeks a year. Photo © Marna Herbst.
Literature Cited and Further Reading
Chennells, R. 2002. The Khomani San Land Claim. Cultural Survival Quarterly: World Report on the Rights of Indigenous
Peoples and Ethnic Minorities 26(1): 51–52.
Crawhall, N. 2005. The San: sustainable development before its time. The New Courier 2005. Local and Indigenous
Knowledge Systems (LINKS), United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO),
Paris. Website: <
SECTION=201.html>. Accessed: 5 June 2009.
Co-Management, Conservation, and Heritage Land in the Kalahari
Human Rights and Conservation
Crawhall, N. 2009. African hunter-gatherers: threats and opportunities for maintaining indigenous knowledge systems of
biodiversity. In: Learning and Knowing in Indigenous Societies Today, P. Bates, M. Chiba, S. Kube and D. Nakashima
(eds.), pp.107–126. United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO), Paris. 128pp.
Crawhall, N. and Rutgerd, B. (eds.). 2008. Water and Indigenous Populations. Rutgerd Boelens Coordination, Water Law
and Indigenous Rights Programme (WALIR), Wageningen University, Netherlands.
Hughes, C. 2005. “Nothing Changes in the Kalahari”: Kgalagadi Transfrontier Park, the Ae!Hai Kalahari Heritage Park
Agreement and the Effects of Difference, Discourse, and the Past. Master’s thesis, Department of Social Anthropology,
University of Cape Town, South Africa.
Isaacson, R. 2001. The Healing Land: The Bushmen and the Kalahari Desert. Grove Press, New York.
Indigenous Peoples and Conservation: From Rights to Resource Management
Human Rights and Conservation
Indigenous People and
the Kahuzi-Biega National
Park in the Democratic
Republic of the Congo
Dominique Bikaba
Quick Facts
Country: Democratic Republic of Congo
Geographic Focus: Kahuzi-Biega National Park (KBNP) is
on the eastern border of DRC.
Indigenous Peoples: There are seven ethnic groups, including Pygmies, living in the surroundings of the Kahuzi-Biega
National Park. Indigenous people indicates Pygmies in this
Author Information
Dominique Bikaba is the coordinator and co-founder of the Pole
Pole Foundation (POPOF), created in 1992 by workers in and around
the Kahuzi-Biega National Park. The mission of POPOF is to promote
the long-term protection and conservation of the wildlife in KahuziBiega National Park, particularly the eastern lowland gorilla, through
reduction of human pressures on its natural resources and wildlife
by involving and supporting communities in the vicinity of the park.
Bikaba graduated in rural development (Regional Planning) and has
lived with the Pygmies since his childhood. He has worked with the
Pygmies for 14 years. Bikaba works also as an independent consultant in feasibility studies for conservation projects, in environmental
impact assessment, and in protected areas management planning.
E-mail: [email protected]
The Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) has about 1,127,211 km²
of forest, covering about 48% of the country (Laporte et al. 1998).
According to Bakarr et al. (2008; data current to 2005), there are
83 protected areas in the DRC, comprising 8.2% of the area of the
country. The DRC government’s objective is to increase the number
of protected areas to cover 15% (DRC, Ministère de l’Environnement,
Conservation de la Nature, Eaux et Forêts 2002). The principal issue
in this endeavor is that appropriate consideration and compensation
has yet be provided for local communities and indigenous people who
lost their lands or had their livelihoods impaired when the existing
protected areas were created. Local communities and indigenous people should be involved throughout the process of the creation and
management of any new protected areas in the DRC.
Between 1979 and 1996, five of the seven national parks in DRC
were recognized by the United Nations Educational, Scientific and
Cultural Organization (UNESCO) as World Heritage Sites; among
them, inscribed in 1980, the Kahuzi-Biega National Park (KBNP).
Created in 1970 and augmented in 1975 (Fig. 1), the park boundaries were not negotiated with local communities and were the cause of
considerable contention (Kasereka 2003). Forced land expropriation,
and their exclusion from the park (poorly-defined boundaries aggravating the situation) and consequent loss of access to natural resources
caused much hostility from some of the traditional chiefs. A participatory project to demarcate the park boundaries was initiated in 1985,
and effective demarcation began in 1990. This alleviated the conflicts
to a degree, but the issue is still not resolved. To this day none of the
communities have received appropriate compensation. This situation
has been a source of conflict between the park administration and the
surrounding communities, and even a cause of wildlife depredation in
the communities’ farms around the park. As pointed out by Kasereka
Human Rights and Conservation
(2003): “as human populations keep growing they will demand more natural resources and space. Conflicts, therefore
are likely to continue over the alignment of zone boundaries, park boundary demarcation and the levels of exploitation
permitted within the park” (p.182).
The local communities were mollified to some extent by their inclusion on the demarcation process and the development benefits the park was attracting. However, even when tourism was in vogue prior to the successive wars that began
in the DRC in 1996, the 40% quota of the park’s income that should have been awarded as restitution to the surrounding communities, as determined by law, was never honored.
An assessment of the responsibilities of the three major stakeholders in the conservation of this area — the Congolese
government, the international community that designated it a World Heritage Site and the local communities — is
urgently needed.
The Kahuzi-Biega National Park
The Kahuzi-Biega National Park (KBNP) is named from the two extinct volcanoes, Mount Kahuzi (3,308 m), and
Mount Biega (2,790 m). The park comprises a high-altitude block of 60,000 ha, designated for conservation in 1970,
and a low-altitude block (540,000 ha) that earned conservation status when the park was extended in 1975. About 10%
of the 600,000 ha of the park is montane and the remainder lowland.
Although the park is managed from the South Kivu province, it borders the provinces of North Kivu and Maniema. It
is on the western side of the Mitumba mountain range in eastern DRC. The altitude varies from 900 m above sea level in
the western lowlands to 3,300 m in the eastern mountains. Geographic coordinates are 1°36'– 2°37'S to 27°33'–28°46'E.
The highland and eastern parts of the
park have a montane climate with a
dry season in June, July, and August
and a rainy season from September to
May. The average annual rainfall in
the highland part is 1,900 mm with
two peaks, one in April (226 mm) the
other in November (236 mm). The
average monthly temperature in the
eastern part of the park is almost constant at about 15°C.
As a result of human depredations and pressures on the park’s natural resources, mainly caused by
recent wars in the DRC, in 1997
the UNESCO placed it on the List
of World Heritage Sites “In Danger”
(UNESCO 1997). It is a wildlife
sanctuary of exceptional importance,
Figure 1. The Kahuzi-Biega National Park (black dotted line) is on the eastern edge of the Demoincluding notably Grauer’s or eastcratic Republic of Congo. This 600,000-ha park contains a high-altitude block that was designated for conservation in 1970 and a lowland block added in 1975. The agricultural areas
ern lowland gorilla (Gorilla beringei
surrounding the park are shown in pink. Map © ICCN/KBNP. Inset: sketch of the Kahuzi-Biega
National Park, drawn by POPOF. © Bikaba et al. (2004).
graueri), chimpanzees (Pan troglodytes
Indigenous Peoples and Conservation: From Rights to Resource Management
Human Rights and Conservation
schweinfurthii) (see Yamagiwa et al. 1992), and African elephant (Loxodonta africana cyclotis), and numerous other species endemic to the Albertine Rift.
The vegetation of the lowland part of the park is still poorly known. Michel et al. (1993) describe the montane vegetation of the park as follows:
• 1,800–2,100 m: an open forest with typically montane African redwood (Hagenia abyssinica, Rosaceae),
while from 900m to 1800m the lowland part of the park contains a humid tropical forest,
• 2,000–2,400 m: high-altitude secondary forest with Myrianthus holstii (Cecropiaceae) and Xymalos sp.
(Monimiaceae); a deciduous tree and a primary forest with Podocarpus sp., (Podocarapceae);
• 2,250–2,350 m: swamp with Nutsedge (Cyperus sp., Cyperaceae);
• 2,250–2,600 m: bamboo forest (Arundinaria alpina, Graminaeae);
• 2,600–3,300 m: dry formations (heath, groundsel, lobelia, and herbaceous savannah).
History 1937–1970
The Kahuzi Zoological and Forest Reserve (75,000 ha) in the Constermansville province (now the Kivu provinces) was created on 27 July 1937 by the Ordnance N°81/Agri of the Belgian Congo’s General Governor, M. Ryckmans (IZCN 1992).
The motivation for this act was to constitute a forestry seed bank for the Institut National pour l’Etude Agronomique au
Congo (INEAC) (now the Institut National d’Etude et de Recherche Agronomiques: INERA/MULUNGU) that was
created in the region at the same time.
In September 1966, the Provincial Minister of Agriculture and Veterinary Service, M. Sukari Gaston, through his letter N°370/473/CAB/MINAGRIVET/66, initiated contacts with the country’s hierarchic authorities with the intent of
creating the Kahuzi-Biega National Park, asking the United Nations High Commission of Refugees (UNHCR) to evacuate the Rwandan refugees who had been settling in the
reserve since 1964. Two days later, on 19 September, 1966,
M. Sukari Gaston designated M. Adrien Deschryver as
Officer of Judiciary Police (Officier de Police Judiciaire
– OPJ) of the Kahuzi Forest Reserve through his letter
370/490/CAB/MINAGRIVET/66 (see Bikaba 1996).
On 23 December 1966, Kivu students in Belgium
addressed a letter to the provincial minister requesting
the creation of the Kahuzi-Biega National Park.
History 1970–1975
On 30 November 1970, the reserve became the KahuziBiega National Park (KBNP) of 60,000 ha1. The objective of the change in status was to protect the habitat
and population of the eastern lowland or Grauer’s gorilla,
Gorilla beringei graueri; a subspecies of the Mountain
gorilla, Gorilla beringei occurring to the north in the
Figure 2. The Eastern lowland gorilla (Gorilla beringei graueri) is an endangered species protected in the Kahuzi-Biega National Park. Other key
species in the park include elephant (Loxodonta africana cyclotis) and
the chimpanzee (Pan troglodytes schweinfurthii), and numerous species endemic to the Albertine Rift. Photo © Conservation International/
Russell A. Mittermeier.
1 By Order-Law 70/316 of the President of the Republic. Of the 75,000 ha of the original forest reserve 15,000 ha were distributed among 16 wealthy farmers.
Indigenous People and the Kahuzi-Biega National Park in the Democratic Republic of the Congo
Human Rights and Conservation
Virunga Massif (see Ferris et al. 2005). Meanwhile, to accommodate the local and indigenous communities that had been
living in the forest reserve, the government ceded to them the
land between Kilometer 53 on the Bakavu-Bunyakiri road and
the entrance of Bitale, more precisely by the Nyabugobugo River
(Bikaba 1996). This retrocession was an attempt to resolve the
land conflicts that had already started between the park administration and the neighboring population. Unfortunately, the
ceded lands were quickly shared among wealthy farmers and
the communities remained without any access on them. In
1972, Adrien Deschryver began habituating the gorillas’ in the
KBNP, and tourists were brought in in 1973; the first attempt
at such a venture in all of Africa (Nishuli 2009).
The KBNP was increased in size to 600,000 ha, ten times its
original extent, on 22 July 19752. The Pygmy villages were
removed from the 60,000 ha of the original national park when
it was created from the forest reserve, but the villages in the vast
area of lowland forest of the extension were not.
Pygmies and the Kahuzi-Biega National Park
There are seven tribes living in the surroundings of the KahuziBiega National Park, including the Pygmies. The Pygmies who
Figure 3. The community lands around Kahuzi-Biega National
are called the “Batwa,” “Mbuti,” or the “Bambuti” are also desPark (KBNP). The Pygmy communities and those of other ethnic
ignated “indigenous people” to describe this ethnic group as
groups were evicted from KBNP when the forest first became a
national park in 1970. Some Pygmy groups spread along the park
the first people who settled in the area before the arrival of other
boundaries and scattered among other communities including
those of the Bashi, the Bahavu, and the Batembo. © GTZ, Projet
ethnic groups, such as the Bantus. Some Pygmies now live on
Kabare 1992.
the edges of the park; others live further away, including Idjwi
Island on Lake Kivu. Pygmies and communities of other tribes
were evicted from KBNP when the forest reserve was transformed into the national park in 1970. The Pygmies evacuated
the park by groups organized around a customary and traditional authority. These groups spread along the park boundaries and scattered among other communities including those of Bantu tribes — Bashi, Bahavu, and Batembo — around
the highland part of the park. Some other tribal groups who lived in, and used to farm in, the forest were also evicted
when it became a national park, but were much luckier because most of their large families already had large landholdings
outside the forest, where they were welcomed. The Pygmies who were dependant on the forest received no compensation
or provision for resettlement, and their situation was precarious with regard to education, primary health care, food and
2 By Order-Law 75/238, 22 July 1975.
Indigenous Peoples and Conservation: From Rights to Resource Management
Human Rights and Conservation
shelter, and remains so today. The Pygmies would enter the park to hunt and trap small and large mammals, including
primates, for their subsistence, and encouraged other tribes, such as the Bashi, to do the same.
In 1993, the number of Pygmies living around the high-altitude part of the KBNP was estimated at 1,608, grouped
into 400 families (Ndukura 2001-2002). Censusing Pygmies is difficult given the problems of safety in a region plagued
by civil disturbance and military activities, and also due to the fact the Pygmies are constantly on the move. The largest
Pygmy village near the KBNP headquarters is Buyungule, in Chombo in the Miti administrative grouping (sector). This
Pygmy village has about 656 inhabitants of 150 families and is near the entrance of the park, one kilometer from the
The Pygmies have benefitted little if at all from development activities in the region. Some families, and mostly the
women, have learned some farming techniques. Both men and women hunt, but hunting is principally a male occupation; women prepare food supplies for hunting parties. Currently, one child out of 10 school-age Pygmy children goes to
school, and it is very rare for girls to get an education. Many women are now the heads of the household; they are either
widows or have been abandoned by their husbands. Normally the village is headed by a chief, however, and women have
a secondary position.
Major Threats to Kahuzi-Biega National Park
Major threats to the KBNP include the presence of armed troops in the park, poaching, illegal encroachment, mining
(gold, cassiterite, and columbite-tantalite or coltan), bush fires, and the spread of an alien invasive liana (Sericostachys scandens, Amaranthaceae) in the bamboo forest (Arundinaria alpina).
In the early days, Pygmies trapped and hunted in the park for subsistence only; young animals, mostly gorillas, were
often maimed in the traps they laid. Commercial hunting was rare, limited to bartering for food such as bananas or beans,
or for drinks. This changed, however, shortly before the war in the DRC, notably during the period when Rwandan refugees (who arrived in 1994 after the Rwandan genocide) were in the country. Their camps were sometimes less than 5 km
from the park, including the Kashusha, the INERA I and II, and the ADI Kivu fields. It was at this time that the Pygmies
started hunting for trade. In 1993, a Pygmy was involved for the first time in the killing of a gorilla — Masheshe, the
pride of KBNP — because he wanted to sell its skull.
This newly acquired habit of exploiting natural
Others 1%
resources in KBNP grew during the war in the DRC,
Timber 22%
and extended to other activities such as mining. In 2000,
there were over 90 quarries (mining mainly coltan, a
valuable mineral used in the manufacture of cell phones
and computer chips), and more than 8,000 people inside
the park (The Durban Process 2004). Formerly trapping
Mining 57%
only small mammals for subsistence, Pygmies gradually
became involved in numerous illegal activities. Arrests in
Game 20%
the park in 2000 indicated that Pygmies were involved
to a greater or lesser degree in all of the numerous illegal
activities then threatening its integrity.
Pygmies comprised 18.4% of those arrested for
poaching game, 2.9% of those for illegal mining, 14.5%
Figure 4. Relative occurrence of illegal activities at the KBNP in 2000.
of those taking timber (firewood) from the park, and the
Mining is predominant and the greatest threat to the KBNP.
Indigenous People and the Kahuzi-Biega National Park in the Democratic Republic of the Congo
Human Rights and Conservation
majority (54.5%) of people arrested for a variety of other illicit activities. This was a clear sign that the well-being of the
Pygmy communities had to be given due consideration and support as part of the solution to improving the effectiveness
of the park in protecting the gorillas, elephants and wildlife of the region.
Community-Based Conservation and Development
Conservation approaches for protected areas in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC) have changed over time.
When parks and reserves were first established, they were protected by very limited interventions of military-trained park
rangers. Most communities living near protected areas had no knowledge or understanding of the reason for these protected areas, and it was quite unreasonable and practically impossible to pursue this policing approach effectively. The
police were unable to limit encroachment into national parks for hunting and the exploitation of their natural resources.
Conflicts of over land between national parks managers
Table 1. The numbers of people arrested at the KBNP in 2000 for differand local communities escalated.
ent offences (Bikaba 2006). Pygmies represent 9.2% of poachers at the
There was an evident and urgent need for the develKBNP, a number proportional to the numbers of Pygmies living in the area
relative to other tribes.
opment of a conservation strategy that would integrate
Male Female Pygmies Total
wildlife and natural resource conservation with the wellPoaching
being of the local communities; an important change
in philosophy for the conservation movement in the
DRC, and with particular relevance for the KBNP. This
Cutting firewood, logging
timber for construction,
approach, first developed by non-governmental orgacharcoal production, and
nizations (NGOs) and subsequently adopted by the
cutting bamboo
Congolese government through the Institut Congolais
Others (illegal encroach4
pour la Conservation de la Nature (ICCN), recognized
ment in the park)
the importance of involving the local communities in the
plans and procedures for the management of protected
areas. It was necessary to raise awareness of the conservation ethic among the communities, providing them with
training and information on the natural riches of national
parks and the reasons to preserve them; measures which
generated interest in and an understanding of the concept of sustainability and resource conservation.
While 98.7% of populations living around the
high-altitude part of KBNP (Bashi, Bahavu, Batembo,
Barongeronge and Pygmies) recognize the social, economic, and ecological significance of this site for the
country, 83.4% of the same population admitted that
the creation of the park raised serious problems, not only
in limiting access to forest resources and fertile farmFigure 5. Military-trained park rangers patrol the KBNP. The police were
land, but also in being associated with arbitrary arrests as
unable to limit the encroachment of humans into national parks. Since
well as outbreaks of violence in the region, with armed
the Pygmy communities have been involved in community development,
daily data collection on illegal activities in areas adjacent to Pygmy villages
gangs which have been settling in the park since 1996
show that illegal activities by Pygmies were reduced from 62% in 1999
to 1.4% in 2002 (Bikaba 2003). Photo © Isidore Kikukama, WWF/PCKB.
(Bikaba 2006). These armed troops are mainly elements
Indigenous Peoples and Conservation: From Rights to Resource Management
Human Rights and Conservation
of the FDLR3 (Democratic Forces for the Liberation of
Rwanda) who have been killing, raping and looting in
villages adjacent to the park.
Pygmies, the late Mishebere and Mr. Pilipili, were
involved in the habituation of gorillas for tourism in the
high-altitude block of KBPN in 1972, shortly after the
park’s creation. Pilipili and other Pygmy men were subsequently hired by ICCN for tracking and patrol work.
Since then, ICCN and other research institutions
working at KBNP, such as Kyoto University (since 1978),
employ Pygmies for data collection and general help
in the field. Pygmy communities living around KBNP
Figure 6. Mr. Pilipili Purusi (right) pursues a professional career at the
now distinguish themselves for their knowledge in comKBNP along with the late Mishebere. They were the first Pygmies involved
munity conservation; an approach that focuses on crein the gorilla habituation project. Photo © POPOF/Dominique Bikaba.
ating sustainable activities that benefit the communities
around the park. Initiatives, based on the premise that improving the livelihoods of people living in the vicinity of the
park minimizes depredation of the park’s natural resources, are developed by the communities themselves prior to being
submitted to potential donors.
For over ten years, NGOs such as the Pole Pole Foundation (POPOF) have developed activities that integrate
Pygmy communities with sustainable conservation measures at KBNP. They include socio-economic projects and literacy campaigns for men and women in the villages of Buyungule, Kashodu, and Muyange. Many more projects have
been designed by the Pygmy communities around the KBNP and supported by POPOF, including extension activities
in livestock breeding and farming, microcredit for small business ventures, and making clothes, as well as campaigns and
projects to raise awareness about gorillas and species conservation. All aim to empower the Pygmies and create socio-economic alternatives to the over-exploitation of the park’s natural resources. Pygmy children are encouraged to attend the
POPOF conservation schools around the KBNP. There they can meet and compete with children of other tribes. These
approaches focus on future Pygmy generations.
Tourism has now developed into a significant source of revenue for the province of South Kivu. Funds and material
resources from tourism have been channeled to the region to improve the socioeconomic conditions of the communities
or for direct conservation activities in the park. Tourism in KBNP and community-based tourism can also offer opportunities for socioeconomic exchange among the ethnic groups living around the park. This would enable to communities,
including Pygmies, living around the park to exhibit tourism products, such as their traditional way of life, dances, culinary customs, and other aspects of their rich cultures.
The community development activities near KBNP have had significant positive results not only for the Pygmies but
also the conservation of the natural resources of interest to them and consequently for the integrity of the park. Daily
monitoring of illegal activities in areas adjacent to Pygmy villages has shown that illegal activities (incursions) in the park
by Pygmies have been reduced from 62% in 1999 to 1.4% in 2002 (Bikaba 2003), since they have been employed and
otherwise occupied by the different projects.
3 FDLR: These are Rwandans (mainly Hutus) who were brought into DRC as refugees by the United Nations High Commission for Refugees (UNHCR) in 1994 after they had lost power in Rwanda.
They created this military and political party after their refugee camps were destroyed by the 1996 wars in DRC.
Indigenous People and the Kahuzi-Biega National Park in the Democratic Republic of the Congo
Human Rights and Conservation
Important Threats and Challenges to the Sustainability of Pygmy Actions
The Pygmy communities still face a great challenge — the lack of land, without which they can never have a settled life.
The community-based conservation initiatives mentioned above, conducted by the POPOF and others, have attempted
to give the Pygmies the wherewithal to be better able to define their destiny. This power encompasses an endogenous
definition of the actual needs of “the Pygmy by the Pygmy” at different levels; socioeconomic, cultural, and political.
There remains however a fundamental problem. The communities are not allowed access to the forest; something so
important for their cultural well-being (ceremonies, traditions, and sacred sites, for example) and their very survival in
terms of access to the natural resources so vital for their daily needs and health. Their direct involvement in the initiatives promoting sustainable development in the region should be benefitting them both financially and socially (health
and education).
Compared to other communities, Pygmies at KBNP still have limited access to opportunities for paid work, mainly
due to their limited training and education. Education would give these communities more opportunities to develop the
means to communicate and document their traditions and pass them on to other generations. The recovery and documentation of their traditional knowledge and way of life would, above all, benefit the Pygmies in its being an essential
part of achieving social and economic stability among their communities.
Lack of access to basic health care reduces their life expectancy and debilitates any initiatives to improve their financial and social stability. Their plight in this sense is aggravated by the fact that the KBNP prohibits access to the forests
where they have always collected the plants and plant parts they use for traditional medicinal practices.
Finally, their lack of representation at decision-making levels in local and provincial government is also a challenge.
The Pygmies are being marginalized in the regions where they
live. Their capacity to understand and their willingness to
be involved in any action to
improve their welfare should be
taken into account. Only when
they can be heard and achieve
direct involvement in the governments that make decisions
and affect their livelihoods will
they be able to better their lot
Figure 7. Pygmies from the village of Buyungule participate in an animal breeding project and a Pygmy
women sows park ranger uniforms. Many organizations have promoted socio-economic development
and reverse the insidious marprojects with Pygmies around the KBNP which helps integrate Pygmy communities into sustainable conservation practices and improve their livelihoods. Photo © POPOF/Dominique Bikaba and John Kahekwa.
ginalization prevalent today.
The Way Forward
There have been, and are, numerous organizations and initiatives concerned with the welfare, activities and education
of the Pygmies living around the KBNP. Many of them, however, have had little or no success in providing for any significant improvement in the Pygmies’ living conditions when compared to the financial, material, and human resources
invested. A preliminary analysis (POPOF 2007) shows that this lack of result is due not only to the challenges and difficulties already mentioned, but also to the lack of an appropriate and well-considered community development strategy;
one that takes into account the real needs of the Pygmies, focusing on their socioeconomic development, and involving
Indigenous Peoples and Conservation: From Rights to Resource Management
Human Rights and Conservation
the Pygmies from the beginning and right through planning, implementation and the evaluation. To achieve
this, projects must include neighboring ethnic communities in areas where Pygmies already live outside the forests. This approach would reduce the marginalization of
those communities and improve cultural sharing among
For example, some Pygmy children near the KBNP
show interest in going to local schools. Sending them
to schools where children from other ethnic groups are
present increases their future competitiveness important
for the life of their communities. Terms such as “Pygmy
school” or “Pygmy health center” are divisive and should
be avoided; activities that allow them to share their culFigure 8. Pygmy children from the Chombo village. One child out of ten
school-age Pygmy children goes to school, and it is very rare for girls to
ture and understanding with neighboring communities
get any education at all. Education is an important need for future Pygmy
should be promoted. This analysis was conducted in two
generations. Photo © POPOF/Dominique Bikaba.
different schools near the KBNP, and the results on habituation and degree of competitiveness of Pygmy children compared to children of other communities are encouraging.
In the future, groups and individuals working for the development of Pygmy peoples should intensify their interventions in order to allow Pygmy communities evicted from KBNP to gain access and rights to land, as the basic means
of subsistence in the region. This can be promoted indirectly by socioeconomic projects that facilitate access to basic
resources. Active community involvement in all planning stages must be ensured. Agriculture and livestock initiatives
would allow communities in the high-altitude part of the park access to food security, and would provide significant
socio-economic opportunities. Any initiatives must, however, be inclusive; accompanied by measures to improve access
to health care and education.
Development opportunities should focus on the preservation of the Pygmy’s cultural values and traditional knowledge. In the past, cultural practices have generally been recounted and written by people from outside the group — anthropologists and others who visit the Pygmy villages for brief periods of time — and rarely by someone who lives with the
Pygmies, or by the Pygmies themselves. Because Pygmies communicate mainly by “word of mouth” and often by other
instruments such as a drum or silent signs, formal education would enable them to document their culture and ensure
that they pass their cultural values on to future generations.
The findings reported in this article are the result of observations and collaboration with Pygmies living around the highaltitude part of the KBNP. At this point, it seems unlikely that the Pygmies will be allowed to return to the forest of the
KNBP. Evicted Pygmies who have experienced cultural influences from other communities for three generations no longer have the capacity to survive in forest. Alternatives should be developed to benefit these communities, while ensuring
their integration in the multi-ethnic communities where they now live.
As mentioned previously, there are two conservation approaches for the forests of the KBNP, one of strict protection (exclusion) and the other that allows for the limited integration of communities to promote the park’s conservation
through sustainable development projects. Some people of the Bakano, Barega, and Banyang ethnic groups still live in
Indigenous People and the Kahuzi-Biega National Park in the Democratic Republic of the Congo
Human Rights and Conservation
the lowland part of the KBNP. There they exploit the natural resources in a way which makes full use of their traditional
knowledge and practices. The options are two ends of a continuum and would involve the appropriate accords and zoning to fulfill the aims of the park and to provide for the livelihoods and aspirations of the Pygmies. Both are important
depending on context and objectives. It is practically impossible, however, to try to preserve the forests and wildlife of the
KBNP without the direct involvement of the local communities, and it should not be assumed that community development alone is enough to efficiently protect the park. Actions for the KBNP should find a balance between park protection and regulation while intensifying opportunities for local communities to improve their socio-economic conditions.
We thank Mr. Ntavuna, Chief of the Chombo Pygmy village, who contributed significantly to this chapter. We also thank
the staff of the Pole Pole Foundation (POPOF) and the KBNP who contributed valuable information. We are grateful
to Partners in Conservation (USA), the Gorilla Organization (UK), the Canadian Ape Alliance, Kyoto University, Zero
footprint (Canada) and the Born Free Foundation, for their support to the Pygmy communities at the KBNP through
the POPOF for conservation and development projects there.
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Indigenous People and the Kahuzi-Biega National Park in the Democratic Republic of the Congo
atural Resource Management is now underpinning indigenous community conservation initiatives
around the world. This section explores the many ways in which indigenous peoples are adapting traditional natural resource management schemes to bring them into alignment with methods and approaches
developed in Europe and the United States. Often, however, it is the reverse — governments and natural
resource managers are learning from indigenous peoples, as amply illustrated in a number of these case
studies. Ideas of self, place and cultural identity of many indigenous peoples are inextricably linked to the
land upon which they and their ancestors have always depended for their livelihoods.
Here we provide examples of indigenous conservation initiatives that include Marine-based Community
Conserved Areas in Fiji (Calamia et al.), Community-Conserved Forests of Suledo (Massawe) and Lulanda
(Meshack and Woodcock) in Tanzania, Community Based Conservation (CBC) initiatives in India (Kothari
and Pathak), cultural landscapes in northern Canada (Davidson-Hunt et al.), and the community management of indigenous territories and reserves — the Dhimurru Indigenous Protected Area in Australia (Smyth et
al.), the Community-Owned Conservation Area (C.O.C.A.) of the Wai-wai in Guyana (Community Members
of Masakenari and their collaborators), and reserves in the wetlands of the Abanico del Pastaza in Peru
(Soto et al.) and the ríos Mirití and Apaporis and middle and lower Caquetá in Colombia (Palacios et al.).
For indigenous peoples today, natural resource management frequently involves the cooperation of state
authorities and non-governmental organizations. This section provides examples of success in this endeavor
resulting from collaboration between indigenous communities, government, and local and international nongovernmental organizations (see especially the case of the Mount Panié reserve and conservation corridor
in New Caledonia; Blaffart et al.). There are several threads that run through these case studies, binding
them together and giving them a coherence that their geography and ecosystems may otherwise lack. The
strongest of these is the primary need to secure land rights — each of the communities had established their
rights to their traditional lands and resources. There is ample research demonstrating that communities with
land and resource rights are better stewards of their natural resources, with a greater ability to not only set
internal regulations that the community obey through customary law and practice, but also to enforce laws
that outside resource-users must obey as well. And, as Massawe, Calamia et al., and Blaffart et al., for
example, demonstrate, it is essential to take account of, and work within, the traditional authority structures
in determining new management schemes.
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A second aspect so evident in these articles is that one of the principal barriers facing indigenous people, especially when dealing with strong outside forces such as oil companies, is lack of information. Access
to knowledge, especially concerning their rights and the appropriate means to express and enforce them,
means that communities have the power to hold extractive industries and other outside forces to national
and international laws that may otherwise be disregarded. As in the case of Peru (Soto et al.), indigenous
peoples were not only able to make a petroleum company pay to clean up the damaged environment, but
they also energized the government to assume their rightful responsibility for this task because of their understanding of the legislation and the problems and possible solutions. Given an understanding of their rights, it
also necessary to provide the means by which they can exercise them. Zimmerman recounts the remarkable
way that the Kayapo communities of the Xingu basin in the southeastern Amazon, were, with the help of
NGOs and government, able to patrol and defend the integrity of their forests over more than 11 million ha
in a region that has otherwise been devastated; carved up by roads, highways, logging, mining, agriculture
and cattle-ranching over the last 25 years.
A third, and perhaps most important, thread running through this section is indigenous peoples’ commitment to upholding traditional practices while at the same time looking to the future for sustainable uses of
their natural resources. This is especially well demonstrated in the cultural landscape1 of the Pikangikum First
Nation (PFN) in northwestern Ontario, Canada (Davidson-Hunt et al.). Although many indigenous peoples
still rely on the land for subsistence, it is important to remember that cultures are ever-evolving entities, and
new interpretations of traditional management schemes are one of the many paths towards the future conservation and sustainable use of natural resources.
1 Cultural Landscape often refers to living landscapes that indigenous peoples or local communities value because of their enduring relationship with that place and its continuing importance
to their cultural identity and language.
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Beauty, Power, and
Conservation in the
Southeast Amazon:
How Traditional Social Organization of
the Kayapo Leads to Forest Protection
Barbara Zimmerman
Quick Facts
Country: Brazil
Geographic Focus: A contiguous block of five Kayapo territories totaling almost 105,000 km² in the south of the
state of Pará and the north of the state of Mato Grosso in
the highly threatened southeastern Amazon of Brazil.
Indigenous Peoples: The contemporary Kayapo population
approaches 7,000 living in 18 villages.
Author Information
Barbara Zimmerman is director of the Kayapo project with The
Wild Foundation (USA) and the International Conservation Fund
of Canada. She founded this conservation and development project
with the Kayapo in 1992 and led it for many years for Conservation
International. She received her PhD in tropical ecology from Florida
State University.
E-mail: [email protected]
Beginning in the 1980s, an extraordinary phenomenon could be
observed from space in the southeastern Amazon of Brazil — tentacles
of the agricultural frontier were reaching into the forests of the north
of the state of Mato Grosso and southern Pará. Fifteen years later, vast
areas of forest had been reduced to smoking ruins as ranchers transformed forest into pasture in an unceasing quest to occupy the land.
Logging, gold mining and homesteading also formed part of the mix,
but it was the insistent march of ranching that was easy to follow
from space. This landscape transmogrification appeared inexorable.
Remarkably, however, the forest clearing simply stopped at the border
of Amerindian lands (Fig. 1). Three decades after this barrier effect was
first observed, Amerindian lands of the Rio Xingu basin remain intact
in a sea of deforestation that now almost completely surrounds them.
What forces conspired to stop deforestation at these borders?
On the ground, it is well known that the southeastern Amazon
region has lacked governance: violent conflict over land, illegal
resource exploitation, fraud and corruption have been rampant, and
continue largely unimpeded today. “Hired gun” is a job category,
assassination being a popular method of resolving frontier disputes.
Flagrant abuses of the law often go unprosecuted. The integrity of the
Amerindian territorial borders cannot, therefore, be attributed merely
to their protected status under the law. Of course indigenous peoples
actively — even militantly — protect their land rights. But in the face
of intense and powerful economic forces, lack of governance in the
frontier, and large numbers of settlers pouring into the region, how do
relatively few Indians manage to keep the chainsaws and bulldozers at
bay over a vast area of pristine forest?
In this chapter, I examine the case of the Kayapo who protect
the largest block of indigenous territory in the region; indeed, contiguous Kayapo territories form the largest protected tract of tropical
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forest anywhere in the world. I propose that the remarkable conservation success on Kayapo lands can be traced
to the social organization of its inhabitants and their
ability to capitalize on external resources and partner
with external organizations to meet their livelihood.
Furthermore, as the Kayapo example demonstrates, traditional Amerindian social organization presents unparalleled conservation opportunities in the Amazon.
A Brief Recent History of the Kayapo and
Their Involvement in Gold Mining and
The Kayapo inhabit six legally ratified indigenous territories in the south of the state of Pará and the north of the
state of Mato Grosso. A contiguous block of five territories totals almost 105,000 km², and the total contemporary Kayapo population there approaches 7,000, living
in 18 villages.
After decades of fighting and fleeing eastward in
front of the advancing frontier, leaving behind savanna
(cerrado) ecosystems and entering predominantly forest
ecosystems, most remaining Kayapo groups were “pacified” by government agents and missionaries in the late
Figure 1. A 2004 MODIS satellite image showing plumes of smoke ris1950s and 60s, although this hardly stopped the threat
ing from burning of primary forest along the border of the Kayapo and
to Indian lands or the violence between Indians and setXingu Park Indigenous territories (dark green). From space it is clear how
deforestation (light brown) stops at the boundaries of indigenous territlers. During the first half of the 20th century, introtory in the southeastern Amazon of Brazil. Source: <http://visibleearth.>.
duced diseases decimated Kayapo groups even as they
warred with settlers and each other. As late as the 1960s,
they were a warrior culture that practiced raiding, and
boys were raised to fight.
Over the last three decades, Kayapo society has undergone many changes. During the 1970s, increasing contact
with government agents, missionaries, and the occasional anthropologist introduced superficial change as the Kayapo
adopted western clothes and the widespread use of guns and metal tools (Verswijver 1996). More drastic change has
occurred since the mid-1980s when, one after the other, Kayapo leaders succumbed to the seduction of goods and
money proffered unremittingly by loggers and miners intent on extracting Kayapo gold and mahogany (Swietenia macrophylla, Meliaceae). During the 1970s, the Kayapo became sedentary, and ceased warring except when there was a direct
territorial threat.
The Kayapo struggle to have their lands demarcated did not heat up until the 1970s when the Kayapo began to
patrol the disputed southeastern border of their reserve, actively protecting it from ranchers who were starting to move
into the area. Similarly, the Metuktire Kayapo to the west of the Rio Xingu were militantly asserting their land rights in
Indigenous Peoples and Conservation: From Rights to Resource Management
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the southern Capoto/Jarina region (G. Verswijver pers. comm.). The land claimed by the Kayapo continued, however, to
be increasingly invaded by ranchers, miners and loggers.
Encroachment by miners began in the late 1970s when gold was discovered on Kayapo lands around the eastern villages of Gorotire and Kikretum. The Kayapo of these communities were bitterly divided over how to deal with the gold
miners, with some favoring doing business and others not. In 1980, the Kayapo forcibly removed gold-miners (garimpeiros) from their territory, with the Federal Police and the federal government Indian Agency (Fundação Nacional do
Índio – FUNAI) completing the expulsion. The garimpeiros soon returned, however, and in 1982 the Kikretum chief,
Pombo, having second thoughts, signed an illegal contract with a gold mining company, allowing them to mine gold
under the stipulation that they pay him 10% of the gold extracted. Although FUNAI and other Kayapo chiefs opposed
this deal, the Kayapo of Kikretum became accustomed to western goods and began forcing the garimpeiros to pay even
higher royalties. Today Pombo is considered by the Kayapo to have been a great chief because, in accordance with traditional values, he shared with his people all that he made from the gold mining revenues.
In 1985, after a second invasion of Kayapo land by gold miners near the community of Gorotire, three Kayapo chiefs
took over the Cumaru gold mines by closing the airstrip and holding several thousand garimpeiros hostage before expelling them. The Kayapo demanded 10% royalties on gold extracted, including
back-pay, and further demanded a ransom for the 789 hydraulic mining units
and 47 mechanical crushers that they had seized (Schmink and Wood 1992).
… in their struggles with
The Kayapo realized that the gold mining crisis was their best bet for resolving
the gold miners, the Kayapo
their land claim and stated they would only reopen the gold mines after their
claim was settled. The government, under pressure from the Kayapo and gold
developed skills for dealing with
miners, agreed to demarcate a 3,262,960-ha reserve named the Terra Indígena
Brazilian society and ultimately,
for successfully resolving the
Similar incursions of gold-mining occurred in western Kayapo lands; first
land question in Pará.
in 1993 on land west of the Rio Xingu that was not ratified as an Indian
reserve at the time, although the Kayapo considered it to be theirs. Kayapo
expelled the garimpeiros. In 1990, gold was again discovered in the southwest
before the western Kayapo reserves of Bau and Mekranoti had been recognized. Although there was much opposition, a
few chiefs followed the example of Kikretum and allowed gold mining in exchange for royalties. By the early 1990s, however, gold mining was becoming less profitable with a decline in gold prices, ever more demands by the Indians, and the
depletion of gold reserves at the major mines in the east. It is widely acknowledged, however, that in their struggles with
the gold miners, the Kayapo developed skills for dealing with Brazilian society and ultimately, for successfully resolving
the land question in Pará (Schmink and Wood 1992).
Party time
As gold mining was decreasing in the early 1990s, the mahogany loggers became major players on the scene. Two villages
located closest to the frontier and, not coincidentally, those that had first sold gold mining concessions, Gorotire and
Kikretum, entered into agreements to sell mahogany logs in the late 1980s. By 1992, mahogany logging was widespread
across Kayapo territories and was rampant until the government finally stopped it in 2002. Driven by an export market,
mahogany is one of the world’s most valuable timber species, commanding a price that is an order of magnitude higher
than the next most valuable species in the area. Mahogany was the only timber ever extracted on a wide scale on Kayapo
land, due to high transportation costs over trackless wilderness (Zimmerman et al. 2001).
Beauty, Power, and Conservation in the Southeast Amazon
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The involvement of the Kayapo in mahogany logging unfolded in the same manner in all communities. During the
late fall, loggers seeking concessions would wine and dine Kayapo chiefs accompanied by their younger, Portuguesespeaking mediators in the frontier logging centres. Contracts typically promised the Kayapo community about
US$50/m³ of mahogany harvested in exchange for exclusive harvest rights. Depending on log quality, mahogany was
worth US$250–650/m³ to the logger at the local mill. It was up to the Kayapo to monitor the log volumes extracted
on their territories. Of course the largely illiterate Kayapo were regularly cheated, but they did manage to control access
to their territory and extract large payments from loggers. Throughout the Kayapo territories of Mekrangnoti and Bau
alone, it is estimated that 500,000 m³ of mahogany was extracted over 10 years.
With no levies or forest management fees to pay, poorly paid workers without recourse to labour rights, a highly
lucrative timber species and inexperienced Indian landowners; the loggers made fortunes. Why, however, did the Kayapo
become involved in an illegal and predatory activity on their land only to end up weakened by infighting and to lose
forever a valuable, potentially renewable resource (Zimmerman et al. 2001)?
Most Kayapo realized that the loggers were not invaders: they did not stay,
and they would do almost anything to obtain permission to remove trees of a
Driven by an export market,
species with no cultural value from a landscape of trees numbering many milmahogany is one of the
lions. The logger’s insatiable thirst for mahogany made them seem easy targets
world’s most valuable timber
to exploit — an attitude that for centuries had been a factor in the Kayapo
raids against their neighbours (Turner 2000). From the Kayapo point of view, species… Mahogany was the
it was time to party!
only timber ever extracted
Unsurprisingly, the Kayapo were exceedingly ingenuous as far as what
extensively across Kayapo land
they gained from loggers and at what price. Most of the Kayapo were, and still
because the extraordinarily
are, to a large degree, illiterate and uni-lingual; most had no experience with
money; and little, if any, contact with outside society at the time. Mahogany
high market value of these
paid for a bonanza of travel, transport, tools, radios, boats, fuel, clothes, coftrees compensated for the
fee, sugar, tobacco and beads. Chiefs felt pressure to bring goods into their
high transportation costs over
communities — a traditional function of a chief — in the same manner that
other chiefs were able to do in communities that allowed gold mining and log- trackless wilderness.
ging. Their lack of experience in a capitalist world meant that money was not
invested in anything durable and ran through their hands like water.
After logging ended, the Kayapo realized that they had gained neither developmental benefits nor capacity outside
society from the millions of dollars they had received from loggers. Worse, Kayapo society was disrupted by the perverse incentives introduced by loggers, such as obtaining goods under a regime of aggressive badgering and benefits
accruing to elites only. The Kayapo had developed a need for manufactured goods but no ability to obtain those goods
other than selling off irreplaceable resources in Faustian deals made at great cost to their society and natural environment. By 2000, mahogany throughout millions of hectares in Kayapo territories was rare and communities and loggers were fighting among each other over remnant patches of small trees. In 2002, under international pressure, the
federal government put an end to this embarrassing abuse of the law in the Xingu, and mahogany logging was stopped.
The party was over.
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The Kayapo and the Environmental Movement
The Kayapo became famous in the late 1980s when they mobilized to protest construction of a World Bank-backed
mega-dam project on the Rio Xingu — dams that would have flooded parts of their territory and caused environmental damage that would be prejudicial to the natural resources upon which they were dependant. The Kayapo-led protest
at Altamira in 1989 galvanized support from international environmental NGOs and media. After this event and the
international press coverage it received, the World Bank dropped their loan for dam construction and environmentalists
elevated the Kayapo to the status of heroes.
It was around the time of the Altamira meeting that environmentalists were discovering a common cause with indigenous peoples of the Amazon. Whereas before pro-Indian advocacy had argued from a stance of human rights and cultural
preservation, the language of the environmental movement offered Indians a way to communicate and legitimize native
claims to land and resources in a manner that outsiders could comprehend (Conklin and Graham 1995). Amazonian
Indians had gained powerful allies that forced the state to pay attention to their minority rights. Environmental activists,
on the other hand, benefited from the evocative symbolism of “moral and political legitimacy” that Indians provoke in
western society (Conklin and Graham 1995).
Kayapo leaders quickly learned to translate Amerindian cultural values into western terms using the language of
environmentalism. Turner (2000) described how Kayapo leaders organized the protest at Altamira on their New Corn
ceremony — a ceremony that expresses the Kayapo conception of the interdependence of society and nature. By using
the New Corn ceremony, Kayapo leaders implicitly communicated to their people what they were asking them to defend
and what it was that was threatened by the dam. They built a camp at Altamira that was a total Kayapo community with
families pursuing domestic activities and, thereby, presented themselves to the outside world as a vital human society
under imminent threat (Turner 2000).
The Altamira meeting in 1989 was a high point in the emerging alliance among Kayapo, environmentalists and
public opinion. The honeymoon ended when it became known that behind the scenes the Kayapo were profiting from
illegal mining and logging and that some leaders were using this money to live lavish and dissolute lifestyles in frontier
towns. Conklin and Graham (1995) observed that in Amazonian eco-politics, the political power of indigenous people
“exists only so long as the Indian’s political identities resonate with western ideas and symbols.” By allowing mining and
logging, the Kayapo had violated the Indian-as-one-with-nature symbolism, so cherished by the west, and the environmental movement largely, but not entirely, abandoned them.
Beauty, Power and Conservation in the Amazon
Satellite images of the Xingu region are striking. Kayapo lands and the contiguous Xingu Indigenous Park to the south
(home to 14 indigenous ethnicities) form a 14 million-hectare forest island within a spreading sea of agriculture. No
matter what criticisms are leveled at the relationships between Indians and environmentalists, the fact remains that a
tract of forest larger than many small countries has, for thirty years, withstood a crushing wave of destruction that is the
Amazonian frontier. This landscape phenomenon owes its existence to the traditional organization of Amerindian society
and, in the 21st century, also to alliances of indigenous peoples with environmental organizations.
The great Kayapo land gains of the 1980s and 90s can be traced to strong leaders who led their warriors to protest, pressure, and even kill when necessary: Kanok, Toto-the, Paiakan, Ropni, and Megaron to name a few of the most
prominent, but many were involved. That the Kayapo were able to coordinate this campaign with such remarkable effect
reflects a warrior tradition certainly, but also the foundation of a well-developed communal society, one predicated upon
complex ceremony and symbolism.
Beauty, Power, and Conservation in the Southeast Amazon
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Kayapo chiefs lead by consensus and, until very recently, had to undergo decades of training to learn the many
chants and recitations that constitute essential parts of major ceremonies. The public performance of these was one of
the basic ritual functions of a chief (Verswijver 1996). Even today, aspiring chiefs can use the power of speech-making
only when they reach a certain age — age grades being another important facet of Kayapo social organization. Chief candidates are evaluated on exemplary conduct, knowledge of culture, combative spirit, solidarity and generosity (Verswijver
1996). “For the Kayapo, the moral force of social solidarity or the power of strong leaders to compel consent and obedience is created and conveyed by symbolic performances such as communal ceremonies or chiefly oratory and imbued in
the symbolic acts, images and verbal [expressions] of which they are constructed” (Turner 2003).
The particular social organization of the Kayapo is, then, a cauldron that forged great leaders who have achieved
more for the conservation of the southeastern Amazon than all governments, scientists and NGOs together. Today, as
overt warrior culture recedes into history, traditional ritual organization of the Kayapo remains vital and continues to be
a wellspring of Kayapo strength into the 21st century.
In contrast to Western society, which is concerned with the production of commodities for exchange and the individual accumulation of monetary wealth, Kayapo society is concerned above all with the production of social persons
and the social values attached to them (Turner 2003). The main categories of social value among the Kayapo are “power”
and “beauty.” These are the qualities by which the relative worth of persons, their role in the community, their relative
prestige and influence, and their capacity for leadership and political effectiveness are judged. These values are realized
in the public domain of ritual, political activity and collective action (Turner 2003). What this means is that a Kayapo
strives in his or her life not for production and accumulation of material surplus, but rather to attain social values of
“beauty” and “power” that can be bestowed only through properly orchestrated ritual enacted by the community to which
the person belongs and plays an integral role.
In Kayapo society, rituals constitute the fundamental expression of concepts and truths for the group (Fisher 2003).
The production of personal identity is accomplished through the transference to the child of names and ceremonial
wealth (rights to specific forms of ornamentation) in collectively choreographed ceremonies. These names and wealth
are said to be “powerful” and “beautiful” (Turner 2003; Fisher 2003). Kayapo villages are circular, with dwellings built
around a large open central plaza where the communal ceremonies take place (Fig. 2). Fisher (2003) points out that,
while names bestowed in the great name-giving ceremonies do accord social prestige, the interest of the participants lies
in their own experience of ritual and the feelings of longing, happiness and harmony that are attributed both to relations
within an extended family and to a performing community as a whole. This harmony grows into “beauty” that results
from the choreography of singers, dancers and food providers, and from viewing the ceremonial ornaments of
all legitimate inheritors disposed in their correct places
around the village plaza during the ritual climax (Fig. 3).
As persons progress from stage to stage of the life cycle,
they thereby acquire the right to growing deference from
the young, and public recognition of their increasing
beauty, and become able to exercise a greater measure of
leadership and control in the social and political life of
their communities (Turner 2003). “These, rather than a
few scraps of material subsistence production, are goals
worthy of a life project which can manage to make even
Figure 2. Kayapo village from the air. Kayapo villages are built around a
central communal space used for rituals. Photo © Cristina G. Mittermeier.
growing old seem worthwhile” (Turner 2003).
Indigenous Peoples and Conservation: From Rights to Resource Management
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The result of such societal organization is to reinforce solidarity and bind individuals into a network of
social obligations and roles such that a single community, rather than individuals, controls actions in the
great common-property forests. The profound implication for conservation is that across huge areas of Amazon
forest under the control of Kayapo communities, conservationists deal with a single entity pursuing a single
agenda, rather than facing the complicated situation on
non-indigenous lands where many stakeholders hold differing agendas.
Figure 3. Kayapo dancing in a name-giving ceremony at A’Ukre village.
Photo © Paiakan Kayapo.
Conservation Opportunity with Indigenous Peoples of the Xingu
The environmental movement can make huge gains in the Amazon by empowering indigenous peoples to control access
to their territories and manage their resources sustainably; thereby preserving their cultural essences — the very cultures
that have protected forest landscapes in the highly threatened southeastern Amazon. At the beginning of the 21st century,
the Kayapo and other indigenous peoples of the Xingu basin find themselves almost completely surrounded by an insatiable capitalist society fed by the burning of forests. Twenty years ago, for example, the Kayapo had to defend a few hundred kilometers of border in the east; today they must monitor more than 2,000 km in all directions. Infrastructure development and increasing economic activity coupled with weak governance in the region (Nepstad et al. 2001; Laurance et
al. 2004) overwhelms the capacity of indigenous peoples to monitor and control their borders on their own. Therefore,
the first strategic area where NGOs can promote conservation is to help indigenous peoples uphold their constitutional
right to maintain the integrity of their borders.
Sustainable economic autonomy for indigenous communities is a second strategic area for investment by environmental organizations. Although tenure security is necessary for indigenous peoples, it is not tantamount to sustainable
management. Amazonian Indians generally see animals, plants, rivers, and forests as the basis for reproduction of their
societies, but they may have no cultural restriction against resource extraction — at times to the point of exhaustion of
a particular resource (Turner 2000). When they lack alternative sources of income, indigenous peoples are as vulnerable as any to offers of material wealth by third parties coveting their natural resources — as was demonstrated amply
by the Kayapo during the 1980s and 90s. Controlling access to resources is the sine qua non of any strategy for sustainability in large tropical landscapes, and Amerindian peoples have largely achieved this thus far (Schwartzman and
Zimmerman 2005). For the long-term preservation of forest ecosystems, Amerindian communities need economic
alternatives — congruent with their cultural norms — that they can control.
As exemplified by the Kayapo, Amerindian societies generally conform to the criteria that sociologists have identified
as requisites for successful common-property resource management regimes (Ostrom 1990; Becker and Ostrom 1995;
Morrow and Hull 1996; Gibson et al. 2000): (1) clear definition of the resource and its users and the ability of users to
sustain legal claims and to effectively defend the resource from outsiders; (2) clear criteria for membership as an eligible
user; (3) rapid access to low-cost, internally adaptive mechanisms of conflict resolution; (4) fair decision-making rights
and use rights among users; (5) no challenge to or undermining of institutions created and defined by users by any other
authorities; and (6) user communities are accustomed to negotiating and cooperating with each other. In essence, this
Beauty, Power, and Conservation in the Southeast Amazon
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means that conservation and development enterprises tailored to fit Amerindian culture have a high chance of resulting
in sustainable management of common property resources and the conservation of biodiversity.
Conservation and development projects with Amerindian communities must be designed around aboriginal values
of equity, cooperation, and reciprocity that are expressed in terms of local authority. These are achieved by consensus
and common-property access, rather than by western values of competition, exclusive rights to resources, and centralized management authority (Chapeskie 1995). In other words, by supporting the development of economic enterprises
that satisfy cultural values and benefit all members of a community, conservation organizations will win out over loggers and miners every time, no matter what seductive short-term profits the latter offer because: (1) logging and mining violate egalitarian principles and benefit elites only; (2) predatory activities will end a conservation and development
enterprise that benefits all, and (3) the community, not individuals, controls decisions on common property territory.
Individuals find themselves unable to make private deals with
loggers because their community will not tolerate activities that
Investments in territorial control and
threaten sources of equitably shared benefits. The deal between
economic alternatives for Amerindian peoples
the community and the conservation organization is explicit:
the NGO will invest in sustainable development as long as the
form the basis of long-term conservationist
community does not engage in illegal activities. Such investand indigenous alliances that can affect
ment by conservation NGOs in traditional Amerindian societfrontier expansion and forest protection
ies remains a largely unexploited but immense opportunity for
long-term conservation of Amazonian ecosystems, as environ- at a significant scale. The challenge is to
mental NGO’s are proving in the Xingu region of Brazil.
devise long-term investment strategies that
Some environmental NGOs have made long-term comremunerate indigenous peoples for the
mitments to indigenous peoples of the Xingu. The Instituto
ecosystem services of the lands they protect,
Socio-ambiental (ISA) is an environmental and indigenous
rights NGO in Brazil that has worked for more than 15
directly linking development benefits with
years with 14 indigenous groups in the 2.8 million-ha Xingu
Indigenous Park located next to Kayapo lands in the south,
as well as with the Panara people, who occupy a 500,000-ha
territory on the southwestern border of the Kayapo lands. ISA helped the Xingu peoples organize the Xingu Lands
Indigenous Association (Associação Terra Indígena do Xingu – ATIX ) in an effort to achieve greater political and economic
autonomy. ISA and ATIX monitor territorial control projects and also support the development of economic alternatives and resource management by the communities. Similarly, for more than 15 years Conservation International (CI)
and, more recently, NGO Kayapo partners the Environmental Defense Fund (EDF), The Wild Foundation (WF) and
International Conservation Fund of Canada (ICFC), have invested in programs of territorial control, economic alternatives and local indigenous associations with the Kayapo. Both ISA and the CI-EDF-WF-ICFC partnership implement
territorial surveillance and conservation and development projects in collaboration with the National Indian Foundation
(FUNAI). FUNAI receives inadequate government funding to fulfill its constitutional obligation of protecting indigenous peoples and their lands, and NGOs can help fill this gap under the partnership models used by the Kayapo NGO
consortium, ISA and their local indigenous partner organizations. The bottom-line to these alliances is that there are no
invasions or illegal activities on lands controlled by those communities in the Xingu Indigenous Park, Panara or Kayapo
Indigenous Territories where NGOs have been able to support combined programs of territorial control and sustainable
Indigenous Peoples and Conservation: From Rights to Resource Management
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No mechanism in western society has approached the success of the Kayapo at protecting tropical forest. Although
the Kayapo example is particularly striking because of the size of the area and its location in a frontier zone, similar Amerindian landscape-scale conservation efforts can be found in many other places in Brazil and the Neotropics
(Stocks et al. 2007; Nepstad et al. 2006). It follows that conservation organizations working in the Amazon where
indigenous peoples hold legal tenure over 100 million ha must prioritize the preservation of indigenous cultures
and their sustainable transition to the 21st century. Investments in territorial control and economic alternatives for
Amerindian peoples form the basis of long-term conservationist and indigenous alliances that can affect frontier
expansion and forest protection at a significant scale. The challenge is to devise long-term investment strategies that
remunerate indigenous peoples for the ecosystem services of the lands they protect, directly linking development benefits with conservation.
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U.L. and Prinz, E. 2001. Road paving, fire regime feedbacks, and the future of Amazon forests. Forest Ecology and
Management 154: 395–407.
Nepstad, D., Schwartzman, S., Bamberger, B., Santilli, M., Ray, D., Schlesinger, P., Lefebvre, P., Alencar, A. and Prinz, E.
2006. Inhibition of Amazon deforestation and fire by parks and Indigenous reserves. Conservation Biology 20: 65–73.
Ostrom, E. 1990. Governing the Commons: The Evolution of Institutions for Collective Action. Cambridge University Press,
Cambridge, UK.
Schmink, M. and Wood, C.H. 1992. Contested Frontiers in Amazonia. Columbia University Press, New York.
Schwartzman, S. and Zimmerman, B. 2005. Conservation alliances with Amerindian peoples of the Amazon. Conservation
Biology 19: 721–727.
Stocks, A., McMahan, B. and Taber, P. 2007. Indigenous, colonist and government impacts on Nicaragua’s Bosawas
reserve. Conservation Biology 21: 1495–1505.
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Natural Resource Management
Turner, T. 2000. Indigenous rights, environmental protection and the struggle over forest resources in the Amazon:
the case of the Brazilian Kayapo. In: Earth, Air, Fire and Water: The Humanities and the Environment, J. Conway,
K. Keniston and L. Marx (eds.), pp.145–169. University of Massachusetts Press, Amherst.
Turner, T. 2003. The beautiful and the common: inequalities of value and revolving hierarchy among the Kayapo. Tipiti
1: 11–26.
Verswijver, G. 1996. Mekranoti: Living Among the Painted People of the Amazon (African, Asian and Oceanic Art). Prestel
Publishing, München.
Zimmerman, B.L., Peres, C.A., Malcolm, J.R. and Turner, T. 2001. Conservation and development alliances with the
Kayapo of south-eastern Amazonia, a tropical forest indigenous people. Environmental Conservation 28: 8–22.
Indigenous Peoples and Conservation: From Rights to Resource Management
Natural Resource Management
Indigenous People
and Conservation:
The Suledo Forest
Community in Tanzania
Joseph L. Massawe
Quick Facts
Country: Tanzania
Geographic Focus: Suledo Forest, situated in the southeastern corner of the Kiteto District, Manyara Region, the
United Republic of Tanzania.
Indigenous Peoples: The Suledo Forest Community is a
multi-ethnic society of nine villages. The population is
The Suledo Forest Community is a multi-ethnic society of nine villages in and around the Suledo Forest, in the southeastern corner of
the Kiteto District in the Manyara Region of the United Republic
of Tanzania (Fig. 1).1 The total population of these villages is about
53,900 (Table 1). Within the legally gazetted borders of these nine
registered villages is the Suledo Forest; a vast and species-rich miombo
forest covering an area of 167,400 ha. The major, and unique, characteristic of the forest is that it is used for grazing by the Maasai, who
are pastoralists and who formerly controlled the land. A gradual immigration in recent years of other tribes has resulted in a quite diversified society, bringing with it other land uses, mainly farming, which
is threatening the Maasai’s traditional use of the forest as a grazing
ground. This situation is also bringing new challenges to the residents,
who want to continue to manage the forest sustainably, thereby securing their important grazing areas.
Historical background
Author Information
In 1993, the Regional Forest Administration planned to set aside
and gazette this large forest as a Central Government Forest Reserve.
A conventional forest inventory was carried out, boundaries were cut, and
beacons placed on the ground to mark the area to be gazetted. No survey
of socio-economic conditions was carried out, however, and there were
no consultations with the local people in spite of the fact that there were
established villages, cultivated fields, and settlements inside the planned
reserve. This triggered an immediate response from the villagers in the
adjoining villages, who feared that the establishment of a government
forest reserve would make their major land use — forest grazing — illegal
Joseph Massawe is a Forester by profession. He is currently working with the Kiteto District Council and as technical advisor in Suledo
E-mail: [email protected]
1 SULEDO is the acronym for the three wards in Kiteto District; Sunya, Leng’atei and Dongo.
Natural Resource Management
overnight; threatening their livelihoods and undermining
their life style as an indigenous population.
Villagers felt that the government should be advised to
modify their plans, and leave the villagers to continue with
their responsibility for the forest. Their suggestions were
forwarded to higher authorities. Finally, a socio-economic
study was carried out in 1994, which suggested that the
villagers should manage the forest. This was well before
the publication of the 2002 Forest Act, which empowers
villagers to own and manage forests on their village land.
The proposal was approved for implementation in June
1995. Since then, surveying, mapping and, finally, gazettement of the area gave the forest the status of a Village Land
Forest Reserve, a category which is recognized in the new
and current Forest Act no.14 of 2002.
Biological Significance of the Suledo
The vegetation types of the Suledo Forest are predominantly Miombo woodland, mixed Acacia/Combretum, and
thicket (Table 2). It is located at the interface of Brachystegia/
Julbernada savanna woodland and Acacia/Commiphora
thornbush as defined by Stuart et al. (1990). Natural
resource inventories carried out for each of the nine villages
identified 80 tree and shrub species (Malimbwi 1999a–c,
2000a–f), besides a rich fauna of large mammals and reptiles typical of the savanna woodlands of Tanzania (Table 3).
Community Strategy
Community-based forest management initiatives were
started in the Suledo area in 1994. The purpose was to
improve the overall socio-economic situation of the people and to reduce poverty by improving natural resource
management; introducing equitable use and sustainable
practices, most particularly in raising livestock, farming,
and in the management of the available natural resources
(land, water, forests, wildlife, and beekeeping, for example).
No expensive forest inventories were carried out at the
start; the main goal then was to bring the use of the forest under control. From the beginning, emphasis was on
Figure 1. Map of Tanzania showing the location of the Suledo forest and
the nine villages. Map © Conservation International.
Table 1. Forest land/population distribution in the Suledo villages. The
Suledo Forest Conservation Area encompasses nine villages, each of
which have a management committee to make decisions and enact
bylaws on the zoning and use of their forest lands.
(2002 census)
Village land
Forest land
Source: Forest Inventory Reports for the nine villages (Malimbwi 1999a-c,
Table 2. The different vegetation types in the Suledo Forest, Tanzania.
Vegetation type
Area (ha)
Miombo woodland
Acacia/Combretum zone
Acacia zone
Combretum zone
Dry montane
Source: Forest Inventory Reports for the nine villages (Malimbwi 1999a-c,
Indigenous Peoples and Conservation: From Rights to Resource Management
Natural Resource Management
straightforward, common-sense planning by the residents of each village, who themselves would define how to protect, use,
and develop their forest resources. Based on a participatory land-use planning exercise, each village divided their land into management zones and established simple rules for the use for each. Traditional, indigenous knowledge and institutions formed the
basis for these plans. The rules gained legal status as they were formulated and passed by the respective village assemblies into
“Village By-laws.” This planning process was kept on track by the District Forest Officer and by sporadic outside facilitation.
Table 3. Wildlife in the Suledo Forest. Large mammals and reptiles that
offer the basis for a micro-tourism enterprise. Since establishing the Suledo Forest Reserve, species such as elephant and eland that were hunted
in the past are now recovering their numbers.
Swahili Name
English Name
Yellow baboon (Papio cynocephalus)
Vervet monkey (Chlorocebus pygerthrus)
Scrub hare (Lepus saxatilis)
Bat-eared fox (Otocyon megalotis)
Mbwa mwitu
Wild dog (Lycaon pictus)
Spotted hyaena (Crocuta crocuta)
Leopard (Panthera pardus)
Lion (Panthera leo)
Ground pangolin (Smutsia temminckii)
Aardvark (Orycteropus afer)
Elephant (Loxodonta africana)
Zebra (Equus quagga)
Bush pig (Potamochoerus larvatus)
Warthog (Phacochoerus africanus)
Giraffe (Giraffa camelopardalis)
Buffalo (Syncerus caffer)
Greater kudu (Tragelaphus strepsiceros)
Lesser kudu (Tragelaphus imberbis)
Eland (Taurotragus oryx)
Klipspringer (Oreotragus oreotragus)
Kirk’s dikdik (Madoqua kirkii)
Reedbuck (Redunca redunca)
Thomson’s gazelle (Gazella rufifrons)
Grant’s gazelle (Gazella granti)
Impala (Aepyceros melampus)
Hartebeest (Alcelaphus buselaphus)
Source: Forest Inventory Reports for the nine villages (Malimbwi 1999a–c,
The Management of the Suledo Forest
The communities at the sub-village, village and zonal levels
formed Environmental Management Committees. These
committees drew up zones in the forest for local use, made
simple forest rules, and put a patrolling system in place.
Committees meet regularly and take minutes, and have
well-defined roles and duties, including detailed terms of
reference for the Chairman, Secretary and Treasurer.
The forest is managed collectively by an apex
body called the Zonal Environmental Committee
(ZEC), which draws its membership from the Village
Environmental Committees of each of the nine villages
(Fig. 2). The Forest Act allows the managing committee
(in this case the ZEC) of a village land forest reserve to
enter into agreement with local authorities in order to
receive technical assistance. Currently, the ZEC and the
Kiteto District Council are negotiating an agreement
under which the district council provides assistance to
ZEC, with the latter covering the expenses involved.
The Forest Act also provides for financial matters
related to the joint management of village land forest
reserves. The joint committee managing the forest reserve
(ZEC) is obliged to collect part of the revenue from fees,
royalties and licenses charged or issued. The joint committee similarly must “meet part of the costs of the management of such gazetted village land forest reserve,” as
stipulated by the Forest Act. In this regard, the Suledo
agreement allows the ZEC to defray the costs of managing the Suledo Forests by charging a portion of the revenue generated from the sale of timber and other forest
produce, and distributing a part of that equally to the
nine Village Environmental Committees.
Suledo maintains a delicate balance through this
organizational set-up. The ZEC is not under any village
government, and the ZEC members are not members
Indigenous People and Conservation: The Suledo Forest Community in Tanzania
Natural Resource Management
of any of the nine Village councils; only of the Village
Environmental Committees. The ZEC has its own bank
account that cannot be accessed directly by any of the
nine village governments.
Preparation for Sustainable Harvesting
Harvesting timber in a Village Land Forest Reserve is,
surprisingly, a relatively new concept in Tanzania, and
Figure 2. Suledo Zonal Environmental Committee (ZEC) members in their
quarterly meeting. This group is composed of members from each of
a learning process for all involved. There are few examthe village’s managing committees responsible for jointly managing the
ples in the country, the principal one being the smallforest. Photo © Par Oscarson.
scale harvesting practiced by the 13 villages in the Iringa
district that have also established village forests, and Suledo now has also embarked on a plan to engage in the sustainable harvesting of timber in their village forests. What follows summarizes the current state of the harvesting process in
Suledo and some of the early experience gained (Lissu and Ulrike 2007).
A natural forest such as that in Suledo has a generation time of 60 years (African Blackwood or Ebony, Dalbergia
melanoxylon, as much as 80 years). The decision of whether and how to harvest timber in the forest was discussed at much
length. The Suledo Community eventually decided to use one cut in one village as a pilot. Sunya village has a 10,000-ha
forest, and under a 60-year rotational system the size of one cut could be 167 ha. The area is now being demarcated, with
trees above 40 cm Diameter at Breast Height (DBH) being marked for harvesting. A number of big, healthy trees are
to be kept standing as a gene pool (seed source) for future regenerations. The cubic meters (and income) resulting from
this cutting will then determine whether this size of cut is economically viable. Early indications are that the area may
not be sufficient, and that it may be necessary to demarcate an additional cutting from an adjacent village’s forest area
(see Table 4 and Fig. 3).
With funds from Suledo, the Kiteto District Forest Office (DFO) is supporting the technical work of demarcation
and marking. The DFO has proposed a budget and action plan, which was accepted by the ZEC. Presently, three foresters are working on the cut; involving and training village women and men in these activities. It is hoped that eventually the services required from the DFO will decrease as the community capacity increases. The present cooperation is
outlined in a written agreement specifying roles and responsibilities between the Suledo ZEC and the Kiteto DFO. In
the future, however, it is the discretion of the Suledo ZEC to employ whoever they want for this service — it could be
another district forest office as well as foresters from the private or NGO sector. In such cases, the involvement of the
DFO would be restricted to issuing transit passes for harvested forest produce.
It has been difficult to manage non-timber products; firewood and charcoal in particular. The districts of Kiteto
and Simanjirio supply charcoal to urban populations in Moshi, Arusha, and beyond. Much of the trade is unregulated
and illegal, and has significant ecological impacts in both districts. If Suledo villages were to produce charcoal from the
leftover branches after timber has been retrieved (which can account for up to 60% of the total harvested volume), this
would provide a second source of income. Arrangements could also be made to provide this work to the more vulnerable groups or women’s groups. Because this trade is unregulated, however, it is controversial in the community, and an
overall plan as to how to proceed has yet to be established.
Suledo forest has quite a number of valuable Mpingo (African Blackwood or ebony, Dalbergia melanoxylon) stands
that could be harvested; however, no such venture will be undertaken at this time because the Mpingo market is specific,
and appropriate procedures have to be explored first.
Indigenous Peoples and Conservation: From Rights to Resource Management
Natural Resource Management
So far, the nine villages have successfully implemented
their management plans and have seen successes in the
management and functioning of their reserve, in poverty reduction, and in mitigating the negative effects on
Management successes
Committees with gender and ethnic composition that represent the composition of the villages have been formed, and are operational in
all nine villages.
Village forest patrol teams have been established
by the community and, equipped with identity
cards, are operating in all nine villages.
Figure 3. A grazing zone in the Suledo forest shows Brachystegia (Mkalakala) woodland. This species is the highly valued for its timber (notably
for furniture and railway sleepers), cattle fodder, apiculture, firewood
and charcoal, fibre (rope for roof ties, sacks, cloth, corn bins, beehives),
tannin and dyestuff, and its medicinal roots. Photo © Robert Urassa.
Table 4. List of commercial timber species in Suledo forest. After 10 years of conservation, species that were previously heavily exploited, such as Pterocarpus
are recovering.
Botanical Name
Common name
Local Name
Other Uses
Pterocarpus angolensis
Transvaal teak
Timber (construction, furniture) and medicine.
Brachystegia spiciformis
Zebrawood, Msasa
Timber (furniture, railway sleepers), fodder, apiculture,
firewood and charcoal, fibre (rope for roof ties, sacks, cloth,
corn bins, beehives), tannin or dyestuff, medicinal (roots).
Brachystegia microphylla
Miombo (generic)
Timber, fodder, apiculture.
Albizia versicolor
Large-leaved false
Timber (furniture, cabinets, parquet floors), fodder, apiculture, tannin or dyestuff, medicine (root bark), boiled
roots are a soap substitute.
Dalbergia melanoxylon
African blackwood, Mpingo
African ebony
Carving, animal fodder, apiculture, firewood, medicinal
(roots and smoke).
Julbernadia globiflora
Grewia bicolor
Bastard brandy bush Mkole
Timber (walking sticks and canes, tool handles, weapons,
hut frames and nomadic tent posts), fruits (edible and fermentable), mucilaginous leaves (used as binding agents for
sauces), fibre (cordage), fodder (favoured more by sheep
and goats than by horses, donkeys and cattle), firewood,
medicinal (leaves. root, wood and bark), leaves used as a
soap substitute for washing clothes.
Combretum molle
Velvet bush willow
Timber (handles, poles, stools, construction and fence
posts), cattle fodder, apiculture, firewood and charcoal,
tannin or dyestuff, medicinal (roots, leaves, gum).
Timber (heavy construction, mining timbers, railroad
crossties), firewood and charcoal.
Sources: Forest Inventory Reports for the nine villages (Malimbwi 1999a–c, 2000a–f); Agroforestry Tree Data Base, International Centre for Research in
Agroforesty (ICRAF), Nairobi. <>; Hines and Eckman (1993); Mathew et al. (2008).
Indigenous People and Conservation: The Suledo Forest Community in Tanzania
Natural Resource Management
Decisions have been passed into by-laws that govern the use of the forest, and other land uses have been
formulated and approved by the community and are operational in all nine villages.
A Zonal Environmental Management Committee (ZEC), comprising representatives from all nine
villages, has been established, and meets regularly.
Demarcation, surveying and mapping of the forest have been completed in the nine Suledo villages.
Participatory land use management plans have been prepared and are in use.
Villagers are collaborating with the different offices of the Forest Division to carry out forest inventories
to determine the amount and distribution of timber species available in the forest.
Poverty reduction
The forest provides numerous products and services besides timber and grazing, such as fruits, nuts, medicines, and
mushrooms, also being the place for initiation ceremonies that are crucial to the livelihoods of the rural poor. The
increased availability of timber for houses and community buildings has reduced household expenditure. Milk production has increased from 1 liter to 1.5 liters daily per cow, and the farming communities have managed to increase crop
production from 15 to 25 bags of maize per ha on average.
Through proper protection and management, the increased supply of water from natural sources has enabled villagers to establish tree nurseries, vegetable gardens and fruit orchards that contribute directly to improved livelihoods
(Fig. 4). Easier and more reliable access to water reduces the workload of family members, in particular for the women.
The Suledo communities’ protection of the natural forest and the control of harvesting have been very successful in promoting the recovery and regrowth of the natural resources so valuable to them. The forest is now rich in a variety of
tree and other plant species of different age classes, and the population numbers of the large mammals are recovering,
improving the potential for drawing tourism to the area. Many of the wildlife and tree species that were in danger of
becoming extinct are now coming back, such as sandalwood (Santalum album, introduced from India) and Pterocarpus,
which were heavily exploited, and eland and elephants, which were largely exterminated by poachers.
Challenges and the Way Forward
Despite having a well-defined platform for management,
implementation has not been without problems. There
are still a few cases of encroachment from outsiders in
some of the villages, and management procedures still
require some professional technical support from the district office or other parties. There are also wildfires every
year spreading from adjacent villages.
After more than 10 years of conservation work, the
Suledo Forest community members have expressed their
desire to start harvesting mature and over-mature trees of
select species. The sustainable use of the forest requires
the development of sustainable harvesting plans and
the responsible use of the revenue generated. The pilot
Figure 4. Maize field in the Suledo area. Since the establishment of the
Village Reserve, maize production has increased from 15 to 25 bags
per ha. Photo © Robert Urassa.
Indigenous Peoples and Conservation: From Rights to Resource Management
Natural Resource Management
harvest of 167 ha will be a test case, and will provide valuable experience for the communities. The rotation of 60 years,
however, is a time range that the villagers will find hard to grasp and plan for. To be committed to a plan beyond one’s
lifespan is very difficult, especially for groups of villages. A long-term management plan for Suledo has to take this into
account, and must break down that period into shorter units (but within the framework of the 60 years rotational system) with adequate work and financial plans for those units. The profits accrued will also determine the long-term future
and management of the forest. A further consideration in the longer term is whether or not to pursue Forest Certification
for harvested timber. This certification could open up high-value markets, improve networking and provide professional
management advice, but the process is very costly and is not likely to be embarked upon unless a partner can be found
who is ready to invest in the process.
In a large forest area such as Suledo one can expect a return of wildlife numbers — as has happened in Mgori forest in the Singida District — which brings with it costs in the form of crop damage; and the villagers do not have the
right to harvest or manage wildlife in their forest area. The legal options are unclear but urgently need to be addressed.
Community-based management involving agreements with hunting companies overlapping such a reserved area should
be discussed and guidelines developed. The agreements that are made between tourist companies and village governments or chairs often fail to benefit the wider community concerned.
The biggest challenge, however, is that the Suledo villages will have to learn from their mistakes during a time
when their international partner, the Swedish International Development Cooperation Agency (Sida), is withdrawing its assistance. To allow them to make these mistakes without them threatening their very survival as a group is the
biggest challenge — not only for Suledo but also for the Tanzanian authorities concerned.
Recognizing their conservation initiatives, the Suledo community was among the top six finalists awarded the Equator
prize, which included a certificate of recognition, a trophy, and the monetary award of US$30,000. This success was
partly a result of the simplicity and abundant common sense of the approach. It builds on the institutional framework that exists in Tanzania, with a decentralized government, and puts the village at the center. It strengthens villagelevel democracy as it is during Village Assembly Meetings that decisions are taken on how the village uses its land and
resources. The achievements and successes of Suledo have been significant, and provide a prominent example in Tanzania
of the ways to empower villagers to manage their own resources wisely, and enjoy the benefits they gain in the sustainable and harmonious use of their natural resources.
In compiling this article, I would like to take this opportunity to thank Mr M.S. Minja and Mr Robert Urassa for their
advice, and the whole SULEDO Community for helping in data collection. Also I would like to convey my sincere
thanks to Kiteto District Council because much of the time I have been using their resources. Lastly, I also thank my
fiancée Shani Mwambeni for her support in giving me time to work on this project.
Literature Cited
Hines, D.A. and Eckman, K. 1993. Indigenous Multipurpose Trees of Tanzania: Uses and Economic Benefits for People.
Cultural Survival Canada and Development Services Foundation of Tanzania Ottawa, Ontario. [Translation to
Indigenous People and Conservation: The Suledo Forest Community in Tanzania
Natural Resource Management
Swahili: Richard Mabala and Paul Manda]. Website: <>.
Accessed: 15 June 2009.
Lissu, T.A.M. and Von Mitzlaff, U. 2007. Moving towards sustainable harvesting of village forests — experiences from
Kiteto district – Suledo forests. The Arc Journal (21): 8–10. Website: <>. Accessed: 15 June 2009.
Malimbwi, R.E. 1999a. Natural Forest Management in Lengatei Village. A Pilot Project for the Local Management of
Natural Resources Programme in Kiteto District: Lengatei Natural Forest Inventory Report. Sokoine University of
Agriculture, Morogoro.
Malimbwi, R.E. 1999b. Natural Forest Management in Olgira Village. A Pilot Project for the Local Management of
Natural Resources Programme in Kiteto District: Olgira Natural Forest Inventory Report. Sokoine University of
Agriculture, Morogoro.
Malimbwi, R.E. 1999c. Natural Forest Management in Sunya Village. A Pilot Project for the Land Use Management
Programme in Kiteto District: Sunya Natural Forest Inventory Report. Sokoine University of Agriculture, Morogoro.
Malimbwi, R.E. 2000a. Natural Forest Management in Asamatwa Village. A Pilot Project for the Local Management of
Natural Resources Programme in Kiteto District: Asamatwa Natural Forest Inventory Report. Sokoine University
of Agriculture, Morogoro.
Malimbwi, R.E. 2000b Natural Forest Management in Laiseri Village. A Pilot Project for the Local Management of
Natural Resources Programme in Kiteto District: Laiseri Natural Forest Inventory Report. Sokoine University of
Agriculture, Morogoro.
Malimbwi, R.E. 2000c. Natural Forest Management in Lesoiti Village. A Pilot Project for the Local Management of
Natural Resources Programme in Kiteto District: Lesoiti Natural Forest Inventory Report. Sokoine University of
Agriculture, Morogoro.
Malimbwi, R.E. 2000d. Natural Forest Management in Loltopes Village. A Pilot Project for the Local Management of
Natural Resources Programme in Kiteto District: Loltopes Natural Forest Inventory Report. Sokoine University of
Agriculture, Morogoro.
Malimbwi, R.E. 2000e. Natural Forest Management in Mturu Village. A Pilot Project for the Local Management of
Natural Resources Programme in Kiteto District: Mturu Natural Forest Inventory Report. Sokoine University of
Agriculture, Morogoro.
Malimbwi, R.E. 2000f. Natural Forest Management in Olkitikiti Village. A Pilot Project for the Land Use Management
Programme in Kiteto District: Olkitikiti Natural Forest Inventory Report. Sokoine University of Agriculture,
Mathew A., Mndolwa, M.A., Lulandala, L.L.L. and Elifuraha, E. 2008. Evaluation of tree species enumerated in
Kitulangalo Mitmiombo plots by uses and benefits. Working Papers of the Finnish Forest Research Institute 98:
5–9. Website: <>. Accessed: 15 June 2009.
Stuart, S.N., Adams, R.J. and Jenkins, M. D. 1990. Biodiversity in Sub-Saharan Africa and Its Islands: Conservation,
Management and Sustainable Use. Occasional Papers of the IUCN Species Survival Commission (6): 242. IUCN – The
World Conservation Union, Gland, Switzerland.
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The United Republic of Tanzania. 2002. Tanzania Forest Act No. 14. Ministry of Natural Resources and Tourism, Dar
es Salaam.
Indigenous Peoples and Conservation: From Rights to Resource Management
Natural Resource Management
Dhimurru Indigenous
Protected Area:
A New Approach to Protected
Area Management in Australia
Dermot Smyth, Djawa Yunupingu and Steven Roeger
Quick Facts
Country: Australia
Geographic Focus: Dhimurru Indigenous Protected Area is
located on Aboriginal-owned land surrounding Nhulunbuy in
the Northern Territory.
Indigenous Peoples: 13 Yolηu (Aboriginal) clans own the
Dhimurru Indigenous Protected Area.
Author Information
Dermot Smyth has worked as a consultant in Indigenous natural
resource management throughout Australia for over 25 years. He has
been involved in the development of the IPA concept in Australia since
the mid 1990s, and undertook a comparative study of Dhimurru IPA
and a jointly managed government national park (Booderee) in 2007.
E-mail: [email protected]
In Australia, Indigenous Protected Areas (IPAs) are lands (sometimes
including coastal waters) voluntarily declared as protected areas by
indigenous peoples who commit to taking responsibility for their conservation and management (Langton et al. 2005; Szabo and Smyth
2003). The first IPA was declared in Australia in 1998. Since then,
64% of all new protected areas in Australia have been IPAs, which now
comprise about 20% of the total area devoted to terrestrial protected
areas across the country (Smyth 2006). IPAs are managed by indigenous peoples in accordance with the protected area guidelines of the
World Commission on Protected Areas (WCPA) of the International
Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN), and are funded in part by
the Australian Government’s IPA Programme of the Department of
the Environment, Water, Heritage and the Arts (DEWHA). In some
instances IPA management is also supported by State or Territory conservation agencies.1 Further information about the IPA Programme is
available at <>.
Dhimurru IPA2 is located on Aboriginal-owned land surrounding
Nhulunbuy in the Northern Territory (Fig. 1). The area of Dhimurru
IPA is 101,000 ha, including Bremer Island offshore to the north
of Nhulunbuy. The IPA includes almost 9,000 ha of coastal waters
(Smyth 2007).
Djawa Yunupingu is Director of Dhimurru Aboriginal Corporation and
a Traditional Owner of land and sea areas in Dhimurru IPA; he has
played a major role in supporting the establishment of other IPAs in
Australia through his membership of the Environment Minister’s IPA
Advisory Group.
E-mail: [email protected]
Steven Roeger is Executive Officer of Dhimurru Aboriginal Corporation
and is responsible for administering the organization and maintaining
external funding and collaborative partnerships.
E-mail: [email protected]
1 Australia is governed as a federation of six States and two Territories (formerly separate British colonies), and most
national parks and other protected areas are managed by State and Territory government conservation agencies.
2 Dhimurru is the Yolηu language name for the east wind that brings life-giving rain.
Natural Resource Management
Figure 1. Dhimurru Indigenous Protected Area is on Aboriginal-owned land surrounding Nhulunbuy in the Northern Territory. The total area of Dhimurru
IPA is 101,000 ha, including Bremer Island offshore to the north of Nhulunbuy. The IPA includes almost 9,000 ha of coastal waters. Source: Dhimurru
Aboriginal Corporation.
Indigenous Peoples and Conservation: From Rights to Resource Management
Natural Resource Management
History of Dhimurru IPA3
Northeast Arnhemland is where the Aboriginal people made their first legal claim in Australia to traditional ownership
of land under their own customary law. Although the Federal Court denied the claim in 1970, the case led to a Royal
Commission into Aboriginal Land Rights, and subsequently to the passage of the Aboriginal Land Rights (NT) Act 1976,
under which former Aboriginal Reserves in Arnhemland, including the land in the Dhimurru IPA, were transferred to
Traditional Owners.
The Dhimurru Land Management Aboriginal Corporation, now called the Dhimurru Aboriginal Corporation, was
established in 1992 by members of 11 Yolηu (Aboriginal) clans (subsequently increased to 13 clans) whose lands were
being affected by the activities of an increasing number of miners and their families who had settled in Nhulunbuy since
the establishment of a bauxite mine in the 1970s. Dhimurru set up a permit system that enables Nhulunbuy residents and
tourists to visit designated areas for recreation. Fees raised through sale of
permits help meet the costs of managing the recreation areas, with additional funds contributed by a suite of government and non-governmental
organizations, including the local mining company (Ayre 2002; Robinson
and Munungguritj 2001).
Throughout the 1990s the Northern Territory Government sought to
enter into a joint management arrangement with the Traditional Owners
to establish a national park in Cape Arnhem. The Traditional Owners,
however, wanted to retain sole management of their lands and repeatedly
Figure 2. The Yolηu universe, including people,
declined this offer.4 When the concept of IPAs was developed in the late
plants, animals and land, is divided into two sec1990s, Dhimurru facilitated consultations with each of the clan groups
tions called Yirritja and Dhuwa (Williams 1986). On
the Dhimurru logo the black cockatoo represents
to consider whether this form of protected area would be acceptable to
the Dhuwa and the white cockatoo the Yirritja. They
them. A decision was reached to establish the Dhimurru IPA, a manare encircled by the stem of a rowu plant (Ipomoea
pes-caprae), a creeping ground plant that grows on
agement plan was developed and the IPA was formally declared in 2000
the coast and represents the unity of clans working
(Dhimurru Land Management Aboriginal Corporation 2000; Ayre 2002).
Value of Dhimurru IPA
Dhimurru IPA is managed for its Yolηu values, for its environmental value and unique natural features, and for its other
community values. The area is important for the Yolηu because the entire landscape and seascape, including particular
physical features, unite the people with their ancestral past and with the present spiritual and natural world. It is also the
source of social connectedness and responsibility, and the source of sustenance and shelter.
From a natural heritage standpoint, Dhimurru IPA contains high plant diversity, intact assemblages of certain animal species, coastal regions not represented in any other protected area, the largest Quaternary dune system on the
Northern Territory mainland, and significant feeding and nesting sites for seabirds and for a number of threatened species of marine turtle. Other community values include the recreational, camping and fishing opportunities it provides
to residents of Nhulunbuy, and the opportunity to promote reconciliation and cultural understanding through the
interpretation of Yolηu beliefs and values to visitors.
3 For further information on the history of Dhimurru see Ayre (2002) and Robinson and Munungguritj (2001).
4 For an overview of joint management of national parks in Australia see Smyth (2001a).
Dhimurru Indigenous Protected Area: A New Approach to Protected Area Management in Australia
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The Section 73 Agreement
Following the decision to found the IPA, a formal agreement was signed under Section 73 of the Territory Parks and
Wildlife Conservation Act between traditional owners and the Northern Territory Government. It provides a strong
foundation for partnerships in the management of the
IPA, and a formal advisory and support role for the government agencies, while retaining management responsibility for the IPA in the hands of the traditional owners through Dhimurru. The Section 73 Agreement is for
a term of 21 years. If desired, the parties can enter into
negotiations for renewal in the final year of the term,
(Smyth 2007).
The Agreement provides that Dhimurru, in collaboration with the Northern Territory Parks and Wildlife
Service (NTPWS), the Northern Land Council (TLC)
and the traditional owners, prepare a management plan
for the IPA that reflects the wishes of the traditional
owners. The management plan provides a framework for
addressing such issues as tourism and infrastructure, regulation of commercial activities, land use by the tradiFigure 3. Dhimurru IPA was formally declared in 2000. The area contional owners, biodiversity conservation, mapping and
tains high plant diversity, intact assemblages of certain animal species,
coastal regions not represented in any other protected area, and the largrecording culturally and ecologically significant sites and
est Quaternary dune system on the Northern Territory mainland. Photo ©
Dhimurru Aboriginal Corporation.
knowledge, and scientific research.
Organizations involved in the IPA
The Dhimurru Aboriginal Corporation has sole management responsibility for the Dhimurru IPA; however, over its
15 years of operation, it has developed funding, technical and cooperative partnerships with several government and
non-government organizations that contribute significantly to the management of the IPA.
Dhimurru Aboriginal Corporation
Dhimurru Aboriginal Corporation is a Traditional Owner organization that undertakes land and sea management
responsibilities of the IPA on behalf of the 13 clans whose lands and coastal waters lie within it. Each clan is represented
on the Dhimurru Committee, which guides the management programs and projects. The organization receives advice
and other assistance from outside agencies (Fig. 4).
The guiding principles of Dhimurru Aboriginal Corporation are as follows: a commitment to conservation and the
enhancement of the region’s natural and cultural values in a way that reflects its Yolηu owners and their aspirations; a
commitment to a sustainable and collective form of land and sea management that is representative of, and determined
by, its Yolηu owners, and that derives conservation strategies from a mutual investigation of Ngapaki 5 and Yolηu systems
5 European or non-indigenous
Indigenous Peoples and Conservation: From Rights to Resource Management
Natural Resource Management
of knowledge; and a commitment to the continued development of positive interactions with the non-Aboriginal
world and the sponsoring of co-operative, respectful, educative and mutually beneficial relationships (Dhimurru Land
Management Aboriginal Corporation 2000).
Dhimurru currently employs 13 Traditional Owners, and four non-indigenous staff in administrative and facilitator positions. These include a Director, with overall responsibility for carrying out decisions, a Senior Cultural Advisor,
responsible for maintaining liaisons between the traditional landowners and committee members and ensuring that the
Yolηu protocols are followed, and an Executive Officer who is responsible for securing funds and other resources and
communicating with non-aboriginal partners.
The Northern Land Council
The Northern Land Council (NLC) was instrumental in helping Traditional Owners establish Dhimurru Aboriginal
Corporation and continues to play an advisory role when required. The NLC has statutory functions under the terms
of the Aboriginal Land Rights (Northern Territory) Act (ALRA), including representation of and assistance to the traditional owners of the IPA and consultations with traditional owners regarding actions in relation to the land which
require the consent of the NLC under the ALRA; for example, consent to the draft of a management plan or proposals
(Traditional Yolngu Owners)
Set management requirements and access arrangements
Provides advice on programs and assists with
collaborative arrangements
2 × Dhimurru
1 × Northern Land Council
1 × NT Parks & Wildlife Service
1 × Commonwealth Department of the
Environment and Water Resources
Others by invitation
Responsible for formal decision-making on behalf of Dhimurru
Land Management Aboriginal Corporation
Dhimurru Staff
Implement Plan of Management, refers issues
to Executive and wanga- watangu for direction
Visitor management, hands on works,
monitoring, research, education, etc.
Figure 4. Dhimurru Committee decision-making structure contains representatives from each of the 13 clans. It receives advice and other assistance from
an Advisory group comprising representatives from federal and regional government staff.
Dhimurru Indigenous Protected Area: A New Approach to Protected Area Management in Australia
Natural Resource Management
for commercial development of the land. The NLC has
agreed to give other management support services relevant to the management of the IPA as may be agreed, as
well as to advise Dhimurru of any development proposals that it becomes aware of that may affect the IPA. The
administration of permit applications to visit the IPA,
a role normally carried out by the NLC, has been delegated to Aboriginal Corporation.
Northern Territory Parks and Wildlife Service
The Northern Territory Parks and Wildlife Service
(NTPWS), part of the Northern Territory Department of
Natural Resources, Environment and the Arts (NRETA),
is the agency responsible for protected area management
in the Northern Territory (NT). NTPWS has had a long
involvement in the northeast region of the NT through
crocodile management and other wildlife activities.
The previous NT Government withdrew its Parks and
Wildlife Ranger position from Nhulunbuy when negotiations to establish a jointly managed national park at
Cape Arnhem failed. Traditional Owners were, however,
keen to reestablish a cooperative working relationship
with NTPWS and lobbied to have the ranger position
Following the declaration of the IPA in 2000, and
the negotiation of the “Section 73 Agreement” in 2002,
the NTPW re-appointed a ranger at Nhulunbuy. In
addition, the NTPWS agreed to assist Dhimurru in
training of ranger staff and in other management support services, such as helping work programs, by laws,
community education activities.
Dhimurru and the NTPWS are currently negotiating to establish Dhimurru Rangers as Honorary
Conservation Officers under the Territory Parks and
Wildlife Conservation Act. If these negotiations are successful, Dhimurru Rangers will have limited powers,
normally given only to government rangers, while ensuring that the care and control of the land remains in the
hands of Dhimurru.
Figure 5. The Dhimurru currently employs 13 traditional owners and four
non-indigenous staff in administrative and facilitator positions. Photo
© Dhimurru Aboriginal Corporation.
Figure 6. The Northern Territory Parks and Wildlife Service (NTPWS) Rangers work to train Dhimurru ranger staff and other management support
services. Photo © Dhimurru Aboriginal Corporation.
Indigenous Peoples and Conservation: From Rights to Resource Management
Natural Resource Management
There is now a very close and positive day-to-day working relationship between Dhimurru, the NT Ranger and other
NTPWS staff, as Dhimurru’s Sea Country Plan asserts:
“This day-to-day on-ground assistance and partnership is one of the cornerstones of Dhimurru’s
success. We now have many highly respected and valued friends with research and technical
and management expertise with the Parks and Wildlife Service.” (Dhimurru Land Management
Aboriginal Corporation 2006).
Commonwealth Department of the Environment, Water, Heritage and the Arts (DEWHA)
DEWHA is responsible for administering the IPA Programme, which provides funding and other support for the
Dhimurru IPA (Table 1). DEWHA has also provided funding and support for marine turtle research and management,
the removal of abandoned fishing nets from beaches and waters around the IPA, the development of a Sea Country Plan,
and other natural resource management projects.
A strong collaborative relationship has develTable 1. Summary of Dhimurru income sources for 2005/2006.
oped between DEWHA and Dhimurru Aboriginal
Corporation since the latter’s inception in 1992. The
Permits, merchandise and service charges
Director of Dhimurru is a member of DEWHA’s
Australia and NT Governments
Indigenous Protected Area Advisory Group, and a repreIndustry
sentative of DEWHA is a member of the Dhimurru IPA
NLC and conservation NGOs
Advisory Group (Smyth 2007).
Other partner organizations
Dhimurru has developed an impressive network of support from other key government, non-governmental and commercial organizations that provide funding, technical advice, volunteers and other support. The Commonwealth Scientific
and Industrial Research Organisation (CSIRO) and Dhimurru, for example, are operating a joint project to eradicate
Crazy Ants from the Nhulunbuy region. This involves two CSIRO researchers, along with funding and training for two
Dhimurru ranger positions. Alcan Gove, the bauxite mining company based in Nhulunbuy, has provided an annual
grant to Dhimurru since 2000 to assist with operational costs, and has made a block of land available within Nhulunbuy
for the new Dhimurru office. Dhimurru also receives occasional assistance from university students undertaking undergraduate or postgraduate studies in the field of indigenous environmental management, as well as help from conservation volunteers.
Recognition of Dhimurru’s success
Dhimurru Indigenous Protected Area is widely regarded as a successful IPA, with a track record of innovative environmental management over a period of 15 years and a tradition of developing productive partnerships with government
and non-governmental organizations. Formal recognition of Dhimurru’s success includes two Northern Territory Chief
Minister’s awards for Excellence in Public Sector Management won as a result of the partnership between NT Parks and
Wildlife Services and Dhimurru, an Australian Government Environment Minister’s Coastal Custodian Award (High
Commendation) to Dhimurru Aboriginal Corporation for its Dhimurru Sea Country Plan (which includes management
of the marine component of the Dhimurru Indigenous Protected Area), two Banksia Water Awards, and a Northern
Territory Landcare Award.
Dhimurru Indigenous Protected Area: A New Approach to Protected Area Management in Australia
Natural Resource Management
Dhimurru’s staff has also been recognized as active in promoting indigenous conservation. Director, Djawa Yunupingu
is a member of the NT Parks and Wildlife Advisory Council and the NT Bushfires Council. In addition, Dhimurru is
a member of the International Ranger Federation, and has given presentations at the last two International Congresses,
held in Australia and Scotland respectively.
Partnerships: Two-ways Management of the IPA
The Dhimurru IPA Management Plan embraces a “two-ways management” approach, which means a commitment to
using both the skills and knowledge of Aboriginal tradition and of contemporary science. This approach is reflected in
the partnerships that Dhimurru has developed, in the mix of skills and experience among the Dhimurru staff and in
the in the Section 73 Agreement. When Dhimurru staff deliver presentations explaining their two-ways approach they
display a Traditional Owner’s representation of the area next to a scientist’s representation as a GIS map (Smyth 2007).
Figure 7. The Dhimurru IPA Management Plan embraces a “two-ways management” approach, which means a commitment to using both the skills and
knowledge of Aboriginal tradition and of contemporary science. The picture on the left is a representation of Yolηu country drawn by Yama Munuηgiritji in
1947; the picture on the right is a GIS map of the same area produced by the NTPWS in 1993.
Indigenous Peoples and Conservation: From Rights to Resource Management
Natural Resource Management
Research and monitoring partnerships
Research and monitoring has been a key component of Dhimurru’s activities since its inception, resulting in continuing partnerships with research and management agencies. Dhimurru has played a particularly important role in marine
turtle research and monitoring, including the use of satellite transmitters to track turtle migration (Kennett et al. 2001,
2004), and patrolling beaches in the IPA to rescue and gather data about marine turtles that become entangled in abandoned fishing nets (ghost nets). This research has involved partnerships with Charles Darwin University and NTPWS,
and also with WWF-Australia, which has developed a ghost net identification kit with assistance from NT Fisheries.
These research partnerships have increased Yolηu and scientific understanding of the migration patterns of marine
turtles and contributed to a deeper awareness of sources
and impacts of ghost nets, most of which drift into the
Gulf of Carpentaria having been abandoned by foreign fishing in the Arafura Sea and elsewhere in southeast Asia. Dhimurru expanded the ghost net monitoring partnership by helping to establish the Gulf of
Carpentaria Ghost Net Programme which now involves
participating indigenous communities around the Gulf
of Carpentaria.6
Learning Network Partnerships
While the partnerships with the NLC, NTPWS and
DEWHA form the backbone of joint management
arrangements for the Dhimurru IPA, other partnerships
make vital contributions by providing political support,
technical expertise, funding and diverse opportunities
for Dhimurru staff and other Traditional Owners to gain
experience in the complexities of contemporary land
and sea management. Through the development of the
Dhimurru Yolηuwu Monuk Gapu Wäηa Sea Country Plan
(Dhimurru Land Management Aboriginal Corporation
2006), Dhimurru is strengthening its partnerships with
other indigenous organizations, and government agencies responsible for marine management and surveillance and commercial enterprises in the region. This will
provide opportunities for Traditional Owners to play a
role in managing their traditional Sea Country, which
extends beyond the current seaward boundary of the IPA.
Figure 8. Dhimurru has played a particularly important role in marine
turtle research and monitoring, including the use of satellite transmitters
to track turtle migration, and patrolling beaches in the IPA to rescue and
gather data on marine turtles that become entangled in abandoned fishing nets (ghost nets). Photo © Dhimurru Aboriginal Corporation.
6 For further information on the Gulf of Carpentaria Ghost Nets Program see <>.
Dhimurru Indigenous Protected Area: A New Approach to Protected Area Management in Australia
Natural Resource Management
Funding partnerships
Funding partnerships underpin all the operations
of Dhimurru Corporation, including the management of the IPA. The DEWHA IPA Programme provides contract payments (negotiated every two years) to
Dhimurru for undertaking agreed management tasks
consistent with the management plan. These funds alone
are not sufficient, however, to cover the cost of managing the IPA. Dhimurru has been successful in combining the modest IPA Programme funding with funding
from other sources to expand its operations year by year.
In 2005/2006, the total Dhimurru budget was approximately AUS $1.4 million, comprising contributions
from a number of government and non-government
sources (Table 1) (Smyth 2007).
Successes and Challenges
The undoubted success of the Dhimurru IPA, and the
operations of the Dhimurru Aboriginal Corporation
can be attributed to several factors: the commitment of
Traditional Owners to take care of their country; good
governance structures, leadership and management practices; a commitment to partnership building; and a willingness to innovate. Each of these attributes of success is
discussed in more detail below.
Figure 9. Ghost nets drift into the Gulf of Carpentaria after being abandoned by foreign fishing in the Arafura Sea and elsewhere in southeast
Asia. Dhimurru is helping to establish the Gulf of Carpentaria Ghost Net
Programme which now involves participating indigenous communities
around the gulf. Photo © Dhimurru Aboriginal Corporation.
Commitment to a Sustainable Management of Country
Underlying Dhimurru’s success is the longstanding and ongoing commitment by Traditional Owners to care for their
country — to manage sustainably all the cultural and natural values of their traditional land and sea estates. This commitment was demonstrated by the investment of Traditional Owners of their personal funds to enable the Dhimurru
Aboriginal Corporation to function in the early years, and it is demonstrated today by their continued interest in attending management and planning meetings, by their participation as members of the Executive Committee, in their seeking
employment with Dhimurru, and in their work with a large number of partner organizations and individuals.
Good governance and leadership
The Traditional Owners who founded Dhimurru in 1992 put in place a governing structure that maximized the benefit
for clan groups of collaborating without impinging on the authority of each clan or individual Traditional Owner. The
structure also ensures that Traditional Owners retain control of the development of Dhimurru, while recognizing the
need for outside expertise within the Dhimurru staff as well as the benefit of building collaborative partnerships with
government environmental and natural resource management agencies and other government and non-government
Indigenous Peoples and Conservation: From Rights to Resource Management
Natural Resource Management
Current management of Dhimurru recognizes the need for flexibility to enable Yolηu staff to meet their family and
cultural obligations as well as their work demands. At the same time, it has very clear policies in place to manage challenging staff issues, such as the private use of work vehicles and equipment, besides alcohol and drug misuse.
Regular weekly staff meetings, daily meetings for members of project teams and good communication between
Dhimurru and its partner agencies help keep the diverse range of projects and personnel on track. Dhimurru has also
devoted considerable effort to producing communication tools such as books, guides, plans, CDs and DVDs to enable
partners and others to understand, engage with, and hence support the organization.
Partnership building
As demonstrated by Dhimurru’s operational budget and by the diversity of projects it undertakes, building and maintaining partnerships with government and non-government agencies is a major factor in Dhimurru’s success. This requires
not only the skill to build and maintain relationships, but also a mindset that values rather than fears collaboration.
While these things result from good leadership, they also stem from an understanding that Aboriginal landowners, particularly those in remote locations in Australia, have something valuable to offer in their knowledge and commitment to
Country, and that natural resource management can only be achieved in partnership with Aboriginal people.
Successful partnerships need to be mutually beneficial, and this is what Dhimurru can offer. For example, the
Australian Government’s support for the Dhimurru IPA contributes significantly to the national objective of building
the National Reserve System (NRS) in a biogeographic region that was hitherto unrepresented in the NRS. Similarly,
financial contributions from Alcan Gove enhance its reputation as a responsible corporate citizen in a region where it is
reaping big financial rewards from its mining activities (Smyth 2007).
It is possible also that the collaborative relationships that developed between Yolηu and Macassans (indigenous
tribes from Macassar and elsewhere in what is now Indonesia) during their annual visits to collect sea cucumbers during a period of several hundred years until the early 1900s has contributed to the capacity and willingness of Traditional
Owners to build contemporary partnerships. Then as now, the challenge of partnership-building is to achieve mutually
agreeable benefits without losing authority and control, as is expressed in the Vision Statement at the beginning of the
IPA Plan of Management:
“We envisage working together with the Parks and Wildlife Commission; we need their help in
making our vision a reality. But the only people who make decisions about the land are those
who own the law, the people who own the creation stories, the people whose lives are governed by
Yolηu law and belief.” (Dhimurru Land Management Aboriginal Corporation 2000).
Dhimurru was the first indigenous environmental agency in the Northern Territory to establish an IPA, the first to negotiate a Section 73 Agreement with the NT Parks and Wildlife Service, the first to develop a Sea Country Plan, and the
first to negotiate a Shared Responsibility Agreement (SRA) with the Australian Government.7 These “firsts” indicate
a capacity to recognize new opportunities and a willingness to use innovative mechanisms to achieve the Traditional
7 The SRA secured funding for the completion of the Sea Country Plan.
Dhimurru Indigenous Protected Area: A New Approach to Protected Area Management in Australia
Natural Resource Management
Owners’ goal of looking after Country. While the goal has remained the same for the last 15 years (and no doubt countless years before), the mechanisms to achieve the goal have adapted to emerging opportunities.
Each new step, however, has been taken cautiously, with appropriate consultation and access to good advice. One of
the attractions of the IPA Programme is that it provides funding in stages, so that indigenous landowners can develop an
understanding of what IPAs are and whether it is right for them before they begin developing a management plan and
commit to declaring an IPA. The IPA Programme was therefore ideally suited to meet the Yolηu need for caution as well
as the Yolηu willingness to innovate.
Despite an annual budget in excess of $1 million over the last few years, an ongoing challenge for Dhimurru (and for
all Indigenous environmental management agencies) is to maintain funding levels to meet existing needs and growing
expectations. The continued success of the IPA will therefore continue to rely on Dhimurru’s capacity to generate additional income, such as through the sale of recreation area permits and in securing additional grant funding from diverse
sources. Whether Dhimurru can continue to meet this challenge will require continued good governance and leadership,
and continued support from the network of partners that Dhimurru has developed over the last 15 years. The Section 73
Agreement with the Northern Territory Government provides further security and support, though it contains no commitment to direct funding.
Managing Sea Country
Coastal IPAs typically do not include marine areas, as it is usually only on their land that indigenous people in Australia
have had legally recognized management authority, even though traditional clan estates extend out to sea all around
Australia. The Dhimurru IPA, however, incorporates about 9,000 ha of marine area comprising many sacred sites registered by the Northern Territory Aboriginal Areas Protection Authority. This formal recognition of the cultural significance of this marine estate was sufficient for it to be included in the IPA, despite the fact that the management authority
of Traditional Owners is not as strong over marine sites as it is over land.
The marine area currently included in the IPA is not the only sea country of concern to Traditional Owners. A future
challenge is how to extend Traditional Owner management over marine areas currently outside the IPA either by extending the IPA boundary or by some other means. The challenge of managing sea country is being addressed through the
Dhimurru Yolηuwu Monuk Gapu Wäηa Sea Country Plan launched in 2006. This plan sets out a vision for Yolηu management of sea country, and seeks to build Dhimurru’s marine management capacity through its sea rangers and recently
launched coastal patrol vessel, as well as through partnerships with marine management agencies and marine industries.
Dhimurru’s experience in partnership-building for land management provides a firm foundation for building partnerships with marine managers.
Gaining comprehensive recognition of the rights and interests of indigenous peoples over the sea has, nevertheless,
historically been far more difficult than over land. In marine title determined so far it has been clear that the marine
rights of indigenous peoples must “yield” to all other legal rights and interests, even in areas where marine native title has
been found to exist. In extending its interests into the sea — a logical and necessary step in achieving its founders’ vision
of looking after Country — Dhimurru is tackling one of its greatest challenges to date. The challenges of establishing sea
country IPAs are discussed further in Smyth (2009).
Indigenous Peoples and Conservation: From Rights to Resource Management
Natural Resource Management
Lessons for Other Protected Areas
IPAs in Australia provide an innovative approach to the management of protected areas that complements the system
of government-declared and managed national parks and marine parks (Langton et al. 2005; Smyth 2001a, 2001b).
Through the IPA Programme, large areas of ecologically and culturally significant land, previously unrepresented or
under-represented in the National Reserve System (NRS), have been brought under protected area management. This
has been achieved without expending scarce conservation funding on the purchase of land — funds which instead can be
devoted to protected area management through the IPA Programme.
A recent review of the IPA Programme (Gilligan 2006) found that the declaration and management of IPAs over
the last 10 years has been very cost effective in contributing to the conservation aims of the NRS. The review also found
that there are considerable positive social and cultural outcomes from the IPA Programme, including the transfer of traditional indigenous knowledge and engaging young indigenous people in positive educational experiences centered on
the equitable exchange of western science and traditional knowledge.
Dhimurru IPA provides an example of how the autonomy of indigenous sole management of a protected area can
lead to partnerships that enhance rather than threaten Traditional Owner authority and that deliver tangible conservation, and social and cultural benefits. While IPAs lack the financial security that comes with jointly managed government-declared national parks, the Dhimurru example shows that it is possible to build a degree of security through multiple bilateral and multilateral partnerships, rather than single bilateral partnerships typical of joint management.
The Dhimurru IPA, as with the other IPAs across Australia, demonstrates that, when given the freedom to choose
how to take care of their Country, Traditional Owners willingly enter into collaborative partnerships that can assist them
to manage their traditional estates sustainably.
Literature Cited and Further Reading
Ayre, M. 2002. Yolηgu places and people: taking aboriginal understandings seriously in land and sea management.
PhD thesis, University of Melbourne, Melbourne.
Bauman, T. and Smyth, D. (eds.). 2007. Indigenous Partnerships in Protected Area Management in Australia: Three Case
Studies. Australian Institute of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Studies, Canberra. 168pp. Website: <http://>. Accessed: 6 July 2009.
Dhimurru Land Management Aboriginal Corporation. 2000. Indigenous Protected Area Management Plan. Dhimurru,
Nhulunbuy, Australia.
Dhimurru Land Management Aboriginal Corporation. 2006. Dhimurru Yolηuwu Monuk Gapu Wäηa Sea Country Plan.
Dhimurru, Nhulunbuy, Australia. Website: <>. Accessed: 6 July 2009.
Gilligan, B. 2006. The Indigenous Protected Areas Programme – 2006 Evaluation. Department of the Environment, Water
Heritage and the Arts, Canberra. Website: <http://>. Accessed: 23 December 2009.
Kennett, R. and Munungiritj, N. 2001. Looking after miyapunu: indigenous management of marine turtles. In:
Protected Area Management – Principles and Practice, G. Worboys, T. De Lacey, and M. Lockwood (eds.), p.188.
Oxford University Press, Melbourne.
Kennett, R., Munungiritj, N. and Yunupingu, D. 2004. Migration patterns of marine turtles in the Gulf of Carpentaria,
Northern Australia: implications for aboriginal management. Wildlife Research 31(3): 241–248.
Langton, M., Rhea, Z.M. and Palmer, L. 2005. Community-Oriented Protected Areas for Indigenous Peoples ad Local
Communities. Journal of Political Economy 12: 23–50.
Dhimurru Indigenous Protected Area: A New Approach to Protected Area Management in Australia
Natural Resource Management
Robinson, C. and Munungguritj, N. 2001. Sustainable balance — A Yolηgu framework for Cross-cultural collaborative
management. In: Working on Country: Contemporary Indigenous Management of Australia’s Lands and Coastal Regions,
R. Baker, J. Davies and E. Young (eds.), pp.92–107. Oxford University Press, Melbourne.
Smyth, D. 2001a. Joint management of national parks. In: Working on Country: Contemporary Indigenous Management
of Australia’s Lands and Coastal Regions, R. Baker, J. Davies and E. Young (eds.), pp.75–91. Oxford University Press,
Smyth, D. 2001b. Management of Sea Country. In: Working on Country: Contemporary Indigenous Management of
Australia’s Lands and Coastal Regions, R. Baker, J. Davies and E. Young (eds.), pp.60–74. Oxford University Press,
Smyth, D. 2006. Indigenous Protected Areas in Australia. Parks 16(1): 14–20.
Smyth, D. 2007. Dhimurru Indigenous Protected Area: sole management with partners. In: Indigenous Partnerships in
Protected Area Management in Australia: Three Case Studies, T. Bauman and D. Smyth (eds.), pp.100–126. Australian
Institute of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Studies, Canberra. Website: <
assets/pdf_file/8846/case_studies_report.pdf>. Accessed: 6 July 2009.
Smyth, D. 2009. Just Add Water? Taking Indigenous Protected Areas into Sea Country. In: Indigenous Governance and
Management of Protected Areas in Australia, D. Smyth and G. Ward (eds.), pp.95–110. Chapter 8 in E-book published by the Australian Institute of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Studies, Canberra. Website: <http://www.>. Accessed: 5 July 2009.
Smyth, D. and Bauman, T. 2007. Outcomes of Three Case Studies in Indigenous Partnerships in Protected Area Management:
Policy Briefing Paper for the Australian Collaboration. Australian Institute of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander
Studies, Canberra.
Szabo, S. and Smyth, D. 2003. Indigenous Protected Areas in Australia. In: Innovative Governance: Indigenous Peoples,
Local Communities and Protected Areas, H. Jaireth and D. Smyth (eds.), pp.145–164. Ane Books, New Delhi.
Williams, N.M. 1986. The Yolηgu and Their Land: A System of Land Tenure and the Fight for Its Recognition. Stanford
University Press, Stanford.
Indigenous Peoples and Conservation: From Rights to Resource Management
Natural Resource Management
Marine-Based Community
Conserved Areas in Fiji:
An Example of Indigenous
Governance and Partnership
Mark A. Calamia, David I. Kline, Sireli Kago,
Kerry Donovan, Sirilo Dulunaqio, Taito Tabaleka,
and B. Greg Mitchell
Quick Facts
Country: Fiji
Geographic Focus: Yanuca Island, south central portion of
the Fijian Archipelago
Indigenous Peoples: Yanuca clan. Population 241
Author Information
Mark A. Calamia is owner and principal investigator of a small consulting firm Ethnographic Inquiry. He is a cultural anthropologist with
a specialty in ecological anthropology.
E-mail: [email protected]
David I. Kline earned his PhD from the Scripps Institution of
Oceanography. He is an expert on coral reef ecology with a special
emphasis on climate change and factors that lead to disease and
Sireli Kago is a member of the Matiqali Nukutabua of Yavusa
Nukutabua, Yanuca Island, Fiji. He has the title of turaga ni
koro, a position that serves as coordinator for the Village Council.
Kerry Donovan is the Pacific Blue Foundation Coordinator for Fiji.
He has experience in financial planning, boat operations, commercial
fishing, and construction.
Sirilo (Didi) Dulunaqio is an employee of the Wildlife Conservation
Society, Suva, Fiji. He focuses on underwater surveys of coral community ecology.
Taito Tabaleka earned a Master’s degree in Management from
Southern Cross University, Australia. He is a member of Matiqali
Batiluva of Yavusa Nukutabua, Yanuca Island, Fiji.
B. Greg Mitchell is the Director of the Pacific Blue Foundation and a
PhD Research Biologist and Senior Lecturer at the Scripps Institution
of Oceanography in La Jolla, California, USA. He is an expert in algal
photosynthesis, satellite remote sensing, aquatic optics and modeling.
E-mail: [email protected]
In the last decade, the Southwest Pacific island nation of Fiji (Fig. 1)
has been the focus of considerable attention from international conservation NGOs and consultants as they have assisted indigenous
Fijians in establishing Marine-based Community Conserved Areas
(MBCCAs) in areas of local customary fishing rights. Over-harvesting
together with pollution, soil erosion, and land run-off has led to a
crisis in Fijian fisheries. Overfishing tends to be prevalent in both
deep water and near-shore fisheries (The Austral Foundation 2007).
The Manado Ocean Declaration of the World Ocean Conference, in
Manado, Indonesia, 11–14 May 2009, included among its 21 points
the need to:
Further establish and effectively manage
marine protected areas, including representative resilient networks, in accordance with
international law as reflected in UNCLOS
[United Nations Convention on the Law of
the Sea] and on the basis of the best available
science, recognizing the importance of their
contribution to ecosystem goods and services,
and to contribute to the effort to conserve biodiversity, sustainable livelihoods and to adapt
to climate change. (World Ocean Conference
2009, Point 15).
The MBCCAs have been established primarily to ensure sustainable management of local coral reef ecosystems that provide habitats
for tropical fish and marine invertebrates, many of which are essential
protein and economic resources for local residents.
Natural Resource Management
The Fiji Islands have exceptional marine biological (South and Skelton 2000) and cultural diversity (Derrick 1974;
Ravuvu 1983). They are located in a region of strong gradients in coral diversity, and many of the coral species are at the
easternmost extent of their natural range. The precise number of species in Fiji for most marine organisms is not known.
Many regions have not been extensively surveyed, especially the more remote islands. Fenner (2006) estimated that the
number of coral species might be as high as 500. Zann (1992) recorded 298 species of scleractinian corals, while Lovell
and McLardy (2008) reported 72 genera and 342 species, along with five genera and 12 species of non-scleractinian corals, for a total of 354 species of corals. The diversity of other organisms in Fiji has been reported to include five species
of gorgonians (Muzik and Wainwright 1977), 15 zoanthids (polyps and sea mats) (Muirhead and Ryland 1981), and
1,900 fishes of 162 families (Vuki et al. 2000). The dominant corals (hard and soft), food fish, and regularly harvested
reef invertebrates of the Beqa Lagoon region of this case study are listed in Table 1.
Lovell and Sykes (as reported in Kaur and Swarup 2006) found that from 1999 to 2004 live hard coral coverage
on Fijian reefs averaged 22–24%. Pollution, elevated nutrient concentrations, outbreaks of the crown-of-thorns starfish,
and mass bleaching events have caused significant damage to Fijian coral reefs (Vuki et al. 2000). A mass coral bleaching
event in 2000 affected 80% of the coral species in the Beqa lagoon (Vuki et al. 2000), the region of focus in this report.
Fiji’s reefs are recovering from the 2000 bleaching event, as well as a less serious event in 2002 that together caused the
loss of 40%–80% of the hard coral cover in Fiji (Lovell and Sykes 2004). Surveys from 2004 indicated, however, that
over half of the reefs surveyed were within 10% of the pre-bleaching levels of coral cover (Lovell and Sykes 2004).
Shell collection for sale to tourists has resulted in a decline of the giant triton shell, Charonia tritonis, the main natural predator of the crown-of-thorns starfish (Vuki et al. 2000). Two species of giant clams have also been extirpated in
Fiji; Tridacna gigas, last seen 50 years ago, and Hippopus hippopus, which could only be found as dead shells or fossils, but
has recently been reintroduced for the aquaculture trade (Lewis et al. 1988; Vuki et al. 2000).
In this case study, we address the development of indigenous governance for effective and equitable management of
a Marine-based Community Conserved Area (MBCCA). In particular, we explore the establishment of a MBCCA in
the customary fishing rights area (qoliqoli, pronounced
‘ngolee-ngolee’) surrounding Yanuca (pronounced
Yanutha) Island, which belongs to the people of Yanuca
village. The island is situated in the south central portion
of the Fijian Archipelago, in the 352-km² Beqa Lagoon
(Figs. 1 and 2). The large MBCCA west of Yanuca Island
is in a region known for considerable marine biodiversity, some of which is threatened from overfishing
(Mitchell et al. 2006; PCDF 2007b). This protected area
was created through a partnership between Yanuca village and the Pacific Blue Foundation (PBF) — a small
development and conservation NGO based in La Jolla,
California, USA. The nexus between traditional knowledge, culture, resource management, external capital and
conservation (cultural and ecological) is the focus of PBF,
as represented in this case study, and influenced by contemporary Fijian researchers such as Joeli Veitayaki who
Figure 1. The Fiji Islands. This project focuses on promoting community
conservation and ecological management with the Yanuca Island village,
wrote: “Indigenous knowledge, wisdom, and experience
10 km south of Vitilevu (black arrow) in the Beqa lagoon. Base map courare valuable, appropriate, and still relevant for people in
tesy of Google Images.
Indigenous Peoples and Conservation: From Rights to Resource Management
Natural Resource Management
Table 1. Common sceleractinian (hard) and octocoral (soft) corals, food fishes, and commonly harvested reef invertebrates of Yanuca.
Scientific Name
Common Name
Fijian Name
Other Fijian Names
Acropora tenuis
Staghorn coral
Lase tagane
Acropora valenciennesi
Staghorn coral
Lase tagane
Acropora nasuta
Montipora digitata
Velvet finger coral
Stylophora pistillata
Club finger coral
Pocillopora meandrina
Cauliflower coral
Diploastrea heliopora
Moon coral
Porites lobata
Lobe coral
Vatubuso, Puga or Ravuga
Scleractinian (hard) corals
Octocoral (soft) corals
Finger coral
Toadstool Leather coral
Lobed Leather coral
Gorgonian fan
Carnation Tree coral
Tree coral or Colt coral
Broccoli or Cauliflower coral
Epinephelus merra
Honeycomb rock cod
Epinephelus caeruleopunctatus
White spotted grouper
Epinephelus spp.
Camouflage grouper
Polyphekadion spp.
Plectropopmus spp.
Big spot coral trout
Plectrochinus chaetodonoides
Many spotted sweetlips
Lethrinus harak
Thumbprint emperor
Scaridae spp.
Bi-color parrotfish
Ulavidraniqai, Dogosasa
Chlorurus sordidus
Daisy parrotfish
Chelinus spp.
Trochus niloticus
Trochus shell
Sici, Leru
Microthele nobilis
Sea cucumber, Black teat fish
Bohabschia marmorata
Sea cucumber, Brown sandfish
Charonia triotonis
Triton’s trumpet
Holothuria atra
Black sea cucumber,Lollyfish
Lambis lambis
Spider shell
Reef invertebrates
Marine-Based Community Conserved Areas in Fiji: An Example of Indigenous Governance and Partnership
Natural Resource Management
developing countries like Fiji. It must be incorporated
into sustainable development planning, contemporary development strategies, and resource management.”
(Veitayaki 2002, p.401). Lovell et al. (2004) classified
the Beqa lagoon (Fig. 2) as having a medium overall
threat to its reefs, a high threat level from overfishing,
a medium threat from coastal development, and a low
threat from pollution, sediment damage, and destructive
fishing. The economic value of Fijian coral reefs has been
estimated at between F$200,000 to F$1 million per km²
per year (Kaur and Swarup 2006). There is great merit
in pursuing a well-structured management of the coral
ecosystems in Fiji for the conservation of their biological
Figure 2. High resolution (30 m) “true color” image of Beqa Lagoon obdiversity,
for their cultural links to the marine ecosystem,
served 4 February 2001, using the NASA Landsat 7 Enhanced Thematic
as well as for their sustainable economic use.
Mapper. The Fiji Government, with input from local villages, has established geographic borders for qoliqoli (customary fishing regions) for all
Since 2006, the Pacific Blue Foundation has supFijian communities. The qoliqoli boundaries for the Yanuca Island and
Beqa Island communities are shown by white borders, and were obtained
ported Ethnographic Inquiry (EI) consultants in a multifrom the Fijian Government. Area 5 is owned solely by Yanuca, while
process with the Yanuca Community. The EI consulArea 4 is shared with two yavusas on Beqa Island. The area bound in red
within area 5 is the Kauviti MBCCA, created through the process reported
tant had prior experience in sociocultural and ecological
in this case study. Image courtesy NASA and USGS.
studies on Kadavu Island, Fiji, and recommended collaboration with Partners in Community Development Fiji
(PCDF). PCDF is a Fijian-based affiliate of the Foundation of the Peoples of the South Pacific International (FSPI), and
its focus on community awareness, sustainable management of marine resources, small-business development, and good
governance are key areas of mutual agreement among PBF, EI, PCDF and the Yanuca Island Community. Facilitating
dialogue with the Yanuca community regarding the establishment of a MBCCA involved both traditional and non-traditional aspects of ecological and cultural information in decision-making and implementation processes. As part of the
discussion about indigenous MBCCA governance, we employed management concepts and policy guidance established
by the Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD) and the First International Marine Protected Areas Congress in 2005
(Day et al. 2007). The successful collaboration between PBF, EI, PCDF and the Yanuca Community resulted in the
establishment of MBCCAs, along with a governance framework for their long-term management.
Convention on Biological Diversity Resource Governance and Management Categories
After the 5th IUCN World Parks Congress (Durban, South Africa, September 2003), policy guidelines for protected areas
worldwide were drafted by the Program of Work on Protected Areas, and subsequently endorsed by the 7th Conference
of the Parties (COP 7, Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia 2004) of the Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD) and the
First International Marine Protected Areas Congress (Day et al. 2005). These guidelines have been broadly adopted by
organizations such as the Locally Managed Marine Network (LMMA; <>), which has
a country-wide network in Fiji (Govan 2009). These organizations and their guidelines have had an influence on our
implementation strategies and efforts, as outlined in this case study.
In many indigenous conservation efforts, governance needs to take into account power struggles, social relationships, responsibility to local groups (including familial lineages), and accountability to socio-cultural institutions
Indigenous Peoples and Conservation: From Rights to Resource Management
Natural Resource Management
(Borrini-Feyerabend 2008). When authority is centralized, communication ineffective, and the globalization of natural
resource markets infringes on traditional local management, decisions can be influenced by external capital, which may
be counter-productive for the local communities. Good community-based governance and decision-making is essential
to minimize the tendency of external capital (focused on resource extraction or tourist development, for example) to
distort local decisions in a way that may result in ecological economics which are unsustainable and unfavorable to the
local communities that depend on healthy ecosystems. The CBD Program of Work (PoW target 4.1) encourages parties to develop and adopt standards, criteria, and best practices for managing and governing regional, national, and local
protected areas. Ultimately, goals can only be achieved by integrating locally-managed projects to balance conservation,
traditional culture and resource use in a sustainable and equitable way. Management addresses what is carried out in a
particular protected area, while governance addresses who makes the decisions and who defines the processes. For protected area governance, it is essential to understand who is responsible for making which decisions. Authority depends
on institutions, formal mandates, and legal and customary rights. Decisions are also influenced by access to information,
economic sustainability, history, culture, and other relevant factors (Borrini-Feyerabend 2008).
Four types of governance over natural resources have been distinguished by the CBD PoW. They are based on who holds management
Ultimately, goals can only be
authority and responsibility and who is held accountable according to
achieved by integrating locallyde jur, de facto, and customary rights (CBD 2004). They are as follows:
managed projects to balance
1) Government Managed Protected government/social Areas (government
agencies, at various levels, make and enforce decisions); 2) Co-managed
conservation, traditional culture
Protected Areas (different government/social groups collectively make and
and resource use in a sustainable
enforce decisions); 3) Private Protected Areas (private landowners make
and equitable way.
and enforce decisions); and 4) Community Conserved Areas (indigenous
peoples or local communities make or enforce decisions). Each of these
governance types has two or three sub-types that pertain to particular management structures. These categories were
later revised and incorporated into the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN)’s Guidelines for Applying
Protected Area Management Categories (Dudley 2008).
Community Conserved Areas (CCAs) are natural and/or modified ecosystems that are voluntarily conserved by
indigenous communities through customary laws or other means. Decision-making authority is largely with the community, but state authorities retain significant influence through specific conditions, for example, approval of management
plans, policies, laws, administrative frameworks, and financial support (Borrini-Feyerabend 2008; Pathak et al. 2004). In
the last decade or so the South Pacific has witnessed considerable progress in the application of community-based coastal
resource management. A combination of traditional knowledge and resource ownership together with a local awareness
of the need for immediate action are often the commencement points for these community driven initiatives. The majority of documented CCAs in the region have been (re)established only recently (Govan et al. 2009). The Yanuca Island
marine reserve initiative is considered a CCA based on the definition cited above and, in principle, there is broad acceptance in Fiji of the customary fishing right’s areas being controlled locally by the indigenous owners.
As they exist today, both land ownership and customary fishing rights reflect the social and traditional organizations of the Fijian people and the legislative structures that were developed by the former British colonial government to
protect the tenure rights of the indigenous Fijians. Traditional communal ownership of lands rests with the lineages or
mataqali (Ravuvu 1983). In Fiji, as in many other island countries throughout the South Pacific, coastal waters or nearshore resources are shared under dual ownership. Thus, the state has rights to the land beneath the sea and the Fijian
tribes or clan units exercise their rights to fish these areas by virtue of the waters being the customary fishing grounds for
Marine-Based Community Conserved Areas in Fiji: An Example of Indigenous Governance and Partnership
Natural Resource Management
subsistence. State ownership of marine resources includes all coastland and inherent resources below the high water mark
to the outer reef system as well as archipelagic waters and beds, and the inherent resources underneath up to the 200-mile
economic zone boundary (Native Lands and Fisheries Commission [NLFC] pers. comm. 1999). The customary rights
of Fijian clan (yavusa) units are restricted to recognized fishing grounds, typically from the low water mark and including the fringing reefs on the coastal waters and around isolated islands, up to the barrier reefs. As the law stands now,
Fijians have statutory and traditional rights to fish in but not own their fishing grounds; fishing grounds are reserved for
the state (see, however, Williams [2006] for review of the draft Qoliqoli Bill tabled in 2006).
The IUCN have also identified Indigenous and Community Conserved Areas (ICCAs) as special areas for conservation because of their stewardship by indigenous peoples. The IUCN definition of ICCAs is as follows:
ICCAs are natural and/or modified ecosystems containing significant biodiversity values, ecological services and cultural values, voluntarily conserved by indigenous peoples and local communities, both sedentary and mobile, through customary laws or other effective means. ICCAs can
include ecosystems with minimum to substantial human influence as well as cases of continuation, revival or modification of traditional practices or new initiatives taken up by communities
in the face of new threats or opportunities. Several of them are inviolate zones ranging from very
small to large stretches of land and waterscapes. (See <>).
The Yanuca MBCCAs also qualify as ICCAs because the communities relate culturally to the ecosystem and species,
as seen in many other CCAs throughout the world (cf. Pathak et al. 2004). The community management decisions and
efforts are now beginning to lead to the conservation of habitats, species, ecological services, and associated cultural values, although the conscious objectives of management are focused more on livelihoods. The community dominates in
decision-making and implementation regarding the management of the sites, implying that the Yanuca institutions have
the capacity to enforce regulations with the assistance of other stakeholders in partnership.
Indigenous influence over the Yanuca MBCCA is substantial, with new initiatives being taken up by local residents
who perceive threats to their coral reefs and fisheries. In the case of Yanuca, PBF serves as a significant facilitating partner, but primary decision-making resides with the Yanuca community itself.
Overview: Environmental and Village Setting2
Yanuca Island is approximately 2 km² and is just south of the main island of Viti Levu (Figs. 1, 2 and 3). This volcanic
island has a few rolling hills and is surrounded by an exclusive customary fishing rights area (qoliqoli) (see Region 5 in
Fig. 2 and Table 2). It is in the Beqa Lagoon (~20 km × 15 km), which has a fringing reef on the perimeter of an extinct
submarine volcano, and has indigenous Fijian residents living in a village also called Yanuca. The village is on a large
cove on the southeast side of the island (Figs. 3 and 4). In April 2007, the population consisted of 241; 125 males and
116 females, and 34 households in all. The small village includes a church, a primary school, and an older church building that serves as a community hall. Most of the Yanuca villagers are devout Methodists. They are members of Yavusa
(clan) Nukutabua. There are three mataqali (patrilineages), and each has two tokatokas (extended families). Derrick
2 Much of the information in this section is adapted from the Partners in Community Development Fiji workshop reports (PCDF 2007a, 2007b) and personal communication with the Pacific Blue
Indigenous Peoples and Conservation: From Rights to Resource Management
Natural Resource Management
Figure 3. A. Google Earth image of Yanuca Island including part of the Beqa Lagoon perimeter boundary reef that is closest to the island. Boundaries drawn
are for the three MBCCAs with the Wainidubu MBCCA shown in white (total area of 0.13 km²), the Daga MBCCA shown as a yellow dot (total area of
0.02 km²) and the Kauviti MBCCA shown in red (total area of 8 km²). Image courtesy of Google Earth. B. Aerial view of Yanuca Island form the southwest.
The red lines show the boundaries of the Kauviti MBCCA close to the island. Photo © Kerry Donovan.
(1974) and Ravuvu (1983) provide additional details
on Fijian customs, history, familial structure and governance. Customary fishing rights to the qoliqoli are held
communally by the yavusa. Their exclusive qoliqoli is
approximately 77 km² (Region 5, Fig. 2; Table 2) and
has coral reefs and deep water passages surrounding the
island. Yavusa Nukutabua also shares qoliqoli rights with
two yavusas on Beqa Island in Region 4 (Fig. 2; Table 2).
The land on Yanuca is owned by the three mataqali in
three discrete parcels, while two small areas are owned by
the Vunivalu (paramount chief of Serua province) and
the Raralevu patrilineage of Serua Island, about 10 km
northwest of Yanuca Island, very close to Viti Levu.
Figure 4. The Yanuca Island village viewed looking east from the trail
Much of the subsistence and non-subsistence economic
that leads to the school. Beqa Island is visible in the background. Photo
activity on Yanuca is based on fishing and a small-scale
© Mark A. Calamia.
agriculture that includes taro, cassava (manioc), kava,
and various other Pacific root and tree crops.
The indigenous residents of Yanuca rely heavily on fish for their protein, while plant root crops, fruits and vegetables provide carbohydrates. The people of Yanuca also sell their fishery products as a source of cash income to purchase clothing, pay school fees, support village functions and church activities, and sundry items. These cash needs
have helped the local people understand the importance of managing their marine resources in a sustainable manner.
Approximately 8 km² of Yanuca’s exclusive qoliqoli has been set aside as a ‘no-fishing’ MBCCA, leaving about 68 km²
of the 77-km² qoliqoli as fishable. They also share fishing rights in the adjacent 91-km² Region 4 (Fig. 2). Presently the
Marine-Based Community Conserved Areas in Fiji: An Example of Indigenous Governance and Partnership
Natural Resource Management
shared qoliqoli has no MBCCA sites, but there is strong communication between the
Yanuca community and their counterparts on Beqa Island.
The 352-km² Beqa Lagoon has both hard and soft corals and their associated tropical
marine vertebrates and invertebrates (Table 1). Scuba diving sites in the Kauviti MBCCA
Area (km²)
are known especially for soft coral formations as well as several shipwrecks. In the reefs
surrounding Yanuca Island, the live coral cover in both MBCCA and non-MBCCA sites
is between 15% and 50% (PCDF 2007b). Overall, the coral cover surrounding the edge
of Yanuca Island is in good condition and is expected to improve while the MBCCA
is maintained and enforced (PCDF 2007b). During a major warm-water bleaching
event that took place throughout Fiji in 2000, areas adjacent to the Yanuca MBCCA
were severely affected, and continue to exhibit dead corals beside those that survived.
new coral recruits have settled, and recovery is strong (PCDF 2007b, Fig. 5).
For the last 10 years, the site of Kauviti MBCCA has been used for commercial live coral
trade and collection of aquarium fish.
Many of the best dive sites in Beqa Lagoon are in the Kauviti MBCCA (Figs. 3
and 5). Regional resorts and tourist dive boat operators pay fees to the community for
access to these dive sites. Conservation within the Kauviti MBCCA will, therefore, likely
contribute to revenue from ecotourist scuba diver fees. Frigates Passage is part of an
off-shore fringing reef that is renowned for its world-class surfing. The passage is about
10 km south of Yanuca Island (Fig. 2). The local people of Yanuca are paid a fee by resorts
and individuals who surf there or dive in their qoliqoli. The community also operates
Yanuca Island Resort that can accommodate about 15 guests who are usually budget-conscious backpackers or surfers.
They also obtain revenue from commercial divers collecting live aquarium organisms, and from small-scale commercial
fishing enterprises operating from Vitilevu. One objective of PBF and the PCDF is to assist the community to develop
sustainable economic options that minimize exploitation of the natural system and consolidate their commercial use
within the Yanuca community.
Table 2. Surface areas of qoliqioli regions for the Beqa Lagoon
and the MBCCAs in the Yanuca
qoliqoli (region 5). See also Figures 2 and 3.
Establishing the MBCCAs through a Workshop Approach
Since 2004, PBF has coordinated approximately two visits per year by various consultants who research the ecological, sociocultural, subsistence, economic and marine conservation needs of the Yanuca people (Mitchell and Donovan
2006, 2007). The Pacific Islands Coordinator for PBF lives in Pacific Harbour, 17 km from Yanuca Island. He works
full time with members of the community on matters related to the management of the MBCCAs, the island environment, and socio-economic needs. In that regard, he is assisting the Yanuca community with their relationships and dealings with national and provincial government departments, non-governmental organizations, educational institutions,
and businesses. For the work reported here, consultations have been coordinated with: the Ministry of Fijian Affairs, the
Department of Lands and Fisheries, the Native Lands Trust Board, the Serua Provincial Council, The University of the
South Pacific, Partners in Community Development Fiji (PCDF), and the Wildlife Conservation Society (WCS).
In October 2004, the Yanuca community invited PBF to carry out initial underwater surveys, to review the status of
the marine ecosystems in their qoliqoli, and to make recommendations for next steps (Mitchell et al. 2006). The recommendations made by PBF were to organize ecological studies and community consultations, to establish a MBCCA, to
reduce commercial fishing by outside enterprises, to reduce anchoring, to organize a community evaluation concerning
Indigenous Peoples and Conservation: From Rights to Resource Management
Natural Resource Management
options for balanced management, and to document the fishery harvest. PBF, with the assistance of the village headman
(turaga ni koro), presented the concept of a MBCCA to the village council and chief. After deliberation, the community recommended that PBF consult with the Department of Fisheries Lami regarding the process for establishing the
MBCCA. PBF, with the turaga ni koro, consulted with the Department of Fisheries, who informed them of the required
protocols which needed to be followed to achieve the community’s goal. First the community needed to define the area
and prepare a proposal. The proposal would then need to be evaluated by the village and the Department of Fisheries
and, upon approval, implemented. Subsequently, the small 0.13-km² Wainidubu MBCCA was established through a
preliminary partnership between the village and Yanuca Island Resort (YIR), their locally-owned resort at Wainidubu
beach. The establishment of this initial MBCCA involved a traditional institutional process — a village meeting where
the manager and the boat captain of Yanuca Island Resort offered a ritual presentation of kava roots known as a sevusevu,
followed by ritualized kava drinking and talanoa (open discussion about the topic being considered). The Wainidubu
MBCCA was approved and declared a no-fishing and no-anchoring area, forty-four juvenile giant clams were introduced,
and the community initiated periodic snorkel surveys. The clams continue to grow, and small fish species returned to
the area. Surveys in 2007 and 2008 indicated the coral was recovering in areas that had previously suffered damage from
anchoring and bleaching. Surveys in 2009 revealed a crown-of-thorns starfish threat indicating incomplete recovery of
predators of this coral-killing starfish. Plans to remove the starfish are in progress.
The Wainidubu MBCCA (Fig. 3) was the first to be formed by the community. Its northern boundary meets the
island at Dakurukua, a known fish aggregation area (Fig. 2, Table 2). It was subsequently incorporated into the 8-km²
Kauviti MBCCA, but its proximity to the Yanuca Island Resort allows for a more effective enforcement of no-take and
no-anchoring rules. Although subsumed into the larger Kauviti MBCCA, the precedence that was set by its formation
is very important to the community. Since it is near the shore, it is more rigorously protected from illegal poaching. The
easily observed coral recovery following the ban on anchoring, and the success of the reintroduction of the giant clams
Figure 5. Photos of the Light House Reef, which is representative of the Yanuca Island coral reefs found in the Kauviti MBCCA. (A) High diversity of scleractinian corals. (B) Close-up of the reef benthos indicates that many of the coral colonies are young, replacing those that died in the 2000 and 2002 bleaching
events. The Yanuca Island reefs appear to have strong recruitment and growth leading to good recovery from the bleaching mortality. Such strong recovery
with high diversity can only be attained for reefs that already are in good health before major stressors such as warm water bleaching. Establishing areas of
conservation helps ensure healthy populations that will support recovery following natural or anthropogenic stress and damage. Photos © David J. Kline.
Marine-Based Community Conserved Areas in Fiji: An Example of Indigenous Governance and Partnership
Natural Resource Management
and of the coral gardening project are a source of pride, and evidence of the potential of MBCCAs. A serious problem yet
to resolve, however, is the frequent presence of illegal poachers in the deep water passage and reef of the Kauviti MBCCA
to the west of the Island, and the discovery in 2009 of a crown-of-thorns starfish outbreak.
In May/June 2005, PBF returned to Fiji and consulted with Yanuca leaders and the Department of Fisheries, who
agreed to let them assist with village meetings regarding conservation initiatives. During that visit, the PBF consultants
collaborated with Fijian marine ecology and community experts who were working with the Wildlife Conservation
Society (WCS) to conduct scuba surveys in the exclusive qoliqoli (Region 5, Fig. 2) along with community consultations and surveys. The WCS is routinely involved with major programs on Fiji’s Great Sea Reef Project north of Vanua
Levu, and the Namena marine protected area. The experience of the WCS staff was invaluable in helping with the underwater surveys and also in promoting effective communication with the Yanuca village about the status of their qoliqoli,
options for sustainable management, and concepts for alternative economic development that do not deplete their natural resources.
A year later, in May 2006, PBF sponsored the first Yanuca Village Marine Awareness Workshop, led by Ethnographic
Inquiry (EI), an ecological anthropology consulting firm based in the US, with assistance from the PBF coordinator and
the turaga ni koro of Yanuca, and others in the village. The workshop provided an opportunity to address issues pertaining to the use of marine resources, governance, and the boundaries of their customary fishing rights area. It was at this
workshop that the idea of a large MBCCA was discussed in detail, based on concepts first introduced by such as PBF
and the Department of Fisheries (see Mitchell et al. 2006).
In March 2007, PBF coordinated a Marine Awareness and Participatory Learning and Action (PLA) workshop, led
by Partners in Community Development of Fiji (PCDF) with support from members of the Serua Provincial Office,
and the Department of Fisheries office at Navua, Serua. The goal was to initiate the development of each village’s qoliqoli
Marine Management Action Plan, outlining strategies to restore the surrounding coastal fishing areas for all villages in
Serua Province (PCDF 2007a).
The island and marine resources map created by the Yanuca Community at this workshop is shown in Figure 6.
Figure 7 shows the workshop where Powerpoint presentations were given to present underwater digital images. Many of
the following conservation measures, as outlined in the workshop, have, or will be, initiated in the Yanuca qoliqoli with
the strictest rules implemented for the Kauviti and Daga MBCCA (PCDF 2007a):
Limit anchoring to very small areas that are sandy, and prohibit anchoring for most of the qoliqoli;
install moorings at main fishing, diving, surf and other tourist locations;
reduce removal of live corals and aquaria fish, and prohibit this activity within the MBCCAs;
reduce gleaning and spear-fishing with scuba, and prohibit these activities within the MBCCAs;
prohibit the use of poison derived from derris (duva), an illegal fishing practice with devastating
indiscriminate effects on all nearby organisms;
establish coral replanting programs within the MBCCAs, and set up coral farms that have the potential
to generate sustainable local income through live coral sales; and
train members of the community as government-certified fish wardens.
During the PLA workshop, the PCDF conducted a socio-economic survey in the seven villages of the district
(PCDF 2007a). It revealed that the fishery was primarily subsistence, and commercial fishing by the Serua villages was
very limited. This brought to the fore the option for the community to develop its own fishery cooperative, and eliminate, or greatly reduce, the number of licenses to non-local commercial fishers. PBF is exploring a micro-finance scheme
Indigenous Peoples and Conservation: From Rights to Resource Management
Natural Resource Management
to establish a sustainable fishery cooperative with Yanuca to support the villagers’ economic needs and their subsistence
protein requirements. Much of the subsistence and non-subsistence economic activities on Yanuca are based on fishing
and small-scale agriculture, but the soil and limited freshwater on Yanuca are not ideal for farming. Some members of
the Serua villages get their major income from working in tourist resorts or providing other services to tourism, while
others focus on small-scale fishing, farming, and other activities (PCDF 2007a). The Yanuca community has very small
tourist resorts that generate a modest income. Scuba and surf fees also provide some revenue.
The workshop and survey also showed that there was significant overfishing of Serua’s qoliqoli, including Yanuca
(PCDF 2007a). Poaching in MBCCA sites was identified by the communities as an issue. In May 2009, the fisheries
warden workshop for Yanuca and other Serua Province villages further raised awareness of the poaching problem and
was featured in the June 6, 2009 Fiji Times (Anon. 2009). The Fiji Times pointed out that the district, provincial, and
Figure 6. Hand drawn map with annotations of regions of highest value specified by the Yanuca community. During the March 2007 workshop, villagers
assigned no-take or rest zones, and designated other areas to be actively fished. This workshop process captured the intrinsic cultural, economic and ecological value to the community of the diverse habitats within their qoliqoli. Based on balancing the use of these different areas, the community specified the
MBCCAs summarized in this report. Sketch map courtesy of Yanuca Community and Partners in Community Development Fiji.
Marine-Based Community Conserved Areas in Fiji: An Example of Indigenous Governance and Partnership
Natural Resource Management
Figure 7. Children join the March 2007 workshop coordinated by PBF
and led by the PCDF. This workshop established the three community
conservation areas within the Yanuca qoliqoli described in this report, and
a preliminary set of conservation guidelines regarding fishing, anchoring,
and live coral/fish extraction in the newly designated MBCCAs. The community also made long-term commitments to continue to re-evaluate
and balance implementation with respect to economic sustainability and
conservation; a process required for viability of MBCCAs. Photo © Kerry
government authorities could help mitigate or eliminate
poaching by assisting with patrols. Overall, the PCDF
marine awareness and participatory learning workshop
and the socioeconomic survey of Serua District indicated that the people were well informed of conservation
concepts and had the framework for various actions to
improve their natural environment while also promoting long-term social and economic sustainability (PCDF
In collaboration with the WCS and with support
from PBF, in July 2007, EI conducted an ethnographic
study of Yanuca Island cultural history and its trade relations with nearby islands. The WCS and PCDF helped us
communicate with the Yanuca village about the options
for the sustainable management of their qoliqoli, and
the alternatives for an economic development that does
not deplete their natural resources. Consistent with the
March 2007 workshop recommendations, in April 2008,
Figure 8. Photograph of Epeli “Big Bola” Bolatagici (left) and Etonia “Doko” Dokonivalu (right), two of the most inspiring elders who championed the establishment of the MBCCAs reported here. Big Bola and Doko were superlative fishermen and craftsmen whose smiles were infectious. Their knowledge of
the fish and ecology of the qoliqoli and the trust the community had in their knowledge and wisdom, were very important in the MBCCA planning process
that was based on traditional knowledge and customary approaches to marine conservation. Doko passed away in February 2008 and Big Bola in April,
2009. Documenting the traditional knowledge of the elders relative to both cultural and ecological conservation is part of the mission of the Pacific Blue
Foundation, and this report is dedicated to their memory and the hope that their leadership will be emulated by their descendants. Photos © Kerry Donovan.
Indigenous Peoples and Conservation: From Rights to Resource Management
Natural Resource Management
under the supervision of PCDF, coral farming structures were installed on non-coral, sandy-bottom areas 50 m from
Wainidubu Beach. By November 2008, PBF surveys revealed that these structures were ready for harvest and would allow
the sale of live, farmed coral for a sustainable income.
The Socio-Political Decision-Making Process on Yanuca and Indigenous Governance of
Making decisions about the Yanuca MBCCAs has always been in the hands of the indigenous community members. In
October 2004, the village headman (turaga ni koro), a paid administrative position under the Office of Fijian Affairs, was
approached in a traditional manner by a prominent elder of the Batiluva patrilineage who requested a meeting of the village elders (the heads of the three patrilineages and others) in response to an overture from PBF. Shortly after this 2004
visit by PBF, the Yanuca Island Resort manager and the resort’s boat captain approached the village elders in a traditional
way (with kava roots for the sevusevu ceremony) to request the initiation of the small MBCCA at Wainidubu (see Fig. 3).
According to the turaga ni koro, the manager and boat captain “asked for permission to place marker buoys at the site,
to chase people away if fishing or anchoring [at the site], and [for] the power to keep it a no-fishing reserve.” They also
asked the villagers “to be aware of the MBCCA and observe it as a start towards protecting [their] own waters, as an
example and a beginning. This talking and open discussion is the traditional way [for example, talanoa].” The turaga ni
koro added “the non-traditional way was to accept help and workshops from two NGOs and [the] fisheries department.”
Following this non-traditional and traditional talanoa (consultation), the turaga ni koro contacted the village chief,
the Tui Daga, who lives on the main island of Viti Levu, to notify him of the meeting and the ensuing recommendation to form the MBCCA. He approved of the village recommendation. However, given that the chief does not live on
Yanuca Island for most of the time, he deferred his decision-making authority to the turaga ni koro and the village elders.
The leadership of several elders was particularly powerful, including that of (the late) Doko and Big Bola (Fig. 8). As
mentioned above, the community approved the small MBCCA at Wainidubu in May 2004.
Although the majority of the community is in favor of collective decisions for the common good, some individuals
can disrupt the process and threaten the achievement of community goals. In 2003, a member of the Yanuca clan, Yavusa
Nukutabua, began harvesting sea cucumber with scuba in the Yanuca qoliqoli while employed (on wages) by a man from
Nairai, Lomaiviti Island Group, who was living in Suva. The man evidently believed that just being a member of the clan
Yavusa Nukutabua was sufficient to be an owner of the qoliqoli and did not understand (or wish to understand) that the
activity was illegal and unsustainable. By Fijian law, it is illegal to use scuba for any form of fishing. In 2006, he began
harvesting sea cucumber using his own boat and scuba gear. He employed untrained divers from the village. Despite
continuous appeals from the elders to stop, the clan member continued the lucrative enterprise. Sadly, on 13 May 2006,
a Yanuca diver died while diving from the clan member’s boat; other divers reported he was using a faulty buoyancy vest.
The clan member was asked by the elders to stop, but he defied them. From his sea cucumber sales he was able to buy
more tanks and a larger boat; on 29 November 2006 another Yanuca man went missing while in his employ, and his
body was never recovered. The clan member was forced to stop illegal harvesting in the Yanuca qoliqoli by the elders, and
he left the area to fish and harvest sea cucumber illegally elsewhere. The chief of Yanuca wrote to the Serua Provincial
Office, Commissioner Central, and the Minister of Fisheries, asking them to decline any application for harvesting sea
cucumbers with scuba. These sad events galvanized the will of the majority and led to a strengthening of support for traditional communal governance informed by modern concepts for sustainable resource use.
During the PCDF workshop in April 2007, further decisions were made by community members to recognize
the large Kauviti reef MBCCA and a smaller MBCCA at Daga (Fig. 3; Table 2). Two weeks after the workshop, the
Marine-Based Community Conserved Areas in Fiji: An Example of Indigenous Governance and Partnership
Natural Resource Management
village turaga ni koro called a meeting of the elders and the Tui Daga to discuss the proposed expansion of conservation
areas. Following traditional protocol, the clan chief listened to his village elders and council, and eventually gave his
approval. As mentioned above, the larger Kauviti MBCCA encompassed the original small Wainidubu MBCCA. The
Daga MBCCA is a marine area around an underwater pinnacle reef 200 m from the island (Fig. 3). It rises from the
seabed to about 6 m below the surface, and is ecologically important because large schools of juvenile and adult Trevally
(saqa) fish routinely aggregate there. In the past the fishermen speared or trolled for Trevally at Daga, and it was chosen
as a MBCCA to determine if a fishing moratorium during the next five years would result in an increase in numbers;
the decision to forego fishing at Daga was a testament to the community’s ability to make compromises to achieve their
conservation goals.
Managing and Monitoring the MBCCAs for Effective Conservation
The indigenous people of Yanuca are in the nascent stages of managing their marine resources, as well as exploring other
potential economic development incentives that will provide needed income on a sustainable basis. Similar marine
resource conservation efforts and community-based marine species’ identification work have also been undertaken on
the nearby islands of Ono and Kadavu (Calamia 2003, 2008). Although the Yanuca villagers rely heavily on fishing for
their protein, they recognize the importance of maintaining the sustainability of their resources and have worked with
partners to establish several MBCCAs in their qoliqoli. The community has become active in monitoring the status of
their qoliqoli, and they are considered leaders in Serua Province and the Beqa Lagoon area. The underwater surveys
conducted during the 2007 PCDF workshop revealed that the most abundant fish were Parrot fish (Scaridae spp.) and
Wrasse (Chelinus spp.). Other important food species, such as Rock cod (Gadidae), Coral trout (Plectropomus, Serranidae),
Sweetlips (Plectorhinchus, Haemulidae), Unicorn fish (Naso, Acanthuridae), and Emperors (Lethrinus, Pomacanthidae)
were not seen during the survey (PCDF 2007b). All these species are targeted for both subsistence and small-scale commercial fishing. Since the surveys were not rigorous ecological studies, the presence/absence and relative abundance are
not considered quantitative. However, the data collected from these surveys imply the area has been prone to intensive
fishing pressure, substantiated by the information that night diving has been prevalent around Yanuca. (PCDF 2007b).
The local people and the NGOs involved, expect that the fish will increase in numbers within the MBCCAs leading to “spill over” to adjacent areas that are fished PCDF 2007b). Underwater surveys conducted as part of the training
indicated that the invertebrate count near Yanuca Island was similar for MBCCA and non-MBCCA sites. This was not
surprising, given that the MBCCAs have only recently been created. The main exception was the successful reintroduction of the giant clams, and the coral transplanting and gardening near Wainidubu MBCCA. Invertebrate populations,
especially of sea cucumbers which have been heavily over-exploited, are expected to increase as a result of the MBCCA’s.
Future surveys of invertebrates will indicate the success or otherwise of the MBCCA initiative in Yanuca’s waters (PCDF
The community is now able to monitor and manage its marine resources because of the collaboration reported here.
Local Yanuca residents continue to improve their MBCCAs by installing moorings to prevent anchor damage, and by
replanting coral, removing crown-of-thorns starfish, and creating coral gardens that can provide sustainable income
without the removal of the natural corals. To help the Yanuca in the management of the MBCCAs, in April 2007, the
Serua Provincial Office, the Fisheries Department, and PCDF organized the Serua District Fish Warden Training and
Biological Survey. Fish warden training included instructions on conducting underwater surveys to assess resource abundance and biodiversity. Twelve members of the Yanuca community were trained as Honorary Fish Wardens (PCDF
2007b), adding to the three already trained with support from PBF in August 2006. The Fish Wardens have established
Indigenous Peoples and Conservation: From Rights to Resource Management
Natural Resource Management
their own committees, and they coordinate patrols to reduce poaching, conduct periodic surveys to monitor the health
and number of fish and coral populations, and take an active role in communicating the status of the qoliqoli to the
villagers (PCDF 2007b). According to the Fisheries Officer in charge of Serua Province, non-local poachers routinely
engage in night fishing; a major problem for the authorities throughout Fiji. The Fish Warden committee continues to
plan with PBF to devise more effective methods for preventing poaching that does not require excessive use of fuel. These
plans are being developed with coastal villages in Serua Province, and island villages on Beqa Island (Rewa Province).
The Development of a Community Trust as a Governance Tool
The need for clear and present leadership is the single most pressing issue; one that has impeded the development of
“good governance” of the Yanuca MBCCA. As recently as November 2008, the Tui Daga (Yavusa chief ) was continuing
to sign commercial fishing permits for non-Yanuca fishers to operate within the Yanuca qoliqoli without consulting the
community. Fees for these licenses were paid directly to the Tui Daga. Typical of issues related to the failure of communication, consultation and governance, some of these licences allowed fishing within the Kauviti MBCCA. Once signed,
the permits were processed through the district office and the Fisheries Department, the staff of which were not aware of
the lack of community consultation. In the past, the chief often signed permits without consultation with the community, but agreements were made during PBF and PCDF workshops described above that community consultation would
be assured in the future. Currently, there is an agreement that no further permits will be issued for commercial activities (fishing, scuba, surfing, harvesting) without community consultation. New licenses and permits will be granted for a
maximum of one calendar year; this facilitates future protection of the fishery itself as well as the MBCCAs.
To address these governance issues on Yanuca (which are common throughout Fiji), PBF helped the Yanuca village
council to draft a Yavusa Nukutabua Deed of Trust (Yavusa Trust), naming the members of the Yavusa Nukutabua as the
beneficiaries. With agreement from the community and a learned businessman from the village who vets all “Western”
negotiations involving Yanuca, the community gave approval for PBF to hire a Fijian attorney knowledgeable in customary governance and protocol to assist in drafting a revocable deed of trust that would include traditional aspects of
the Fijian governance structure. The village elders are also in the process of obtaining an independent review. The Yavusa
Trust is being drafted with the help of the turaga ni koro and the PBF attorney to ensure that the indigenous peoples’
ownership and use rights will be legally conveyed into the trust. The trustees selected by the community will decide collectively on fair and equitable compensation for the use of their marine resources by external stakeholders. This instrument will only hold those assets that the beneficiaries (Yavusa Nukutabua) agree should be placed in the trust. Once
legally executed, the trustees selected by the community will be able to enter into agreements on behalf of the beneficiaries, including lease agreements made with various stakeholders, for example, use of the MBCCA for dive tourism, sport
fishing, surfing and commercial fishing outside the MBCCA. A set of bylaws for the Yavusa Trust is in the process of
being drafted as well. The expectation is that rules established for the MBCCA by the community will be adhered to in
all decisions by the trustees, minimizing the risk that the chief, or other powerful members of the community, will make
individual decisions that are not supported by the community.
Two representatives from each of the six extended families (tokatoka) will be selected as trustees to initiate the Yavusa
Trust. The heads of the three patrilineages (mataqali) and the village chief (Tui Daga) have been involved in the selection
of trustees, which is consistent with traditional governance of Fijian communities. A fixed number of trustees (12) has
been specified, but they may be changed over time. The trust has a structured plan for re-election of a subset of trustees at regular intervals. A parallel process has been initiated to develop a deed of trust for each mataqali that has owner-
Marine-Based Community Conserved Areas in Fiji: An Example of Indigenous Governance and Partnership
Natural Resource Management
ship rights to land on Yanuca. It is anticipated that the Yavusa and each of the three mataqali will finalize the Yavusa and
Mataqali Trusts in 2009 and proceed to a full community vote on the four separate deeds of trust.
Several village-wide meetings have already been convened to explain how the Yavusa Trust will work and to solicit
input in traditional ways. A small committee coordinated by the turaga ni koro has been formed to work with the
attorney in revisions. As is customary, the chief may express his approval or disapproval before the other members offer
their decision on matters. However, the turaga ni koro, who in this case also has the role as spokesman for the chief (mata
ni vanua), and the heads of the tokatoka and mataqali all recognize that the trust will reduce the chief’s influence by
ensuring that all decisions involving the MBCCA and other assets of the Yavusa qoliqoli will be approved by a majority
of the trustees. Through this process, the community hopes to eliminate chiefly permitting of outside commercial fishers who seek to exploit Yanuca’s marine resources, and prevent any individual or smaller group of mataqali landowners
from allowing use of marine resources without community consultation and consent. For instance, in 1995 a number
of mataqali elders gave permission to two foreigners to build and operate an unregistered back-packer style motel at one
of the beaches. During the occupation different members of the mataqali received unequal — and minimal — amounts
of small cash rental payments, which created jealousy and concern among some. The resort’s owners also exploited the
marine resources of surfing, swimming, and fishing at little benefit to the community. Although a legal eviction was
issued by the Native Land Trust Board, the resort continues its operations. The community recognizes, following consultations with the PCDF, that the equitable representation of the trustees and a more efficient decision process will
facilitate progress on other economic projects of interest, including forming a Yanuca commercial fishing cooperative or
creating partnerships with investors for ecotourism, resorts and other sustainable economic options for which the community has expressed interest.
Conclusion and Next Steps
Community Conserved Marine Areas were defined at the First International Marine Protected Area Congress (IMPAC I)
in 2005 as “marine and coastal ecosystems including significant biodiversity, ecological services, and cultural values voluntarily conserved by indigenous and local communities through customary laws or other effective means.” The three
MBCCAs of Yanuca Island reported here are in accordance with The World Congress of Protected Areas Management
Category VI (Protected Area with sustainable use of Natural Resources) that may include coastal marine areas under
restricted use and/or communal rules that assure sustainable harvesting through time (Borrini-Feyerabend et al. 2004;
Dudley 2008). These also follow the general guidelines of community-based management encouraged by the Locally
Managed Marine Network (LMMA).
The Yanuca Island community has exhibited decision-making authority as seen through their ability to diagnose
problems in workshops and capacity-building exercises and to determine specific actions to resolve problems and to carry
them out. They are devising solutions and beginning to take action to protect their resource base, combining centuriesold institutions of customary access rights and responsibilities for marine resources with modern conservation and legal
methods. Their customary rights and traditional decision-making institutions, however, cannot be fully effective unless
they are nested within collaborative and supportive institutions at national or regional levels (TILCEPA 2005; TGER
2005). The Yanuca MBCCAs are an example of conservation areas that are governed beyond “consultation” initiatives;
the deeds of trust, for example, will be registered with the Fijian authorities so that decisions of the trustees will be more
formalized and publicly disclosed.
Two effective avenues to empower indigenous and local communities to manage and conserve their marine
resources are the use of the Community Conserved Areas (CCAs) and co-managed resources and protected areas (shared
Indigenous Peoples and Conservation: From Rights to Resource Management
Natural Resource Management
stewardship). In the case of Yanuca village, we have seen the former, where traditional institutions and values continue to
be recognized, respected, and supported as a way to promote institutions capable of effective response to changes in ecological, economic, and sociopolitical circumstances. At this time the MBCCAs do not qualify as co-managed protected
areas because authority, responsibility, and accountability are not fully shared among partners, such as non-governmental
organizations, the Fiji government, and the rights holders. Yanuca’s newly created MBCCAs were established with
ongoing assistance from the local NGO Partners in Community Development Fiji (PCDF), and Yanuca’s primary partner Pacific Blue Foundation (PBF) and their consultants, but the indigenous community retains all authority over decisions. As mentioned above, the Yanuca MBCCAs also qualify as Indigenous and Community Conserved Areas (ICCAs)
since the community dominates decision-making and implementation regarding the management of the site.
The PBF is currently engaged in discussions with the
Yavusa Nukutabua and the three mataqali to define oppor- It is important to stress that developing effective
tunities for sustainable economic alternatives to harvesting
partnerships that support governance of
their reef resources, to resolve issues of enforcement and
patrolling of the large no-take Kauviti MBCCA, and con- Marine-based Community Conserved Areas is
cerning the creation of small business enterprises that can
an ongoing process that typically takes several
generate revenue to offset lost revenue from the MBCCA.
years to accomplish and requires transition
This latter may include a fishery cooperative and some form
of ecotourism (catch-and-release fishing, surfing, diving, to a sustainable economic base which can
sailing and hiking). Through the development of a revoca- enable the community to be vigilant in their
ble deed of trust, the Yanuca community is hoping to estab- conservation goals.
lish a protocol for “good governance” and accountability to
ensure that Yanuca’s marine resources are managed sustainably for its future generations and to provide the community
with a mechanism for more efficient and formal governance and decision-making as related to external partners.
Following successful mooring initiatives on Namena Reef, one central component of the plan will be for PBF to
help finance the installation of moorings at diving and access points on the island that will also serve as points of pay for
services such as diving and tourism. This is expected to minimize damage to the reefs from anchors, and also provide a
way for the community to establish a uniform fee-basis for use of their qoliqoli. As of this writing, no final agreements
have been established but there has been considerable consultation of experts, focused on detailed surveys and studies of
the socio-economic status of the community, their specific aspirations, and concepts for steps forward. It is important
to stress that developing effective partnerships that support governance of MBCCAs is an ongoing process that typically
takes several years to accomplish and requires transition to a sustainable economic base which can enable the community
to be vigilant in their conservation goals.
First and foremost we wish to thank the indigenous Fijian people of Yanuca Village for their generosity, kindness, and
dedication to finding sustainable solutions to their marine resource conservation and development challenges. This work
is dedicated to the memories of Sireli Drivatiyawe and Mosese Bati who died while working with illegal sea cucumber fisherman, and of Epeli “Big Bola” Bolatagici and Etonia “Doko” Dokonivalu, whose elder status, ecological vision,
and leadership were essential in the progress made by the Yanuca Island community in initiating marine conservation.
Sadly, Doko passed away in February, 2008 and Big Bola in April, 2009. This work was partially sponsored and coordinated by Pacific Blue Foundation (PBF). Partners in Community Development Fiji were supported separately. The
Marine-Based Community Conserved Areas in Fiji: An Example of Indigenous Governance and Partnership
Natural Resource Management
authors thank Taito Tabaleka who first invited PBF to consult with the community, the Tui Daga, Chief of the Yavusa
Nukutabua, the Yanuca Women’s Committee, and the entire Yanuca community, for inviting our team to carry out
this work, and for their gracious hosting of many events, their patience and their enthusiasm. Mark A. Calamia offers a
special vinaka vakalevu (thank you very much) to the family of Sireli Kago (Yanuca’s turaga ni koro), especially his wife
Merelevu Rokolewa who graciously hosted him in their home during his 2006 and 2007 visits to Yanuca. We acknowledge the PCDF for their excellent assistance with Fijian customs and in defining priorities; PCDF consultant, Austin
Bowden-Kerby, for guidance on community interaction and local ecology; Aisake Batibasaga of the Fiji Department of
Fisheries; the Wildlife Conservation Society Fiji for allowing PBF to hire their expert Fijian marine ecology and community consultants; illuminating discussions, and encouragement from members of the faculty and staff of University of
South Pacific — in particular, Professors Paul Geraghty, William Aalbersberg, and Joeli Veitayaki — for their constructive
comments and insights during numerous meetings and correspondence; Talina Konotchick for her efforts during PBF
scuba surveys in 2005, Mati Kahru and Haili Wang for their in satellite graphics, and Mary Anderson for outstanding
assistance in editing the manuscript.
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Suva, Fiji.
Partners in Community Development Fiji. 2007b. Serua District Fish Warden Training and Biological Survey in Yanuca
MPA, April 1st – 24th, 2007. Partners in Community Development Fiji (PCDF), Suva, Fiji.
Marine-Based Community Conserved Areas in Fiji: An Example of Indigenous Governance and Partnership
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Ravuvu, A. 1983. Vaka I Taukei: The Fijian Way of Life. Institute of Pacific Studies, University of the South Pacific, Suva.
Secretariat of the Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD). 2004. Guidelines on Biodiversity and Tourism Development:
International guidelines for activities related to sustainable tourism development in vulnerable terrestrial, marine and
coastal ecosystems and habitats of major importance for biological diversity and protected areas, including fragile riparian
and mountain ecosystems. (CBD Guidelines). Secretariat of the Convention on Biological Diversity, Montreal, 29pp.
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Solomon Islands, Tuvalu and Vanautu. In: Status of Coral Reefs of the World, C. Wilkinson (ed.), p.20. Australian
Institute of Marine Science, (AIMS), Townsville, Queensland.
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to Protected Areas (TILCEPA), 2005. Website: <>.
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Veitayaki, J. 2002. Taking advantage of indigenous knowledge: the Fiji case. International Social Science Journal 54(3):
Vuki, V., Naqasima, M. and Vave, R. 2000. Status of Fiji’s Coral Reefs 2000. Unpublished status report by the SW
Pacific node of the Global Coral Reef Monitoring Network (GCRMN). Website: <
GCRMN_2000_FJI.pdf>. Accessed: 21 May 2009.
Williams, D. 2006. The regulation of ‘customary’ entitlements by statute law: a perspective from Aotearoa, New Zealand
on the Customary Fisheries Qoliqoli Bill. Journal of South Pacific Law. 10(2). Website: <>.
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news-and-events/manado-ocean-declaration>. Accessed 13 July 2009
Zann, L.P. 1992. The State of the Marine Environment of Fiji. Report to National Environmental Management Project,
Environmental Management Unit, Suva, Fiji.
Indigenous Peoples and Conservation: From Rights to Resource Management
Natural Resource Management
Building a Shared Vision
with Indigenous People:
Biodiversity Conservation in the
lower Río Caquetá, Colombia
Erwin Palacios, Adriana Rodríguez, Darío Silva Cubeo,
Celina Miraña and Célimo Mora Matapí
Quick Facts
Country: Colombia
Geographic Focus: Lower Río Caquetá area of the Colombian Amazon rainforest.
Indigenous Peoples: There are more than 15 indigenous
ethnic groups, mostly from the middle and lower ríos
Caquetá, Mirití and Apaporis. Most prominent among them
are the Yucuna, Miraña, Tanimuca, Matapí and Macuna.
Author Information
Erwin Palacios works for the Amazonia Region Program,
Conservation International.
E-mail: [email protected]
Adriana Rodríguez works for the Amazonia Region Program,
Conservation International.
E-mail: [email protected]
Darío Silva Cubeo, works for AIPEA, the Asociación de Autoridades
Indígenas de La Pedrera Amazonas.
Celina Miraña works for the Junta de Acción Comunal Vereda
Célimo Mora Matapí works for the Junta de Acción Comunal Vereda
Villa Marcela.
Around the world, the responsibility of understanding and preserving biological diversity has been assigned to governmental and
non-governmental organizations, academic groups and individuals.
However, such responsibility has not been explicitly assumed by civil
society insofar as many people are almost totally unaware of biodiversity and its importance to society’s well-being. Perhaps rural societies,
especially those sharing the ownership of a territory that they rely on
for subsistence, are those that take the most responsibility for the conservation of wildlife and natural resources; a responsibility grounded
in their knowledge of biodiversity and its importance for their physical,
spiritual and cultural well-being. The Amazon rain forest’s indigenous
peoples are a clear example of this; in many cases they still live on their
ancestral lands applying their traditional knowledge to their occupation and use of the forests, rivers and lakes. However, from the perspective of a conservation organization or a state institution, it is possible that these practices are now, or will soon become, insufficient to
preserve the biological diversity found in these territories; especially
to the extent that these people are forced to relate now to the western world, so their traditional practices are in many cases no longer a
central element of forest resource management and are less commonly
applied by the new generations.
It is here where the need for shared responsibilities and possibilities arises. It is here that it is necessary to know how others think, to
begin to understand how they see the world, how they manage it, how
they plan it, how they use it and how they gain the perception that
their actions may transform the world. This chapter briefly presents a
mutual experience between indigenous communities in the lower Río
Caquetá area of the Colombian Amazon rainforest, and Conservation
International Colombia. This process has resulted in actions that
strengthen these communities’ capacities and biodiversity conservation in their territories.
Natural Resource Management
Biological Importance and Cultural Richness of the Region
The Manaus Priority Setting Workshop in 1990 (Prance 1990; Rylands 1990; Rylands et al. 1991), the 1999 Amazon
region conservation priority setting workshop of the Brazilian government in Macapá (Veríssimo et al. 2001), and
the Conservation Priority Setting Workshop for the Guiana Shield (Conservation International 2003) have all
underscored the immense importance of the lower Caquetá and Apaporis river basins as a region with one of the
“highest possibilities and priorities for the conservation of biological diversity.” This region has been also identified
as one of the most resilient areas in Amazonia under numerous possible scenarios of future climate change (Killeen
2007; Killeen and Solórzano 2007). It lies in a biogeographical transition zone, between the Imerí and Napo centers of endemism (Wetterberg et al. 1976; Silva et al. 2005) where many of the existing species in the region originated and then dispersed, and, at a larger scale, between the Amazonian and Guianese biogeographical provinces
(Bennett, 1994).
At present, the forests of this vast region are relatively undisturbed and provide refuge for a number of species threatened elsewhere and throughout a large part of the Amazon. They include such as the Wattled curassow (Crax globulosa),
the Giant armadillo (Priodontes maximus), the Giant otter (Pteronura brasiliensis), the Amazonian manatee (Trichechus
inunguis), the Black caiman (Melanosuchus niger), the Amazon River dolphin (Inia geoffrensis), and Humboldt’s Woolly
monkey (Lagothrix lagothricha) among others. Many fishes that are now threatened and scarce in Colombia are also
present in the region, for example, the Pirarucú (Arapaima gigas) and the catfishes Brachyplatystoma filamentosum and
B. flavicans.
Two national parks have been established on the lower Río Caquetá: Cahuinarí National Natural Park of 575,000 ha,
and Río Puré National Natural Park of 999,880 ha. They protect the basins of the Caquetá’s two main tributaries:
Cahuinarí and Puré, which are connected to lake systems that are breeding sites for numerous fish species and habitats
of other large vertebrates. The island of Mirití, on the river mouth of Caquetá’s tributary also named Mirití, has been
designated an Important Bird Area (IBA) by BirdLife International (2005), as it includes one of Colombia’s four populations of the Wattled curassow (Crax globulosa), known only from some few localities in the western Amazon, and ranked
as Vulnerable on the IUCN Red List of Threatened Species (IUCN 2008). Two more populations have been discovered
in recent years on nearby islands (Alarcón-Nieto and Palacios 2005, 2008).
There are more than 15 indigenous ethnic groups,
mostly from the middle and lower ríos Caquetá, Mirití
and Apaporis. Most prominent among them are the
Yucuna, Miraña, Tanimuca, Matapí and Macuna. This
cultural diversity also includes settlers from a number
of regions of Colombia, all with their own customs and
The indigenous population of the region, numbering almost 1,350, lives in four Indigenous Reserves
(Camaritagua [Tierra de Colores] 8,878 ha, Curare-Los
Ingleses 212,320 ha, Córdoba 39,000 ha, and Comeyafú
19,000 ha) encompassing approximately 280,000 ha.
Settlers live in two zones (Madroño and Villa Marcela) in
Figure 1. The lower Río Caquetá basin in the Colombian Amazon raina forest reserve area of some 70,000 ha. Yuri or “Caraballo,”
forest has been described as a region with one of the “highest possibilities and priorities for the conservation of biological diversity.” It contains
a nomadic indigenous group that has not been contacted
many threatened species, such as this Yellow-footed tortoise (Geochelone
denticulata). Photo © Erwin Palacios.
since the 70s, live in the northwestern zone of the Puré
Indigenous Peoples and Conservation: From Rights to Resource Management
Natural Resource Management
National Natural Park. The Cahuinarí National Natural Park in the middle Río Caquetá overlaps 85% of the territory of
the Miraña. With the establishment of the Puré and Cahuinarí National Natural Parks, 1,575,000 ha have been set aside
for biodiversity conservation, and the indigenous territories surrounding them represent an important opportunity to
strengthen conservation efforts of Colombia.
An Unplanned Strategy
Ten years ago, when Conservation International Colombia (CI–Colombia) first began talking about biodiversity conservation with the local communities around the lower Río Caquetá, we hardly imagined that that would be the main
topic for discussions and the foundation for action to create a combined view and regional strategy to use and preserve
the biodiversity of the lower Río Caquetá. Since then, dialogue has been the most significant aspect of our work with the
communities there, allowing us to understand in what contexts and to what extent traditional and western knowledge
can be integrated to solve diverse challenges for sustainable use and conservation of forest resources. For instance, besides
traditional leaders or “shamans”, the indigenous communities did not have a person in charge of different aspects of the
use and management of natural resources, but as the work developed they saw the need to adopt such a formal figure.
Now each community has natural resources secretaries, who know and understand the particularities of their territory,
Figure 2. Map of the project area. The overlap of two national parks and four indigenous reserves in the lower Río Caquetá region gave CI–Colombia an
opportunity to begin discussions on participatory conservation planning with indigenous groups in the Camaritagua and Curare-Los Ingleses indigenous
reserves and in the two settler zones of Madroño and Villa Marcela. Map © Juan Carlos Rubiano.
Building a Shared Vision with Indigenous People: Biodiversity Conservation in the lower Río Caquetá, Colombia
Natural Resource Management
and interact with their counterparts to discuss and make
decisions on issues pertinent to the region as a whole.
This has given communities and indigenous associations
the means to strengthen initiatives and to more effectively interrelate with government and non-government
entities. We have made every effort to allow the communities and their traditional authorities and leaders to go
at their own pace in discussing their problems. Their full
participation has not only strengthened the initiative but
has also strengthened their role at the local level, providing them with more authority and standing with government authorities, as well as the non-indigenous commuFigure 3. The lower Río Caquetá seen from a hill, Cerro de Yupatí (120 m
nities in the region. It has also resulted in strengthening
above sea level). In 2001, CI–Colombia conducted the first participatory
environmental diagnosis with indigenous communities in the region to
the capacities needed by leaders and communities to
identify what they perceived as environmental problems. They identiachieve their organizational and conservation goals.
fied such issues as access to drinking water, inappropriate exploitation
of certain timber trees and game animals, commercial overfishing, and
we have been able to jointly define, consolidate
pollution of the Rio Caquetá as a consequence of illegal gold mining
upstream. Photo © Erwin Palacios.
and adopt values that work as pillars for the relationship
between these communities and CI–Colombia.
In the early days, there were very few examples we
could follow where conservation initiatives had involved working closely with indigenous people to find the means to
establish the long-term well-being of both the indigenous communities and the forests where they live. We decided to
talk with the communities about their understanding of “environmental problems.” They named the problems they confronted as individuals and groups in their natural environment; they included access to drinking water, inappropriate
(wasteful) exploitation of timber and game, and the pollution of the Caquetá due to illegal mining upstream.
In 2001 we conducted the first participatory diagnosis of the environmental problems that were the concern
of the nine communities in the four reserves of the Association of Traditional Indigenous Authorities of La Pedrera
Amazonas (AIPEA). Besides the problems mentioned above, the communities identified commercial overfishing
and the consequent scarcity of fish for their own subsistence, weak leadership of the communities’ authorities, and
the lack of dialogue with regional environmental authorities. These issues were discussed and ideas were tabled
which could address them. The communities were concerned with the lack of competence of their traditional leaders in finding ways to regulate the use of their natural resources; a cause of continuous conflict within and among
the different communities. The communities understood that the natural resources they depend on were limited
and that some basic management procedures were needed. This realization resulted in the creation of Natural
Ethnic Conservation Areas (Areas Naturales Étnicas de Conservación – ANEC) in two indigenous reserves; zones
designed and managed by the communities specifically for biodiversity conservation. Measures were also identified to train community leaders so that, making full use of the communities’ traditional knowledge, they could
more effectively make and uphold agreements and practices for the wiser and more sustained use of forest resources.
Associated with this, the communities recognized the importance of their traditional knowledge and cultural heritage in resource management, and as such the need to find ways to promote its recovery, consolidation and dissemination for future generations.
Indigenous Peoples and Conservation: From Rights to Resource Management
Natural Resource Management
The Curare-Los Ingleses Amazonas Indigenous Reserve and the Puerto Caimán Natural
Ethnic Conservation Area (ANEC)
In 2003, CRIACIA (Spanish acronym for Consolidation of the Curare Los Ingleses Amazonas Indigenous Reserve)
acknowledged that indigenous reserves in Colombia should not only provide for the well-being of indigenous groups,
their cultures and traditions, but also serve a role in protecting Colombia’s biodiversity and natural ecosystems. CRIACIA
consequently proposed drawing up a strategy for the sustainable use of the reserve’s natural resources based on the traditional knowledge of the communities living there; a strategy which, while guaranteeing the preservation of the cultural
and sacred sites important for them and their neighboring communities, would constitute not just a concrete proposal
for biodiversity conservation but a clear blueprint for their autonomy and self-determination regarding their livelihoods
and way of life. The initial and most important step was to consult the diverse ethnic groups in the reserve. A threeyear process was begun to draw up the Curare-Los Ingleses Management Plan. It was led by an indigenous coordinating
Figure 4. People of the Curare-Los Ingleses Indigenous Reserve developed a management plan based on their traditional values and knowledge. The plan
resulted in the zoning of the Curare-Los Ingleses territory into two areas; one for resource use and one for conservation. Photos: top row © Erwin Palacios.
bottom row © Adriana Rodríguez.
Building a Shared Vision with Indigenous People: Biodiversity Conservation in the lower Río Caquetá, Colombia
Natural Resource Management
committee, and CI–Colombia provided logistical and technical support. Active and organized participation of all the
people in the reserve was essential. A Natural Resource Secretariat was subsequently created to coordinate the activities of the reserve’s Management Plan.
As indigenous people from the Curare-Los Ingleses Reserve say, their Management Plan was conceived “as a way
to plan and develop a project to improve environmental conditions and regulate natural resource use in the territory to
enhance the communities’ way of life.” This allowed them to understand and discuss among each other the meaning of
their plan and how it was related to their aspirations for a secure future; from that moment on, they had to find clear
answers and proposals taking into account their past, present and future lifestyle. The Management Plan was based on
the traditional knowledge of their forests and rivers, held most especially by the elder leaders.
The elaboration of this Management Plan created an opportunity for long and enthusiastic discussions concerning their understanding of the concept of conservation; who and what is involved. For instance, they discussed such
topics as why animals become scarce and how it relates to their traditional beliefs and the modern practices of wildlife management, the relationships between different seasons and the availability of the natural resources they depend
on for such as food and medicines. They also discussed how biodiversity conservation is achieved through the establishment of protected areas, a known, though only vaguely understood territorial concept, despite the fact that they
were hedged in by two natural national parks. One of the main results of the Management Plan was the zoning of the
Curare-Los Ingleses territory into two large areas — one for resource use and the other for strict conservation, each
of approximately of 100,000 ha. The latter was named the Area Natural Etnica de Conservación (ANEC) of Puerto
The creation of the Puerto Caimán ANEC stimulated interesting discussions about the needs, possibilities and
convenience of adopting similar initiatives to preserve culturally and biologically relevant areas along the lower Río
Caquetá. The ANEC of Puerto Caimán is strategic in extending between the Puré and Cahuinarí National Natural
Parks, providing an effective biological corridor and a buffer area for both, enhancing as such its importance for wildlife conservation in a regional and national context and consequently strengthening the communities’ position with
authorities such as the Regional Autonomous Corporation (CAR) Corpoamazonía1 and the National Natural Parks
Unit.2 Given the importance of the ANEC of Puerto Caimán for protecting sacred sites and biodiversity, the former
were mapped and described, and biological surveys were carried out to document the diversities of plants, butterflies,
bats, and birds. These measures strengthened CRIACIA’s community perception of the importance of conserving
their cultural heritage and wildlife.
A strategy for each need; zoning of the "Tierra de Colores" and the search for a territory
to preserve it
Each indigenous territory is different; their histories and the challenges they faced to gain recognition of their territory are distinct. The sizes of each differ, and were not necessarily determined by ancestral occupation, or the particular needs of the indigenous groups involved, but more by expedience and what was possible when other land uses had
been demarcated. The Tierra de Colores Reserve, Camaritagua, at 8,878 ha very much smaller than the Curare-Los
1 The Regional Autonomous Corporations (Corporación Autónoma Regional – CAR) supervise the appropriate use and exploitation of natural resources in the Colombian departments. Website:
2 Unidad Administrativa Especial del Sistema de Parques Nacionales, Ministerio de Ambiente, Vivienda y Desarrollo Territorial, Colombia. Website: <
Indigenous Peoples and Conservation: From Rights to Resource Management
Natural Resource Management
Ingleses Reserve, illustrates this situation well. For many years, the area that is now the Camaritagua Reserve had been
owned by everybody and nobody, and informal and uncontrolled exploitation of the existing natural resources increased
as the population in the nearby town of La Pedrera grew. By the time the reserve was created in 2002, the forest and its
wildlife had already suffered years of depredation, a situation which continued as the Indians continued exploiting their
natural resources heedlessly and without consideration of their traditional practices.
The community of Camaritagua was determined,
however, to remedy this situation, seeing the need to create a strategy to consolidate their territory and rationalize the use of their resources for their long-term conservation. The community dedicated itself to developing such
a plan over three and a half years; as with the CurareLos Ingleses, the entire community participated, using
a framework of their traditional understanding of their
forests and the use of its natural resources.
Despite the small size of their territory — the smallest reserve on the lower Caquetá — the Indians acknowledged the need for zoning and resource management.
Specific zones were delineated for resource use and for
recovery and conservation, and norms were established
for each. The community formed a Management Plan
Committee to coordinate the consolidation of the zones
and to control resource use. Like CRIACIA, the Indians
at Camaritagua took steps to map and protect their special cultural sites. They also initiated a process to request
Figure 5. People working with the delimitation and zoning in the Indigenous Reserve of Camaritagua, the smallest in the lower Caquetá region.
an expansion of their reserve by a further 14,000 ha,
While developing a management plan, this group is asking for an extenwhich would take its border up to the Puré National
sion of 14,000 ha to their reserve to create a conservation area bordering
the Puré National Natural Park. Photo © Erwin Palacios.
Natural Park. This extension, in the process of being
Figure 6. CI–Colombia’s guidance and support in promoting the participatory design of resource management plans in Camaritagua and Curare-Los
Ingleses have formed the basis for similar initiatives of the two communities or “veredas” of Madroño and Villa Marcela in a forest reserve area west of
Camaritagua, which have both indigenous and non-indigenous populations. Photos © Erwin Palacios.
Building a Shared Vision with Indigenous People: Biodiversity Conservation in the lower Río Caquetá, Colombia
Natural Resource Management
legally incorporated as part of the reserve, has been conceived as a conservation zone — an ANEC, similar to Puerto
Caimán in the Curare-Los Ingleses Reserve.
The Colombia Program of Conservation International has conducted parallel processes to help design resource
and land-use management plans for the indigenous and non-indigenous communities (veredas) of Madroño and Villa
Marcela, west of Camaritagua. Although they still do not have any legal rights over the land, they have clearly seen the
value of resource and land management planning, and the communities work with the same commitment as do those
in the indigenous reserves. The need for the establishment and consolidation of a regional strategy for biodiversity use,
management and the conservation of the lower Caquetá, and their responsibility in promoting this, are expected to constitute powerful arguments for the Colombian government in their request to form a settler reserve in the lands where
they live. Following the example of their Camaritagua neighbors, they also defined a conservation area bordering the
Puré National Park; in this way they show that both the indigenous and non-indigenous people of the lower Caquetá
value biodiversity conservation. Their conservation plans are also based on their traditional knowledge combined with
modern tenets of forest ecology and dynamics and the acknowledgement of their present and future needs.
What Has Been Achieved and What Are The Next Steps?
Indigenous and rural communities are increasingly aware of the need for management of their natural resources and
the conservation of the wildlife and ecosystems upon which they depend. The means to achieve both are broadly overlapping; for example, in exerting their constitutional rights to interact with government environmental authorities, in
the planning and implementation of conservation strategies, and in adopting sustainable development models suitable for their needs and appropriate for their traditions. Community initiatives have identified common challenges
and opportunities, and the experiences of the communities in the Curare-Los Ingleses and Camaritagua reserves can
be replicated in other portions of the Caquetá watershed where other
indigenous groups face similar and, in some cases even more challenging situations. The challenges include threats from hunting and commercial fishing, logging, and more recently mining — dealing with
them is aggravated by the fact that the presence of environmental state
authorities is still weak. Community organizations, especially management plan committees that recognize and make use of the important roles of traditional indigenous authorities, are key to establishing
wise and sustainable resource use.
It is essential to continue promoting inter-institutional alliances
in order to strengthen community conservation initiatives and traditional authorities and promote effective governance and management for the ANECs, not least by ensuring the respect of these areas
by local people. It is also necessary to work with the National Parks
Unit for the formal recognition of the ANEC in the national system
of protected areas, considering particularly their ownership, form of
governance, and role in cultural values and biodiversity conservation
and sustainable resource management. Another vital element is education and training for the management plan committee members and
community leaders, which would include regular meetings with other
Figure 7. The new generation. Photo © Erwin Palacios.
Indigenous Peoples and Conservation: From Rights to Resource Management
Natural Resource Management
communities to share experiences, exchange ideas and promote a sense of community and an understanding of the
common purpose in the various initiatives of the lower Caquetá watershed. This last aspect is fundamental to generate a continuous participatory discussion on how to orient and integrate conservation agendas involving communities, other members of civil society and the state, promoting and implementing effective measures, grounded in
the traditional knowledge and cultural practices, for sustainable use alternatives for forest products, fish and wildlife.
Ways to preserve and recover traditional practices with crops and forest products should be identified and supported
to maintain and enrich the livelihoods of the local communities. The combination of these elements will strengthen
the region’s resource management schemes, improve the living standards of its people, and guarantee the conservation of still largely intact expanses of forest; especially critical in a time when climate change poses challenges that will
demand more highly coordinated efforts between local communities and those able to provide support to overcome
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para Colombia en el bajo río Caquetá. Ornitología Colombiana 3: 93–95.
Alarcón-Nieto, G. and Palacios, E. 2008. Estado de la población del pavón moquirrojo (Crax globulosa) en el bajo río
Caquetá, Amazonia Colombiana. Ornitología Neotropical 19: 371–376.
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BirdLife International and Conservation International. 2005. Áreas de Importancia para la Conservación de las Aves en los
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Killeen, T.J. 2007. A Perfect Storm in the Amazon Wilderness: Development and Conservation in the Context of the Initiative
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Killeen, T.J. and Solórzano, L.A. 2007. Conservation strategies to mitigate impacts from climate change in Amazonia.
Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society B 16(24): 1–9.
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Rylands, A.B., Huber, O. and Brown Jr., K.S. 1991. Workshop-90: Biological Priorities for Conservation in Amazonia.
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Washington, DC.
Prance, G.T. 1990. Consensus for conservation. Nature, London 345: 384.
Silva, J.M.C. da, Rylands, A.B., Silva Jr., J.S., Gascon, C. and Fonseca, G.A.B. da. 2005. Primate diversity patterns and
their conservation in Amazonia. In: Phylogeny and Conservation, A. Purvis, J. Gittleman and T.M. Brooks (eds.),
pp. 337–364. Cambridge University Press, Cambridge, UK.
Building a Shared Vision with Indigenous People: Biodiversity Conservation in the lower Río Caquetá, Colombia
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Veríssimo, A., Moreira, A., Sawyer, D., Santos, I. dos, Pinto L.P. and Capobianco, J.P.R. (eds.). 2001. Biodiversidade
na Amazônia Brasileira: Avaliação e Ações Prioritárias para a Conservação, Uso Sustentável e Repartição de Benefícios.
Instituto Socioambiental, Estação Liberdade, São Paulo.
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Indigenous Peoples and Conservation: From Rights to Resource Management
Natural Resource Management
Conservation in Amazonian
Indigenous Territories:
Finding a Common Agenda in the
Wetlands of the Abanico del Pastaza
Aldo Soto, Mariana Montoya and Hernán Flores
Quick Facts
Country: Peru
Geographic Focus: The Abanico del Pastaza, a large
wetland complex in the north Peruvian Amazon.
Indigenous Peoples: The Achuar, Kandozi (or Candoshi),
Quechua, Urarina and Cocama Cocamilla are among the
tribes that inhabit the Abanico del Pastaza.
Author Information
Aldo Soto is a biologist and the Pastaza Project Director. He is also
the Coordinator of the Northwestern Amazon program and the
Hydrocarbon and Infrastructure program for WWF Peru.
E-mail: [email protected]
Mariana Montoya is a biologist. She was the director of the Pastaza
project and the Freshwater Manager of WWF Peru. Mariana is also a
consultant for the project regarding socioeconomic issues.
E-mail: [email protected]
Hernán Flores is a biologist and the Field Coordinator of the Pastaza
project. He has been involved in the project since 2004 working
in Lake Rimachi with Kandozi fisherman, organizing the Yungani
Artisanal Fishing Association and developing the Lake Rimachi
Management Plan. He has also been working with Achuar and
Quechua communities on water quality monitoring.
E-mail: [email protected]
For more than a century now, conservation efforts for wildlands and
biodiversity around the world have focused on the creation of protected areas: national parks, game reserves, wildlife sanctuaries and
refuges, and the like. In numerous cases this has been problematic in
the context of rural or agricultural development when protected areas
restrict the use of resources by the local populations in their vicinity (Ghimire and Pimbert 1997). The local populations are frequently
seen as threats to the integrity of the park, and consequently expelled
from what they consider to be their ancestral territories (Berkes 2007).
In cases where they are not totally excluded, they find themselves limited or even banned from practicing traditional activities such as hunting and fishing — their sustenance and livelihood of their families.
This situation has had serious consequences for many indigenous
peoples; in extreme cases involving armed conflicts with governments,
but inevitably leading to tension — usually the breakdown of their traditional social arrangements and norms, to impoverishment and poor
health, and the partial or total disintegration and loss of their cultural identity. Since the 1990s, this situation has begun to change;
conservation organizations recognized the importance of considering
the needs of indigenous peoples and their value as allies in the preservation of extensive and remote areas where government presence is
lacking. In some cases, indigenous groups have become the best allies
for conservation since they depend on natural resources to meet their
needs and lifestyles and because their territories occupy extremely rich
and biodiverse areas.
The strategy of creating natural protected areas continues to
be central to the work of conservation organizations such as the
World Wildlife Fund (WWF) (see, for example, the Amazon Region
Protected Areas (ARPA) program, hailed as the world’s largest tropical
forest conservation program [WWF 2003]). However, in recent years,
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WWF’s Peru program has been emphasizing the sustainable participatory management of natural resources by the indigenous peoples who depend on them. WWF and indigenous organizations have made agreements to work jointly on biodiversity conservation and poverty alleviation through the management of natural resources, by defending indigenous
rights and by strengthening indigenous organizations. These alliances are forged through a process of constant learning
and negotiation.
Here we report on the conservation activities of WWF’s Peru program in the Abanico del Pastaza — a large region of
the Amazon that stands out for its extraordinary biological and cultural diversity and the richness of its aquatic ecosystems. This area presents a major challenge for conservation, not only for the complexity of its landscapes, but also for the
diversity of the indigenous groups that inhabit the area and the pressures it faces from the petroleum industry, logging,
and overfishing. WWF’s work has focused on the Achuar and Kandozi Peoples, who, through their representative organizations, which they call federations, look to defend their territories against the threats from unsustainable development,
most particularly from oil exploration and commercial fisheries. They are also demanding that the government acknowledge and respect their rights, as stated in the Peruvian Constitution and in Convention 169 on Indigenous and Tribal
Peoples of the International Labor Organization (ILO), ratified by the Peruvian Government on 2 February 1994, and
put into effect in 1995.
A Ramsar Site
The Abanico del Pastaza, with almost 4 million ha, is in the Department of Loreto (the largest in Peru, covering almost
half of the Peruvian Amazon). It is a huge alluvial fan of volcanic sediments that washed down from the Ecuadorian
Andes, extending between the ríos Pastaza and Tigre, north of the Río Marañon in the northern Peruvian Amazon (Fig. 1).
Nationally, it has been rated as a priority site for biodiversity conservation by the Peruvian Government (Rodríguez et al.
1996); regionally, it is considered to be a priority basin for the conservation of the Amazon River and Flooded Forests
Ecoregion by WWF (WWF 2005); and internationally, the Abanico del Pastaza was declared an important Wetland
Complex by the Ramsar Convention1 in 2002, due to the presence of seven of the 20 types of wetland described by
the International Convention (Fig. 1; see Ramsar 2006). It is an extremely diverse aquatic environment, and especially
important for its fish diversity (Willink et al. 2004).
The most important fish stocks are found in Lake Rimachi or Lake Musa Karusha, in the southwest region of the
Abanico del Pastaza in the lower basin of the Río Pastaza (Fig. 2). It has an area of 7,900 ha and is the largest lake in
the Peruvian Amazon. The Rimachi connects 40 smaller lakes through channels fed by the ríos Chuinda, Chapulli and
Pastaza. The mix of the lake’s black waters with the white water (sediment-rich) from the Río Pastaza makes it highly
productive for fish. Species such as the boquichico (Prochilodus nigricans, Prochilodontidae), the tucunaré (Cichla
monoculus, Cichlidae), and gamitana (Colossoma macropomum, Serrasalminae) grow to sizes not seen in other parts of
the Amazon.
1 International convention related to wetlands, signed in Ramsar, Iran, 1971. It is an intergovernmental treaty which provides the framework for national action and international cooperation for the
conservation and wise use of wetlands and their resources (see Ramsar 2006).
Indigenous Peoples and Conservation: From Rights to Resource Management
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Territories and Indigenous Peoples
There are more than 300 communities of indigenous tribes — Achuar, Kandozi (or Candoshi), Quechua, Urarina and
Cocama Cocamilla, among others — in the region, some of them in the Abanico del Pastaza Ramsar Site (Fig. 1). The
configuration of their current territories has been determined by the expansion, reduction and migration that resulted
from wars among the tribes, as well as from external pressures coming from such as rubber barons, loggers and logging
companies and, more recently, interventions from petroleum companies. The presence of settlers or mestizos is minimal;
their populations are mostly located close to the Río Marañon in the lower basin area. This creates a rather isolated space
for the indigenous communities, many of which still maintain their languages and more traditional lifestyles.
The Kandozi
The Kandozi live in the lower Pastaza basin, mainly on the ríos Chapuli and Chuinda, but also, in fewer numbers, along
the ríos Ungurahui, Huitoyacu and Manchari. The 1993 census recorded 1,447 individuals in 18 communities. The sizes
Figure 1. The northern Peruvian Amazon, showing the Ramsar site of the Abanico del Pastaza Wetland (outlined in red), in the Department of Loreto, Peru,
north of the Río Marañon, near the Ecuador border. The territories of the indigenous peoples of the region are also shown. The borders of the Indigenous
territories are referential.
Conservation in Amazonian Indigenous Territories: Finding a Common Agenda in the Wetlands of the Abanico del Pastaza
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of the communities range from 3 to 25 houses (19–223 people). WWF’s latest estimation indicates 2,361 individuals
in 44 communities (WWF 2009).
In the past, the Kandozi lived to the north of their current territory, but in the early 20th century they moved south,
fleeing from epidemics, the advance of western civilization, and constant battles with the Achuar people (Amadio 1985
in WWF-OPP 2002). Lake Rimachi, however, has always been an essential part of their ancestral territory. Families
travel there to fish when the water levels are low. It represents food security for many communities, and the livelihood
of their future generations. It is part of their history, and
a key component of their vision of the world (Surrallés
Since the first western historical data was gathered,
the Kandozi people have had a history of rejecting and
attacking foreigners. Missionaries, merchants and other
explorers have been expelled from the Kandozi territory.
During the rubber boom, for example, the Kandozi
did not allow the rubber barons or their middlemen
to enter their territory; they collected the latex themselves and exchanged it at the borders of their lands for
metal tools. Only since 1950, thanks to the missionary
work of the Summer Institute of Linguistics 2, have the
Figure 2. One of the channels feeding Lake Rimachi in the Peruvian AmaKandozi increased the frequency of their interactions
zon, with typical wetland vegetation. This lake has abundant fish, and is
thus attractive to commercial fishers. It is also part of the traditional terriwith merchants and rubber businessmen (Surrallés
tory of the Kandozi people, and as such has been an important source of
food for them. Photo © Mariana Montoya.
Despite their limited contact with the outside world,
the Kandozi suffered a severe Hepatitis B epidemic at
the end of the 1990s, probably contracted from oil company workers. As a result, a great number of Kandozi are
now carriers and since there was no vaccination program
many of them died. The population is recovering, however, as the Peruvian government, with the support of
UNICEF, has implemented a vaccination program for
newborns that has reduced the mortality rate among the
Kandozi children (UNICEF 2006). Nowadays, however,
the adult infected population receives no treatment, and
many of them are dying. The Kandozi tribe is considered
to be in danger of exinction.
Figure 3. Kandozi Apus (leaders). The Kandozi live on the lower Río
At present, the Kandozi communities are represented
Pastaza, mainly around the ríos Chapuli and Chuinda. Along with their
neighbors, the Achuar, they have rejected contact, infiltration and interby the Federation of Candoshi Native Communities of
ference from outsiders, and have maintained a strong cultural identity.
the Pastaza District (FECONACADIP).
Photo © Michael Tweddle.
2 The Summer Institute of Linguistics (SIL) in Peru is an association of volunteers who, since 1946, have supported ethnic minorities. It is sponsored by the Ministry of Education and promotes literacy,
healthcare and development projects.
Indigenous Peoples and Conservation: From Rights to Resource Management
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The Achuar people
The Achuar territory is located along the middle to upper Pastaza and Corrientes basins, and comprises between
30,000 and 40,000 km². Current population estimates vary from 9,913 to 13,635. The Achuar population is young, the
average age being 17.8 years (MINSA and DGE 2006).
The Achuar, who typically maintain a strong cultural identity, belong to the Jívaro cultural-linguistic group. At
the end of the 15th century, Incas as well as Spaniards tried to conquer the Jívaro populations, organizing expeditions
to contact them and reduce their numbers. Jívaros destroyed these expeditions until new colonist attempts were organized. During the rubber boom in the 19th century, the Achuar fiercely resisted the entry of rubber barons. Only in the
early 1920s were they persuaded by middlemen who settled along the ríos Pastaza and Corrientes to commercialize forest products to sell in Iquitos. In 1941, the war between Peru and Ecuador took place, and military forces separated the
Achuar people at country borders, breaking up family ties.
The Achuar people are represented by three local organizations: Achuarti Iruntramu (ATI) (which means “the Achuar
who are meeting”), the Achuar Chayat Organization (ORACH) and the Federation of Native Communities of the
Corrientes River (FECONACO). Nationally, they are represented by the Federation of the Achuar Nationality of Peru
(FENAP) and by the Bi-national Coordinating Committee of the Achuar Nationality of Ecuador and Peru (COBNAEP).
Social and Environmental Problems
Water pollution
Two of the oldest sites for petroleum extraction in the Peruvian Amazon are in the Abanico del Pastaza. In 1970, the
Peruvian Government divided the Achuar territory of the Pastaza basin into “blocks” to explore and produce oil and, in
1971, signed a contract with the Los Angeles-based Occidental Petroleum Corporation (Oxy). Oxy began their operations in a remote region of the Río Corrientes basin that had long been inhabited by the Achuar people (Goldman et
al. 2007). The site was designated “Block 1AB”. In the
same year, Petróleos del Perú (PETROPERU), a public
company, started its operations in Block 8, located in the
Corrientes area. Large-scale production began in 1975,
making Block 1AB Peru’s largest onshore oil field complex, eventually producing roughly 42% of Peru’s oil and
115,000 barrels of crude oil per day during the project’s
peak (Goldman et al. 2007).
The northern branch of the North Peru Oil Pipeline
(Oleoducto Norperuano) that transports oil from the
Amazon to the Peruvian coast, crosses the Abanico del
Pastaza as well as the territories of the Quechua, Achuar
and Kandozi. Crude oil from Block 1AB is pumped
Figure 4. Pipes discharging the produced water from oil extraction in
across the Andes from Andoas (close to the Ecuadorian
Block 1AB into the Río Pastaza. The produced waters pollute the river
border) to the Bayovar terminal on the coast of north
with chloride and heavy metals. Studies by the Ministry of Health have
registered lead, cadmium and barium concentrations in the blood of
Peru. Since 2000, these blocks have been operated by the
Achuar children and adults from the Río Corrientes that exceed the levels
deemed safe by the World Health Organization. Photo © Aldo Soto.
Argentine oil company Pluspetrol Norte SA.
Conservation in Amazonian Indigenous Territories: Finding a Common Agenda in the Wetlands of the Abanico del Pastaza
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The extraction of crude oil causes environmental
pollution and health hazards by discharging contaminated and poisonous “produced waters” 3 directly into
the streams and rivers, by storing oil wastes in unlined
pits in the ground, and through periodic spills of oil and
toxic products. Produced waters from both blocks have
been discharged into the nearest rivers and streams since
commercial production began (Fig. 4); the pollution
results in water containing high concentrations of salts
(chloride) and traces of toxic heavy metals (Ba, Cd, Cr,
Hg). At high temperatures these pollutants rise to the
surface along with the oil and grease residues that were
Figure 5. Laguna Ullpayacu in Block 1AB, totally degraded. In 2006,
WWF began holding workshops in the territories of the Quechua, Achuar
discharged into the water due to the inadequate separaand Kandozi, in the Pastaza basin, to inform them about the quality of
tion of hydrocarbons. This pollution, besides degrading
water in Blocks 8 and 1AB and to explain the impacts of the appalling
insufficiency of mechanisms or practices on the part of the oil companies
water quality, affects the abiotic and biotic components
to avoid or mitigate the environmental degradation caused by oil drilling,
of the streams and rivers, altering the aquatic commutreatment and transport. Photo © Aldo Soto.
nities, diminishing or destroying the resources available
to the indigenous people who depend on them (Fig. 5).
Studies carried out by the Ministry of Health have registered concentrations of lead, cadmium and barium in the
blood of children and adults of the Achuar people who live along the Río Corrientes that exceed the maximum allowed
limits recommended by the World Health Organization. The samples of 74 children between 2 and 17 years old in six
communities showed that 98.65% exceeded the limit values of cadmium in the blood (<0.1 µg Cd/dL); 37.84 percent
were at risk levels (0.21–0.5 µg Cd/dL), and 59.46% exceeded the biological tolerance limit of cadmium (>0.5 µg Cd/
dL) (DIGESA 2006).
During the 1970s, the Peruvian government declared that the Pastaza basin was an important area for fisheries (Fishery
Reserved Zone), including Lake Rimachi. As a result, an office representing the Ministry of Fishery was opened in the
Musa Karusha community with the aim of controlling and regulating the commercial fishery in the region. However,
some members of the ministry allowed the use of large nets and practices that disregarded fishing regulations or any
notion of sustainability. At the same time, the ministry personnel prevented the Kandozi people from fishing for local
consumption. Fish stocks diminished drastically; for some species irretrievably. In 1991, after repeated claims. the
Kandozi communities, led by their federation, FECONACADIP, took control of the lake and the government facilities
in the area. Soon after, they announced a three-year closed season to enable the recovery of fish stocks (Surrallés 2007).
Some did recover, such as those of the boquichico (Prochilodus nigricans). Yet some overfishing and ill-advised fishing
practices continue, mostly by mestizo fishermen from nearby villages.
3 Drilling fluids (highly toxic chemicals) are pumped into wells to push oil out of the rock. They combine with “formation waters” (salty water that lies below the oil-bearing shale), and come to the
surface with the crude oil. Separation batteries separate out the desirable crude oil and/or gas and the so-called produced waters are discharged, pollutant residues and all, into rivers and streams.
Indigenous Peoples and Conservation: From Rights to Resource Management
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Conservation by Defending the Rights and Territories of Indigenous Peoples
In 2001, World Wildlife Fund (WWF), recognizing the importance of the Abanico del Pastaza, organized an ecological
evaluation of this enormous wetland complex to determine its biological importance (WWF-OPP 2002).4 Based on the
results, the National Institute of Natural Resources (INRENA) and the Peruvian Ministry of Foreign Affairs requested the
Ramsar Convention to declare the Abanico del Pastaza a wetland of international importance. The request was granted in
2002, and WWF took on the challenge of supporting the creation of a number of protected areas to ensure its conservation.
The Achuar and Kandozi disagreed, however, on the creation of protected areas, since it would transfer the land ownership to the goverment. They were determined to take responsibility for the sustainable management of the Abanico,
as they had done for generations, and the model they called for was that of the indigenous territory. Their understanding of the concept of the indigenous territory embodied the idea of a collective heritage, one that would be absolute,
exclusive, and inalienable, and which would be administered autonomously by them in perpetuity. It would legitimize
their modus vivendi, their rights, and their capacity to manage and conserve the rich wildlife and natural resources of the
region (García Hierro and Surrallés 2004).
WWF held a number of meetings with the various indigenous communities and their leaders, and it became evident
that the creation of protected areas was inappropriate; it would generate further conflict between the indigenous people
and the government. The development of an appropriate model for an indigenous territory which would guarantee the
conservation of wildlife and the health of the natural ecosystems involved was more than just simple negotiation; it was
hampered by mutual distrust. WWF and the Kandozi and the Achuar found common ground, however, in each other’s
agendas. The threats to the region’s biodiversity, most especially in the degradation of the aquatic ecosystems, were also
the threats to the livelihoods and health of the Achuar and Kandozi. The undermining of their rights by governmental
and private interests were also the root causes of the environmental damage that the region was suffering.
WWF, therefore, adopted a natural resource management focus, and, as they did with the Achuar, worked with the
Kandozi communities to plan activities to ensure biodiversity conservation based on sustainable and participatory use of
the natural resources so vital to them. WWF helped the Achuar and Kandozi to promote their governance over the territory and its natural resources, facilitating their access to information, and helping them to defend their access to natural
resources. It was notable that this improved the capacity of the indigenous leaders to make informed decisions on sustainable resource management, and to demand better environmental practices from the petroleum companies.
Sustainable fishing
Even though the Kandozi had recovered control of Lake Rimachi, and entry by large-scale commercial fisheries was
restricted, fish stocks were still declining (being fished before spawning when the catch was more valuable). The Kandozi
did not have legal ownership of the lake (title cannot be given to such water bodies), and their challenge was to put in
place norms and practices that would allow the fishery to recover, by means of negotiation rather than imposition or regulation. In 2003, WWF began consulting the communities to look for ways to collaborate in promoting a recovery of
the fish stocks, and to obtain some sort of legal guarantee over the lake with the intention of securing the enforcement
of all measures taken. The Kandozi soon agreed to ban fishing with toxic substances and unregulated nets, and they also
agreed to stop the occasional hunting of aquatic mammals, such as the Amazon manatee (Trichechus inunguis) and the
river dolphins (Inia geoffrensis and Sotalia fluviatilis).
4 The evaluation was conducted by the Conservation Data Center (CDC) of the Universidad Nacional Agraria La Molina, with the participation of the Research Institute of the Peruvian Amazon (Instituto de Investigaciones de la Amazonia Peruana - IIAP) and the Museum of Natural History of the Universidad Nacional Mayor de San Marcos, Lima (CDC-WWF 2002).
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Given the existing threats to the integrity of the natural ecosystems in the region, especially from oil exploration concessions in the Kandozi territory, and the
impossibility of outright ownership of Lake Rimachi,
alternative options were explored that could provide
for some sort of formal or official recognition of the
Kandozi’s rights to their natural resources, and most especially to the fisheries. The decision was made to develop
a management plan for the lake, not only to provide for
a sustainable fishery but also to give exclusive fishing
rights. At the end of 2003, the Kandozi met with the
Regional Office for Production of Loreto (DIREPRO) 5
Figure 6. Kandozi fisherman checking his net in the Cocha Aguajal, Río
Chapuli, a tributary of the Río Pastaza. WWF worked with the Kandozi
in Musa Karusha. It was the first time for some years
to ban fishing that uses toxic substances and unregulated nets, and to
that they had approached the government authority in
refrain from hunting aquatic mammals such as the Amazon manatee
and river dolphins. The Yungani Artisanal Fishing Association was created
charge of fisheries.
in 2004, resulting in the development of a fishery management plan for
From then, WWF took on the role of facilitating the
Lake Rimachi and recognition of the Kandozi’s fishing rights over the lake.
Photo © Aldo Soto.
new relationship between DIREPRO and the Kandozi.
DIREPRO subsequently trained 115 Kandozi fishermen and registered them as artisanal fishers, which resulted, in 2004, in the creation of the Yungani Artisanal Fishing
Association. The Association then facilitated the development of a fisheries management plan for Lake Rimachi which
established the the Kandozi’s fishing rights. The fisheries management plan was adopted, with constant monitoring of
catch sizes and relative abundance, and monitoring committees were created to ensure that the regulations were met.
A commercialization plan was also developed to improve negotiations between fishermen and middlemen or fish buyers
to increase their sales and guarantee fair prices.
Environmental monitoring
In 2006, WWF held a series of workshops in the territories of the Quechua, Achuar and Kandozi to provide information on water quality in the Blocks 8 and 1AB, and to explain the consequences of the low environmental standards of
the petroleum companies working there. The situation in the Río Corrientes was used as an example of social and environmental impacts and bad practices. Formal groups were set up, composed of members of the local communities, to
monitor the oil drilling and exploration, and to check on water quality. Membership involved a serious commitment,
not only because their community’s health would be at stake, but also because they would undoubtedly suffer pressure
from oil companies as well as from the communities themselves concerning their actions and decisions. Monitors were
trained in map reading, the use of Geographic Positioning Systems (GPS) and digital cameras, in the collection of water
samples and in the analysis of the relevant physico-chemical parameters. They were also informed of the environmental
standards to which oil companies must comply according to the current legislation. In this case, the objectives of indigenous peoples and those of WWF were clearly identical — the provision of potable water and healthy aquatic ecosystems.
5 At present, the government institution in charge of fisheries. Formerly the mandate of the Ministry of Fishery.
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Strengthening indigenous organizations and communities
Considering the problems the Achuar and Kandozi were facing, there was an evident need to strengthen capacity of the
communities and leaders, and this was recognized as a high priority by WWF. WWF’s strategy with regard to this was
based on the understanding that it was for the indigenous organizations themselves to formulate and present the communities’ claims to the different relevant sectors: government, private sector and international bodies. WWF’s mediumterm goal was to help the indigenous organizations to become true and powerful representatives of their communities.
The indigenous organizations, with trained leaders and support from the communities well-informed on the environmental problems affecting their lands, would be the driving force to secure the compliance of the environmental regulations, and even improve on them when necessary.
WWF was able to initiate this process with the help of the NGO Racimos de Ungurahui, a partner with considerable experience in indigenous issues throughout the Peruvian Amazon. Alliances with local NGOs such as Racimos de
Ungurahui changed WWF’s approach concerning conservation measures in indigenous territories. The organizational
strengthening of the indigenous federations was achieved though a working group of their leaders supported by external
advisors who could assist them in confronting the different issues and formulating the strategies to deal with them. The
committed assistance from NGOs and other specialists were key components in, for example, their meetings with government institutions, negotiations with businesses, their budgeting and accounting, the control and supervision of the
working group’s members, and administrative procedures.
The strengthening of indigenous organizations allowed their participation in different forums at the regional, national
and international levels. The training of leaders and technicians allowed them to participate in different arenas, and
establish meetings with ministers, congressmen, government organs, directors, company managers and other public and
private officials. Of considerable significance on a number of occasions was the participation of the community leaders,
named “Apus”, who bear the symbolic weight of an entire village. They took part in national and international press conferences, and their contributions strengthened the trust and commitment of the federation leadership and technicians.
Current Activities
The various initiatives of WWF and local NGOs such as Racimos de Ungurahui mean that the Achuar and Kandozi are
now much better informed of their rights, and understand better the threats they face and the possibilities and means of
addressing them. Strengthening the federations has increased their capacity for dialogue and participation when claiming their rights, and has given them an understanding of the environmental problems they face, and how to solve them.
It has given them the wherewithal to demand improvements in the petroleum companies’ performance in meeting
the environmental standards required by law. With the support of FECONACO and the Racimos de Ungurahui, the
Achuar, Quechua and Urarinas of the Río Corrientes communities are now well informed of their rights, and understand
environmental quality. With a stronger and more informed leadership, FECONACO has been able to set up meetings
with ministers, congressmen, health authorities and the national and international media.
With the support of the communities, and armed with solid arguments based on both independent and government
technical studies, in October 2006 FECONACO was able to implement an agreement with the Pluspetrol Oil Company
and the Peruvian government. The so-called “Acta de Dorissa” (RM 381-2006-PCM) demanded that Pluspetrol reinject 100% of its produced waters from Blocks 8 and 1AB as from the middle of 2008: a victory for the health of the
Achuar people and the streams, rivers and fluvial lakes of the region. FECONACO also arranged for the development
and implementation of a 10-year health plan (PEPISCO) by the Regional Health Office of Loreto (DIRESA), to be
financed entirely by Pluspetrol. It has approved a development plan, to be financed by the Regional Government of
Conservation in Amazonian Indigenous Territories: Finding a Common Agenda in the Wetlands of the Abanico del Pastaza
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Loreto, which will benefit the communities of the Río Corrientes and includes the creation of higher education colleges.
This historic milestone resulted in FECONACO being given the CAMBIE award in 2007; the most prestigious award
for environmental conservation in Peru. FECONACO is the first indigenous organization to win an environmental
award of this sort.
The Fisheries Management Program for Lake Rimachi was approved in April 2007. It is the first management plan
presented by an indigenous organization, and the first that is not for a state protected area. Through this mechanism, the
government empowered the Kandozi fishermen, represented by the Yungani Artisanal Fishing Association, to protect
and manage the fisheries of the lake for four species of commercially important fish: boquichico, tucunaré, gamitana and
maparate (Hypopthalmus edentatus, Pimelodidae). In this way, the Kandozi not only continue controlling the lake, but
do so with the legal acknowledgement of those who previously prevented them from fishing. Also, the management plan
ensures sustainability of the lake’s fishery, thus promising economic benefits for the communities.
The relationship between the conservation NGOs and the indigenous organizations began with mistrust and mutual
misunderstanding. The Indigenous peoples were suspicious of outsiders with presumed hidden agendas, who could violate their rights and take their territories. And even though WWF wanted to work with the indigenous communities,
the demands of the projects, the financial constraints, and the administrative requirements made it difficult to work as
a team. Gradually, formal and informal conversations, the planning and development of joint activities, and discussions
about critical issues, generated confidence and a trust that set the basis for understanding and mutual respect. The critical
elements for the good understanding between WWF and indigenous organizations have been WWF’s competence and
flexibility with its projects and funding, and its willingness to modify some of its administrative procedures.
The will of both parties to negotiate was also a very important factor in building up the relationship. The achievements show that biodiversity conservation can generate social benefits directly related to the well-being of indigenous
people. They also show that there are common issues on both agendas that lend themselves to synergy and working
together to reach common goals. New global threats require mutual support and effective coordination.
In the Amazon, the Peru program office works through an agreement that is reviewed periodically with national and
regional governments, indigenous organizations and communities. WWF has developed a declaration of principles that
acknowledges the contributions of indigenous peoples in ecosystem conservation. They are seen as strategic allies, and
the office is committed to acknowledging, respecting, protecting and following traditional and collective human rights.
The alliance between WWF and indigenous organizations has facilitated their capacity to have more influence in different hierarchical levels of both the government and private sectors. For many years, the Peruvian government showed
indifference to the environmental degradation of the ríos Corrientes, Pastaza, and Tigre. No efforts were made to control
the activities of the petroleum companies or demand that they follow the minimum social or environmental standards
required of them, allowing instead operations with obsolete infrastructure and practices banned in most other countries,
resulting in their irresponsible procedure of dumping produced waters into the nearest rivers and streams, besides frequent oil spills. The monitoring of the petroleum companies’ operations by competent indigenous organizations with an
understanding of the corresponding legal framework drew the government’s attention to the situation, and the need for
its own agencies to assume responsibility.
Providing information, training indigenous leaders and strengthening indigenous organizations created changes
thought to be impossible some years ago. The commitment of the new leaders who refused to accept individual benefits offered by the oil companies, the constant meetings and the willingness of the community chiefs (Apus) and the
Indigenous Peoples and Conservation: From Rights to Resource Management
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communities to analyze, discuss and make joint decisions, and the assistance of legal advisors like Racimos de Ungurahui,
allowed indigenous federations to negotiate with oil companies at their level, without compromise, and looking to benefit only their people. It has been important that WWF has limited its role as a facilitator, not undertaking actions that
should be legally executed by the indigenous organizations themselves. This has significantly strengthened the organizations, and has also resulted in a greater commitment by the government to the well-being of these indigenous peoples
and to the environment where they live.
There are still many challenges, not least that of ensuring that the fishery remains sustainable once WWF leaves the
area, and that it continues to generate economic, social and cultural benefits for the Kandozi. The re-injection rather
than the dumping of produced water must be enforced in other regions of the Abanico del Pastaza, in the basins of the
ríos Tigre and Pastaza, and the roles of community groups that monitor water quality and the activities of the oil companies must be given official acknowledgment by the government.
Finally, one of the main challenges is for conservation organizations and indigenous groups to continue finding objectives and agendas to consolidate alliances that benefit both biodiversity and communities. Both institutions must continue to learn how to work together, negotiating their differences, respecting technical-scientific
and traditional knowledge, and showing the world that nature conservation ensures the survival and development
of humankind.
The work described in this article was made possible thanks to the financial support of the John D. and Catherine T.
MacArthur Foundation, the Netherlands Directorate-General of Development Cooperation (DGIS), the US Agency
for International Development (USAID), the Department for International Development (DFID) of the UK government, the Swiss Agency for Development and Cooperation (SDC), and WWF Switzerland. Technical studies were
enabled through the Global Water for Sustainability Program (GLOWS), the Wildlife Conservation Society (WCS),
FundAmazonia, and E-Tech International. Many activities were implemented jointly with Racimos de Ungurahui,
Shinai, the Regional Coordinator of Indigenous Peoples (CORPI), and FECONACO. Special thanks to the Kandozi,
Achuar and Quechua communities, FECONACADIP, FECONACO, the Federation of Quechua Indigenous People of
the Pastaza (FEDIQUEP), DIREPRO Loreto, and the WWF-Peru Program Office.
Literature Cited
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104(39): 15188–15193.
García Hierro, P. and Surrallés, A. 2004. Introducción. In: Tierra Adentro: Territorio Indígena y Percepción del
Entorno, A. Surrallés and P. García Hierro (eds.), pp.1–20. Documento No. 39, International Work Group for
Indigenous Affairs (IWGIA), Copenhagen. Website: <
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General de Salud Ambiental (DIGESA), Ministerio de Salud. Lima.
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Ghimire, K.B. and Pimbert, M.P. 1997. Social change and conservation: an overview of issues and concepts. In: Social
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M.P. Pimbert (eds.), pp.1–45. Earthscan Publications, London.
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in the Peruvian Amazon. EarthRights International (ERI), Washington, DC, Racimos de Ungurahui, Lima, and
Amazon Watch, Washington, DC. 60pp. Website: <
Harm_-_pages.pdf>. Accessed: 10 March 2009.
MINSA and DGE. 2006. Análisis de la Situación de Salud del Pueblo Achuar. Serie Análisis de Situación de Salud y
Tendencias Nº06/018. Ministerio de Salud, Dirección General de Epidemiología, Lima. 308pp.
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Website: <>. Accessed: 10 May 2009.
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Lima. 191pp.
Surrallés, A. 2007. Candoshi. In: Guia Etnografica de la Alta Amazonia, F. Santos and F. Barclay (eds.), pp.243–280.
Smithsonian Tropical Research Institute (STRI), Panama, and Instituto Francés de Estudios Andinos (IFEA), Lima.
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of the Pastaza River Basin, Ecuador and Perú. RAP Bulletin of Biological Assessment 33. Conservation International,
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Abanico de Pastaza (OPP) – Loreto, Lima, Peru. 71pp.
Indigenous Peoples and Conservation: From Rights to Resource Management
Natural Resource Management
Ohtahkeem (Pikangikum
Cultural Landscape):
Challenging the Traditional
Concept of Cultural Landscape
from an Aboriginal Perspective
Iain Davidson-Hunt, Paddy Peters and Catie Burlando
Quick Facts
Country: Canada
Geographic Focus: Canadian boreal forest in northwestern
Indigenous Peoples: Pikangikum First Nation is a remote
Anishinaabe (northern Ojibway) community with a population of more than 2,200. They speak almost 100% Pikangikum Anishinaabe.
Author Information
Iain Davidson-Hunt is an assistant professor at the Natural
Resources Institute, University of Manitoba and affiliated with the
Centre for Community-based Resource Management. He is an ethnobotanist and ethnoecologist who has worked with Pikangikum First
Nation since 1995.
E-mail: [email protected]
Paddy Peters is the land use coordinator for the Whitefeather Forest
Management Corporation. He has worked for many years with students and Elders to document Anishinaabe teachings, and to bring
Elders and community youth together. He has also served in many
capacities within the community, including as Chief and council
E-mail: bi[email protected]
Catie Burlando is a doctoral candidate in Natural Resources and
Environmental Management at the Natural Resources Institute,
University of Manitoba, and affiliated with the Centre for Communitybased Resource Management. She undertook fieldwork for her PhD
in partnership with the Whitefeather Forest Management Corporation
and Pikangikum First Nation between 2007 and 2009.
E-mail: [email protected]
In 1996, the Elders of Pikangikum First Nation (PFN) in northwestern Ontario, Canada, used the concept of a “cultural landscape”
to develop the Whitefeather Forest Initiative (WFI). This initiative
explored land-based opportunities for economic renewal among the
Pikangikum Anishinaabeg in partnership with the Ontario Ministry
of Natural Resources (OMNR). Key principles of the WFI have been
for the community to be “in the driver’s seat” as they pursue economic
and cultural renewal, and for the Whitefeather Forest to be planned
and managed as a whole, and as a cultural landscape.
The concept of cultural landscapes has been used to indicate ways
in which landscapes are fashioned over time through social, cultural
and ecological interactions. It has been increasingly used by provincial
(Ontario Ministry of Culture 2007), national (Parks Canada 2007)
and international agencies (UNESCO World Heritage Centre 2003)
interested in conserving both natural and cultural diversity. More
pointedly, many First Nations in Canada have used it as a counternarrative to descriptions of their traditional territories as a wilderness,
or a terra nullius, that were promoted during the period of colonization. For Pikangikum Elders, their traditional territories are a place
richly peopled and storied and known intimately by the Anishinaabeg.
Our objective in this chapter is to communicate what the Pikangikum
Elders express when they use the term cultural landscape and the
challenges inherent in adopting a term that now has firm roots in
heritage policies and legislation. We conclude by suggesting that the
cultural landscape of a State will often subsume Aboriginal Cultural
Landscapes unless shared decision-making platforms have been established in which Aboriginal Peoples define their own approaches to heritage and conservation.
Natural Resource Management
Pikangikum First Nation and the Whitefeather Forest
Pikangikum First Nation1 is a remote Anishinaabe community located in northwestern Ontario in the heart of
the Canadian boreal forest (Fig. 1). In this region, the
boreal forest comprises coniferous, deciduous and mixed
stands of trees structured as large patches due to the
fire driven nature of the ecosystem. The forest is interspersed with numerous lakes, rivers and wetlands, and
the topography is a gently rolling landscape defined by
the Precambrian Shield. It is also notable for its sub-arctic climate that is dry and cold with mean annual temperatures around 0°C and annual precipitation ranging
from 600 to 800 mm.
The Whitefeather Forest has abundant populations
of terrestrial and aquatic mammals: Woodland caribou
(Rangifer tarandus caribou), Moose (Alces alces), Black
Figure 1. Location of Pikangikum First Nation and the Whitefeather
bears (Ursus americanus), Wolverine (Gulo gulo), Wolves
Forest. Pikangikum First Nation is working with the Ontario Ministry of
Natural Resources to develop new land-based economic opportunities
(Canis lupus), Otter (Lontra canadensis), Beaver (Castor
in the Whitefeather Forest, which they refer to as a Pikangikum Cultural
Landscape. They challenge the traditional notion of a cultural landscape
canadensis), and Marten (Martes americana); birds such
as a type of heritage, however, and stress the need for shared decisionas hawks, eagles and migratory songbirds; fish, such
making, including developing their own approach for identifying, documenting, describing, and interpreting their cultural landscape, so that
as Sturgeon (Acipenser fulvescens), Pickerel (Sander vitit remains a viable source of livelihood for future generations. Map ©
reus), Northern pike (Esox lucius), Trout (Salvelinus
Whitefeather Forest Management Corporation.
namaycush), Sucker (Catostomus commersonii) and
Whitefish (Coregonus clupeaformis); and plants, such as
Wild rice (Zizania aquatica), and berries. Others mammals such as Yellow-tear caribou and pahngwahshahshk, along
with a bird called the Oh-Oh, are mentioned in teachings but no longer found in the area. As the Elders consistently
emphasize, the Creator has provided everything that Pikangikum people need to survive and prosper on their lands
through commercial and subsistence harvesting. There is, then, a sense of reciprocity between Pikangikum people and
the Whitefeather Forest in which their ideas of a cultural landscape are rooted.
The Whitefeather Forest Initiative
Today many of the economic opportunities that supported a livelihood that was based on the land have greatly diminished due to a steep decline in the commercialization of furs and fish in the 1970s and ‘80s. In this changing social and
economic context, the Elders in the community are seeking ways in which their youth can continue to derive sustainable land-based livelihoods, while at the same time maintaining the integrity of their cultural relationship with the land.
In 1996, having witnessed the northern expansion of forestry into part of their lands, the Elders began a dialogue
with the OMNR to develop new economic opportunities for their youth, including forestry, mining, tourism and
1 Anishinaabe is an oral language and as such has no standard orthography. In Pikangikum, syllabics are generally used for written texts. In this document we use italics to indicate how the syllabics
are translated into Roman orthography by the translator for direct translations of research interviews. When italics are not used this indicates that we are using the double vowel system developed
by the Anishinaabe linguist Patricia Ningewance (2004), and others, based on Roman orthography. For example, Ahneesheenahbay is a transliteration from syllabics to Roman orthography whereas
Anishinaabe is in the double vowel system.
Indigenous Peoples and Conservation: From Rights to Resource Management
Natural Resource Management
protected areas, which would be led by Pikangikum people. The Whitefeather Forest Management Corporation was
established in 1998 under the Elders’ guidance to develop these opportunities, encompassing an area of 1.2 million ha
of their traditional territories.
In 2000, the government of Ontario launched the Northern Boreal Initiative, a policy that supported land use
planning among Aboriginal communities in areas north of the 51st parallel (OMNR 2001). Between 2003 and 2006,
Pikangikum Elders, land stewards, and OMNR staff worked to develop the “Cheekahnahwaydahmungk Keetahkeemeenaan
- Keeping the Land: A Land Use Strategy for the Whitefeather Forest and Adjacent Areas” (PFN and OMNR 2006). This
strategy is based on three pillars — stewardship, customary activities, and economic development — and identifies the
areas where different opportunities will be developed. The Land Use Strategy was signed by the Chief of Pikangikum and
the Ontario Minister of Natural Resources in June of 2006, and represents the new land-use policy for the Whitefeather
Forest, recognized in this document as a cultural landscape of the Pikangikum Anishinaabeg.
Beekahncheekahmeeng Ahneesheenahbay Ohtahkeem (Pikangikum Cultural Landscape)
A Pikangikum definition of cultural landscape
Although the term Beekahncheekahmeeng Ahneesheenahbay Ohtahkeem has been translated as the “Pikangikum Cultural
Landscape” in the Land Use Strategy document, it is important to consider what the Pikangikum Elders were expressing
with these Ojibway words. Beekahncheekahmeeng (Pikangikum) is the collective identity of a People or, as the Assembly
of First Nations indicates, a First Nation recognized through the signing of a Treaty with the Crown.2 Each person within
Pikangikum society also has an identity as a member of a family group that confers upon them a doohdahm, a totem or
clan identity, and a link with a family territory.
Pikangikum is more than just a place. It is a Nation made up of family heads that settled at Pikangikum Lake. Its
traditional territory is the collective territory of those families. As a member of this Nation, a person holds both rights
and responsibilities regarding their use of the land.
Ahneesheenahbay communicates the concept that the Pikangikum Nation is part of a larger society that shares a system of natural law, doohdahm, values, language and practices. While this cultural and social system is often a mystery to
outsiders, it is familiar to those who identify themselves as part of that society.
Ohtahkeem is translated as ancestral lands, making it clear that the territory in question is not arbitrarily chosen, but
is based upon the family territories where current family heads can trace their lineage, and the way by which authority
over those lands was conferred upon them by leaders of other families. Pikangikum Elders were trying to communicate
that, for them, the Pikangikum Cultural Landscape is not a thing, nor a collection of things, but a process that is rooted
in, and emerges out of, their Anishinaabe system of customs, values, language and practices (Box 1).
By following the Anishinaabe system, Pikangikum people live on the lands for which they have been conferred
authority by the Creator, and that have been recognized by other Anishinaabe. Practices on the land are the direct means
by which a uniquely Pikangikum cultural landscape has been, and will continue to be, shaped because these practices are
guided by the teachings of the Elders.
2 Historical and modern treaties are formal agreements between the Crown as representative of the Canadian State and First Nations. While the Crown has often taken treaties as the process by
which authority is transferred to the State, First Nations consider them documents that indicate how the land and resources are to be shared. This understanding continues to evolve through negotiations and legal processes. Pikangikum is included in Treaty 5 signed in 1875.
Beekahncheekahmeeng Ahneesheenahbay Ohtahkeem (Pikangikum Cultural Landscape)
Natural Resource Management
Cultural landscapes as teachings
Box 1.
The idea of the land as a gift from the
Creator confers upon Pikangikum
“The Whitefeather Forest Planning Area is a holistic network of natural and
people the reciprocal duty to keep
cultural features that results from the relationship between Pikangikum peothe land according to their ancestral
ple and our ancestral lands (Ahneesheenahbay ohtahkeem). This relationship
teachings. It is for this reason that
(kahsheemeenoweecheetahnahnk) expresses a closeness that comes from our
Pikangikum Elders have stressed the
knowledge of the land, but also from a spiritual and emotional connection
need to manage the Whitefeather
to the land.
We refer to our ancestral lands as Ahneesheenahbay ohtahkeem with the
Forest as a whole. To keep the land
that the landscape has been physically modified and given culmeans to pass on the teachings from
tural meaning by Beekahncheekahmeeng paymahteeseewahch. Pikangikum
the Elders to their youth regardpeople have cleared and maintained waterway channels and portages, planted
ing how an Anishinaabe person
mahnohmin (“wild rice”) throughout our traditional lands, and have used
indigenous pyrotechnology to enhance the abundance of waterway and wetshould behave in relation to the land,
land vegetation that supports ducks and muskrats.
whether hunting a moose or planning
Pikangikum people have also been formed by this land. Elder Whitehead
for forestry.
Moose has put it this way: ‘Everything that you see in me, it is the land that
Teachings are like sign posts that
has moulded me. The fish have moulded me. The animals and everything
guide a person as they undertake
that I have eaten from the land has moulded me, it has shaped me. I believe
every Aboriginal person has been moulded in this way.’
practices on the land. In fact, many
Our Ahneesheenahbay ohtahkeem is not merely a landscape modified by
teachings can only be taught in carryhuman activity but a way of relating to the land, a way of being (on the land).”
ing out a practice under the tutelage
(PFN and OMNR 2006; p.24)
of an Elder. While it is good to hear a
teaching, at some point the teaching
must be embodied through action on
the land. This is why hunting and forestry are both seen as contemporary means by which an individual may remain active on the land. Both make teachings
relevant to people’s contemporary livelihoods and maintain the Creator’s gift as expressed through the reciprocal relationship between the land and the survival of Pikangikum people.
Through the Whitefeather Forest Initiative, the Elders are working to revalidate this gift for the youth and refashion the cultural landscape for the future. By following the Anishinaabe system of keeping the land, the outcome will be
Cheemeenootootauhkooyaun, which can be understood as, “we know it will do us good, and be beneficial in every way […]
it is the right path to keeping the land.” (Elder George B. Strang 2006, trans. P. Peters).
Elder Oliver Hill discusses how objects and sites can hold the memories of a cultural landscape, and through these
tangibles, remind people of the teachings that should guide their actions towards the land. Aakeechee’eenaycheekuhdahg,
the term he uses, means that people recognize the importance of a place (Box 2).
The Elders have also suggested that it is equally important that people beyond the community hear and respect their
teaching. As Pikangikum people are not the only people who now fashion the cultural landscape, it is important for others to respect the teachings that guide Pikangikum people, as well as recognize the objects and sites that hold the memories of such teachings in place. Geemoshgenatagwuk is a term for this process. Elder Oliver Hill presents a story that
describes his understanding of how such a process will occur (Box 3).
Indigenous Peoples and Conservation: From Rights to Resource Management
Natural Resource Management
Box 2. Aakeechee’eenaycheekuhdahg
Aakeechee’eenaycheekuhdahg, that is the term that Elder Oliver Hill uses,
means that the people recognize just how important a place is, that it has significance to people, since there will be a place there that they make an offering. He gives three examples: “East of the community there is a set of rapids,
the first rapids are called manitoopawitig. I remember traveling with an Elder
one time. When they got near the rapids, down below the rapids, the Elder
took some tobacco and put it in the water, acknowledging that place, and asking for a safe passage too. Another practice is when you were eating a food, in
order to acknowledge the animal, to acknowledge the portion you are eating,
acknowledge you are giving your thanks, you would throw some of the meat,
some of that food, into the fire. The other example is acknowledging a certain
object, such as the Grandfather rock. A Grandfather is often in view along a
water route and every time people would pass it they would have to offer a
gift. These teachings that people want to practice, these traditional processes,
they have to follow the way it was done”.
(Interview of Elder Oliver Hill by I. Davidson-Hunt and P. Peters in 2006. Translation by P. Peters)
Box 3. Geemoshgenatagwuk
This term that Elder Oliver Hill uses geemoshgenatagwuk means that people
are willing to hear, people are willing to listen. This is the story he wanted
to tell: “You know that they have outpost camps in Pikangikum? This one
summer there was this party that came there so I would go over and spend
time with them. We would sit around the campfire. I guess their leader there
wanted his group to sit around the fire with me. So I would tell them certain things or stories in my broken English but I guess I got through to them.
One time the leader would tell his group, ‘I don’t want anyone joking around,
I don’t want anyone laughing, I want you to pay attention to Oliver.’ One
time I went over in the morning, and it was raining, eh, mists, it was cloudy,
and I saw the leader before they went out on the lake. I asked, ‘does anyone
have a pipe here so I can offer my smoke so the weather clears up?’ So right
away he went to get a pipe put some tobacco in there and lit up my pipe. So
I held up my pipe to the four directions, north, east, south and west, and
after I smoked the pipe I told them it was going to clear up later. So I went
back over the lake. I remember it was before lunch when it became clear, the
clouds blew away and the rain stopped. You could hear them across the lake,
they were happy that the weather cleared up. I guess that experience that
happened there got around because John went to another camp and told
the story there about how Oliver had smoked a pipe for the weather to clear.
Another person went to another camp and told that story there too, so that is
how it spreads, people spread the word to other areas.”
(Interview of Elder Oliver Hill by I. Davidson-Hunt and P. Peters in 2006.
Translation by P. Peters)
Beekahncheekahmeeng Ahneesheenahbay Ohtahkeem (Pikangikum Cultural Landscape)
Cultural landscapes as the practice
of authority
State agencies have often claimed cultural landscapes as the patrimony of
the Nation, and stepped in to conserve them through policies and legislation, as if the objects and sites were
detached from the lifestyles of its
inhabitants. However, in the case of
Pikangikum, the continuity between
the teachings that guide practices in
the cultural landscape and the objects
and sites that bring forth the memories of the teachings is still intact. The
Pikangikum cultural landscape is not
just a collection of objects and sites to
be conserved in situ, but a way of life
that continues to shape a place. This
implies that an integral part of defining cultural landscapes rests in the
ability to make decisions regarding
the landscape.
In the Land Use Strategy, it was
important for the Elders that the
OMNR recognize the Anishinaabe
system in which authority is spatially
distributed and recognized by other
Anishinaabe. At the same time, they
saw the signing of the Treaty as a recognition that the OMNR and the
Pikangikum could work together to
achieve a purpose, each following their
own system. For them, maintaining
the cultural landscape required being
part of the contemporary institutions
that would be developed for shared
decision-making about the management of the Whitefeather Forest, and
about how and who will tell the story
of the objects and sites that hold the
memories of their cultural landscape.
International, national and provincial
Natural Resource Management
Figure 2. Elder George B. Strong teaching Pikangikum students about
Woodland caribou winter habitat and food sources. In developing a management plan for their cultural landscape, Pikangikum Elders stressed the
importance of having authority to live on the land according to their traditional ways, rather than as a museum not to be touched. Their management is based on knowledge and a profound respect for, and relationship
with, the land that supports them. Photo © I. Davidson-Hunt.
policies and legislation that use the concept of cultural
landscapes often do not clearly define the roles and
responsibilities of Aboriginal people for defining, identifying and keeping the cultural landscape. When the
Elders requested to remain “in the driver’s seat” of any
decision concerning their traditional territory, they were
stressing that their cultural landscape could not be kept
unless its people had the authority to maintain it.
As Pikangikum Elders were defining the Land Use
Strategy, they had trouble with the idea of authority:
OMNR did not like the word and wanted it removed
from the Strategy. For the Pikangikum Anishinaabeg,
authority goes with responsibility. The oohkeemuhwehch is the person in charge of a certain delegated area,
like a trapline or family area. That person is head of the
area, and carries with him, or her, authority on spiritual matters. That person also decides how to do things,
when to go, when to leave, where to camp, and to which
areas helpers should go. When you are walking, the
oohkeemuhwehch always leads, gives advice and teaches.
Before you have responsibility, you need authority, and
only then you can make decisions.
Challenges and Threats
Figure 3. Donna and her daughter Ronna Pascal taking fish from the
net before ice break-up in early April. Donna is teaching her about appropriate behavior of women when winter fishing with nets. Photo
© N. Deutsch.
The concept of cultural landscape may be one of the few
that brings together social, cultural and ecological processes into one management framework. It provides an
alternative way to think about the mutuality between a
society and the landscape it inhabits. It also allows for the
recognition that such places are not a wilderness devoid
of humans and human institutions, but landscapes that
have emerged through the practices and institutions of a
people in a place. However, the concept does not come
without its challenges.
One of the biggest challenges is for States to recognize that Aboriginal Cultural Landscapes are part of the
present as well as the past. The concept of cultural landscapes has been linked to the idea of heritage — a collection of objects and sites scattered about the land — as
opposed to a way of life that fashions the land to this
day. This challenge leads to a greater threat. When an
Indigenous Peoples and Conservation: From Rights to Resource Management
Natural Resource Management
Aboriginal Cultural Landscape is reduced to heritage,
the very existence of these objects and sites can easily lead to the imposition of laws to control them. As
experts begin to define and interpret its material objects
and sites, the cultural landscape becomes part of the
State. This is a process with which Pikangikum people
are well acquainted. The Elders still talk about the time
they were assigned to a reservation and even though they
lived there, there were areas where they could not go, nor
decide what tree to cut.
At the same time, when a cultural landscape becomes
framed as heritage, it may be treated as “frozen” in time.
The management plans become focused on maintaining
objects and sites rather than enabling the teachings and
practices to continue fashioning the landscape. Instead,
as Elder Oliver Hill suggests, there is a process by which
objects and sites can lead to the emergence of new knowledge that is important for the survival of Pikangikum
people (Box 4). Retaining and creating knowledge is
tied to the ability to continue carrying out practices on
the land guided by Anishinaabe teachings. However, if
the cultural landscape becomes something written down
and put aside for people to visit, it may become irrelevant to the contemporary Pikangikum ways of life.
While most people see changing land uses as a
threat, the Elders point out that the main threat to the
Pikangikum Cultural Landscape would be for the land
to become detached from the survival of Pikangikum
people. One of their biggest challenges will be to create
contemporary land uses that retain the relevancy of the
land to Pikangikum youth, and then to ensure that such
land uses are undertaken following Anishinaabe teachings, whether they be commercial forestry or protected
areas. It is important to find land-based commercial ventures that ensure that the youth can derive a livelihood
from the land, allowing them to stay in Pikangikum
rather than migrating to urban centers.
In order to carry out their Land Use Strategy according to Anishinaabe teachings, the Elders have stressed
the importance of a teaching center in which youth will
learn to integrate Anishinaabe teachings with the new
knowledge needed for new land uses. As Elder Lucy
Box 4. Kakeekayduhmuhwach
So another term that Elder Oliver Hill uses is kakeekayduhmuhwach, which means “speaking of people that have
knowledge.” Keekayduhmuhwach, or knowledgeable. He
asked the question: “where did the MNR get their knowledge to make parks?” He asked this because he knows
where our people got their knowledge, keeminawach. Our
people had a process, go on a dreamquest, to obtained certain knowledge. He says that youth were asked to go into
the wilderness alone and spend long periods of time on
their dreamquest if they want to obtain knowledge about
a certain issue. He asks, “How would people today accept
those kinds of teachings?” That is why we are very careful about speaking about these kinds of teachings publicly,
some people would not take them seriously, they would
think they are silly or some kind of joke.
(Interview of Elder Oliver Hill by I. Davidson-Hunt
and P. Peters in 2006. Translation by P. Peters)
Figure 4. Trapper Larry Pascal taking fish from the net with his daughter
Ravendia and son-in-law McKendrie, while his grandson Revus watches.
Larry is the head trapper, the person who is responsible and holds authority for his trapline in Keeper Lake. He is showing the areas in which
he and his family set the net in different seasons. These areas are part
of the Pikangikum cultural landscape through use and stories. Photo
© C. Burlando.
Beekahncheekahmeeng Ahneesheenahbay Ohtahkeem (Pikangikum Cultural Landscape)
Natural Resource Management
Strang said, “I want to emphasize the teachings that our parents have
taught us. This is a continuing knowledge passed down from one
generation to the next. We are Elders now and continue to teach.
This is what ‘keeping the land’ is all about. This is why we want to
build the teaching center, “to continue teaching our youth at the center” (PFN and OMNR 2006, p.11). While the State often focuses on
creating heritage centres to house artifacts and interpret the cultural
landscape, Pikangikum Elders are consistent with their understanding of an Aboriginal Cultural Landscape when they stress the need
for a teaching centre.
Figure 5. The late Jake Kejick on Nungessor Lake, Ontario. Jake is teaching about the links between ecological
disturbances (fire, blowdowns), trapping and hunting. As
part of declaring the Whitefeather Forest a cultural landscape, Pikangikum Elders insist on establishing a teaching
center for their youth. Photo © I. Davidson-Hunt.
Current Status and Next Steps
After completing their Land Use Strategy in 2006, Pikangikum First Nation received Environmental Assessment Act coverage for the Whitefeather Forest in June 2009, and are now in the process of preparing a forest management plan. The
next step is to begin negotiations with the Ontario government to discuss how they will share governance for the dedicated protected areas that were identified in the Land Use Strategy.
Consistent with national and international definitions, legislation in Ontario has largely considered cultural landscapes as
a type of heritage. In this chapter we have identified some of the challenges that this approach poses to the vision of a Pikangikum
cultural landscape. Challenging this view of a cultural landscape has necessitated that the Pikangikum Anishinaabeg insist
on shared decision-making, and develop their own approach for identifying, documenting, describing, and interpreting their
cultural landscape. As the partnership with the OMNR continues to provide a forum for discussion, innovative ways will be
sought together to ensure that Pikangikum people remain in the driver’s seat, and that the Whitefeather Forest, which includes
both commercial forestry and protected areas, is managed as the Pikangikum Cultural Landscape.
Literature Cited
Ningewance, P. M. 2004. Talking Gookom’s Language: Learning Ojibwe. Mazinaate Press, Lac Seul, Ontario.
Ontario Ministry of Culture. 2007. Cultural Landscapes in Ontario. Website: <
heritage/landscape.htm>. Accessed: 25 February 2008.
Ontario Ministry of Natural Resources. 2001. Northern Boreal Initiative — A Land Use Planning Approach. Website:
MTA=&language=en>. Accessed: 06 July 2009.
Parks Canada. 2007. An Approach to Aboriginal Cultural Landscapes. Website: <
index_e.asp>. Accessed: 25 February 2008.
PFN and OMNR (eds.). 2006. Cheekahnahwaydahmungk Keetahkeemeenaan — Keeping the Land: A Land Use Strategy for
the Whitefeather Forest and Adjacent Areas. Pikangikum First Nation (PFN) and Ontario Ministry of Natural Resources
(OMNR). 183pp. Website: <>.
Accessed: 25 February 2008.
UNESCO World Heritage Centre. 2003. Cultural Landscapes: the Challenges of Conservation. World Heritage Series (7):
193pp. United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization, Rome. Website: <
documents/publi_wh_papers_07_en.pdf>. Accessed: 25 February 2008.
Indigenous Peoples and Conservation: From Rights to Resource Management
Natural Resource Management
The Impact of Participatory
Forest Management:
Experience from
from Lulanda
Village, Southern Tanzania
Village, Southern Tanzania
Charles Meshack and Kerry A. Woodcock
Quick Facts
Country: Tanzania
Geographic Focus: Lulanda Forest in the Udzungwa Mountain of Iringa region in southern Tanzania.
Indigenous Peoples: Lulanda Village has a population of
2,100. The villagers speak a local language called “Hehe.”
Author Information
Charles Meshack is the Executive Director for the Tanzania Forest
Conservation Group. He has a Research Masters in Ecology and
Environmental Management from the University of York, UK and BSc
in Forestry from the University of Sokoine, Morogoro. Charles joined
the Tanzania Forest Conservation Group (TFCG) in 1996, to work
in Lulanda in Mufindi District. Since then he has been a dedicated
advocate for forest conservation and greater rights for communities in
natural resources management, and has been at the forefront of forest conservation in Tanzania. Mr. Meshack has 13 years experience in
Tanzania Forest management.
E-mail: [email protected]
Kerry A. Woodcock has a doctorate in Environmental Management
from the University of Northumbria at Newcastle and wrote the book
Changing Roles in Natural Forest Management (2002) based on her
research in Tanzania. She joined the Tanzania Forest Conservation
Group in 1994 and spent four years working primarily in Kambai
in the East Usambara Mountains, with visits to Lulanda in the
Udzungwa Mountains. In 2004 and 2005 she returned as a consultant for TFCG to review the Participatory Forest Management projects they facilitated. Kerry currently resides in Calgary, Canada and is
owner and director of Novalda, which provides coaching and participatory video for teams, groups, and individuals. She has 15 years of
experience working with people to create awareness and intention in
their relationship with self, others, and the world.
E-mail:[email protected]
In the Udzungwa Mountains of Iringa in southern Tanzania, something exciting has been happening in Lulanda; the people of this
remote village have been taking control of the forests on which they
depend. Through the hard work and courage of a small group of people,
the forests of Lulanda have been protected. This story is one of bravery,
teamwork, commitment, and a love of the land from which they come.
The story is part of a study conducted by the authors that focused on
Participatory Forest Management facilitated by the Tanzania Forest
Conservation Group (TFCG) in the Eastern Arc Mountains and
coastal forests of Tanzania. A case-study approach was combined with
techniques such as household Semi-Structured Interviews (SSIs) and
livelihood mapping, and cross-checked with impact diagramming in
a village meeting. This story presents the Lulanda history, their forestbased livelihoods and the impact of Participatory Forest Management
on the villagers of Lulanda and Tanzania as a whole.
Lulanda Forest History
Lulanda Forest is situated in the southern Udzungwa Mountains in
Mufindi District, and is managed by Lulanda Village through a joint
forest management agreement as a Mufindi District Local Authority
Forest Reserve (LAFR). The forest covers 315.9 ha and consists of
three forest patches: Ihili (35.2 ha), Fufu (82.6 ha) and Mgwilwa
(89.3 ha), with a planted corridor of 108.8 ha connecting Fufu and
Mgwilwa (Fig. 1). At the beginning of the 20th century these three
patches were part of a single larger forest controled by the traditional
Hehe leaders. The forest was used as a refuge during battles with
the invading German colonialists, while, during peacetime, access to
parts of the forest with spiritual significance was limited to the traditional chiefs (Woodcock 2002).
Natural Resource Management
During the British colonial period, the forest was demarcated as a reserve but was not officially gazetted (Lovett and
Pócs 1992). Instead, in the 1950s the British began to promote coffee cultivation in the area, including on the, purportedly rich, forest soils. By 1955, the forest had been reduced to the three patches mentioned above (Fufu, Mgwilwa and
Ihili) separated by small fields. In the 1970s, more forest was cleared during villagization to provide land for farmers moving into Lulanda village. There was much logging by pit sawyers in the 1980s, and there was a danger that even the last
three patches would be whittled away by the beginning of the 1990s through a combination of agricultural clearance, fire,
and timber harvesting. Although the forest was a Local Authority Forest Reserve (i.e., under the authority of the District
Government), the District Forest Officer (DFO) did not visit the reserve, and the Ward forest attendant was implicated
in selling illegal licenses to timber harvesters (Woodcock 2002).
In the early 1990s, biologists Congdon, Lovett and Pócs visited the Lulanda forest patches and, despite their small
size, recognized their value in terms of the rich fauna and flora they contained (Lovett and Pócs 1992). This includes at
Mgwilwa Forest Patch
in 2001
Lulanda Corridor
Ihili Forest
Planted pre-1995
Planted in
Ihili Corridor
Planted in 1999
Planted in 1998
in 1997
Fufu Forest Patch
Corridor bo rder (unplanted areas)
Approximate corridor border
200 m
Figure 1. Map showing Lulanda and Ihili corridors, three forest patches and the year each area was planted. Lulanda Forest is situated in the southern
Udzungwa Mountains, in Mufindi District. The forest covers 315.9 ha and consists of three forest patches: Ihili (35.2 ha), Fufu (82.6 ha) and Mgwilwa
(89.3 ha), with a planted corridor (108.8 ha) connecting Fufu and Mgwilwa patches. Source: Doody (2002).
Indigenous Peoples and Conservation: From Rights to Resource Management
Natural Resource Management
least 40 species of large trees and a number of Eastern Arc Mountain endemics. They also discovered a new species of
coffee, Coffea mufindiensis, in the Lulanda forests (Lovett and Congdon 1990, Lovett and Pócs 1992).
Once the biodiversity value and threats to Lulanda had been highlighted, a project was initiated by the Tanzania
Forest Conservation Group (TFCG), a non-governmental organization working to promote the conservation of high
biodiversity forests in Tanzania. In 1994, TFCG entered into discussions with the villagers of Lulanda and the District
government to develop a strategy to ensure the continued existence of the forest. Different stakeholders pointed out different problems. The District government required resources to visit the forest patches and asked for assistance in increasing awareness amongst the people of Lulanda on the need to protect them. The villagers expressed their mistrust of the
government representative and their powerlessness to halt forest clearance given the illegal licenses that were being issued.
They requested help in preventing further logging and for developing wood lots. They also noted some of the village’s
development priorities, such as a maize mill they needed so that women would no longer have to walk the 40-km round
trip to the nearest mill. The TFCG identified priority steps to address some of the conservation issues, including the need
to encourage the regeneration of forest between the Magwilwa and Fufu patches so as to mitigate the effects of fragmentation on the area’s biodiversity. The initial project plan sought to address the priorities identified by the different stakeholders, and the project began to implement both the conservation and the development plans.
On the development side, the TFCG provided a women’s group with a maize mill and gave training in bookkeeping, setting up a bank account, and maintaining the machine. They offered loans to individuals and groups for incomegenerating activities. The TFCG focused particularly on income-generating activities with a ‘link’ to the forest, such as
beekeeping, fish ponds (dependent on water from the forest), and tree nurseries (Fig. 2). It was the maize mill, however,
that had the most significant economic impact, generating a reasonable income for the women’s group and providing a
convenient maize-grinding service for all village households. The tree nurseries also improved people’s livelihoods, particularly given the tradition of timber production and woodwork among the Hehe. These activities have tended to benefit sections of society, particularly women, who were marginalized from the cultivation of maize and coffee, the village’s
principle income generating activities.
On the conservation side, the project negotiated a scheme with the village to allow the land between Fufu and
Magwilwa patches to regenerate to forest. As pressure on land was not particularly high at the time, the village agreed and
the area between Fufu and Magwilwa has been set aside as a ‘corridor.’ Seedlings from the neighboring forest have been
planted throughout the corridor to speed up the regeneration process, and TFCG is monitoring the corridor’s progress
(Doody 2002). Other conservation activities included environmental education, demarcation of the forest boundaries,
and clearing a fire line to protect the forests and the corridor from fires from adjacent woodland. The presence of the
project also helped the villagers’ efforts to prevent pit sawyers from taking any more timber.
Local Forest-based Livelihoods
Prior to the Participatory Forest Management project, Lulanda forest was de facto open access despite being a Local
Area Forest Reserve. The villagers freely obtained forest products and services, while the DFO permitted outside contractors to log there. Since the Participatory Forest Management project was initiated in 1996, forest resources are more
controlled. As of 2005, access is permitted only to specific groups for specific purposes, namely collection of medicinal
plants, modern beekeeping, and minimal collection of firewood, sand and stones for poorer households.
The development components of the project have been essential for generating support among the villagers for conservation activities. These projects generated four types of benefits that we will look at more closely here: for the forest,
the villager’s livelihoods, the social structure and organization of the villages, and financial.
The Impact of Participatory Forest Management: The Experience from Lulanda Village, Southern Tanzania
Natural Resource Management
The forest
We found that Participatory Forest Management increased access to certain natural resources in Lulanda. They included
resources such as water, medicinal plants, and honey from modern beekeeping. The water level of ground springs and
the water flow of the Ilondo River (which originates in the Fufu forest patch) both increased, this according to villager’s
perspectives. Villagers attribute this to improved forest management.
Regeneration of medicinal plants has also been noted in the forest. Shortly after the forest’s closure to all resourcecollection and activities in 1996, a group of medicinal herbalists requested that they be allowed to resume collection
of medicinal plants for the benefit of the community. Their request was granted and to date there are approximately
six medicinal herbalists who are permitted to collect medicinal plants in the forests. One of them, Kita Mduvike, commented that the rejuvenated forest had increased his access to this resource: “I am a herbalist for childhood fever cramp.
Now, I collect medicine easier and quicker than before. The forest is less disturbed and I do not have to go so far into the
forest to find the species I need.” (Kita Mduvike pers. comm. 2005).
Medicinal plants are seen as an important priority to the villagers. As there are no dispensaries or other medical alternatives in the community, all households depend on these forest products. Since access to medicinal plants is now by
permit only, some individuals in the community who formerly collected for their individual use are now unable to do
so and must rely on medicinal herbalists with permits. Nevertheless, conserving the forest as a source of medicine has
become the priority value for the community over other goods. As one woman notes: “Managing the forest for medicine
is more important than being allowed access to firewood” (Betti Kigola pers. comm. 2005).
The community has also benefited in the development of alternative forest products, such as farm forestry and brick
making. In 1996, there were only two brick houses in the village; now approximately a third of all houses are built of
sun-dried brick with corrugated iron roofs (C. Meshack unpubl. 2005). If this trend continues, the need for building
poles will be reduced, although timber for roofing, hardware and carpentry will still be in demand.
With the closure of the forests for the collection of timber and firewood, the TFCG has also helped individuals in
the village develop farm forestry as an income-generating activity by distributing seeds and seedlings and offering expertise (Fig. 3). Typically, individuals involved in this enterprise are the wealthier members of the community who
can spare the land, time, and resources to plant exotic
and native trees in their fields as an alternative source of
timber and firewood. For instance, Valence Masonda, a
primary school teacher and manager of the Savings and
Credit Scheme, was given seeds in 1998 by the TFCG
and planted a one-and-a-half acre woodlot of pine near
his home. The woodlot saves his household time in collecting firewood, as they can just tell their children to
“run and get firewood.” He allows the poor and ill to collect firewood from his woodlot: “the priority is to the
old,” he says.
Reduced access to firewood and polewood in the forests has, however, made it difficult for the poorer houseFigure 2. Lulanda students taking seedlings of native trees from the
holds since the start of the forest management project.
project nursery to plant in their school compound of Lulanda. The tree
nurseries have improved the people’s livelihoods, particularly given a
They are unable to secure alternatives to forest prodtradition of timber production and wood work among the Hehe. Photo
© Hamadiel Mgalla.
ucts, and have to rely on the charity of others to collect
Indigenous Peoples and Conservation: From Rights to Resource Management
Natural Resource Management
firewood or polewood from their woodlots. In the case of Lulanda, this issue is starting to be addressed by permitting,
on a trial basis, poorer households access to firewood once a month.
Members of poorer households would prefer to have constant access to forest firewood, for ease of collection and
quality. Despite this, there is general consensus, even among poorer households, that access to firewood is less important
than access to medicinal herbs. Sikimbila Mduvike, for instance, is an elder widow who sells bananas and makes baskets and mats for a living. Prior to the Participatory Forest Management project, she collected firewood from Fufu forest
patch, but now collects it from pine woodlots belonging to relatives. She has not profited directly from the forest since
access to it was closed, but in her opinion, closing the forest is good as it is saving medicinal plants she needs.
Despite a few incidents of illegal collection of firewood and polewood, it is evident just by walking along forest paths
that this activity has largely stopped. The forest floor is littered with dry wood (Hamadiel Mgalla pers. obs. 2005) and
there is a notable regeneration of the understorey. The villager Valence Masonda observed in 2005 that “Now, there are
many more building poles.” Concerns voiced by women about allowing the collection of forest firewood are that regenerating saplings could be damaged and the disturbance and trampling would reduce the availability of medicinal herbs
valued community-wide. They also worried that women who collect firewood could be unfairly blamed for any illegal
activities or forest degradation occurring in the forest. The Village Natural Resource Committee (VNRC) is likewise
apprehensive about opening up the forest to wild vegetable, mushroom and fruit collection as, “It would be difficult to
monitor, and people would see where the timber trees are” (Castory Mdalingwa, Lulanda VNRC Secretary 2005).
A few activities have been affected negatively by the Participatory Forest Management scheme. One is the traditional
collection of wild honey; prohibited because it relies on fire, which is a threat to the forest. There were two honey collectors in the village. Pausoni Mlanka, who used to collect from the Fufu forest patch, is interested in modern beekeeping,
one of the income-generating activities started by the project, but he lacks the money to buy the materials required and
is not prepared to take on a financial risk, as there is no guarantee that the bees will take to the modern hives.
Perhaps the main challenge presented by Participatory Forest Management is the loss of access to the forest and
the fields adjacent to the forest previously available for agriculture. Access to new land is prohibited to all, and villagers
acknowledge that without TFCG’s facilitation, the forest would have been degraded or even lost. “It is because
of the project that Ihili and Fufu forests are here,” said
Leonard Kavaya (2005). Many households were forced
to stop farming fields that were inside the forest reserve
boundary or the forest corridor. Many households with
fields adjacent to the forest chose to leave their fields fallow, as clearing fields by fire is now forbidden. Others
changed to growing perennial crops instead. Theo
Msindila, for instance, changed her crops from maize to
pine, bamboo, and bananas.
The increase in abundance of wildlife has also caused
some concern. Antelope, Bush pig, Baboon, and Blue
monkey are considered pests as they attack crops, and
crop damage has increased in fields near the forest, even
Figure 3. Lulanda villagers getting ready to plant native tree seedlings in
to the extent of them being abandoned. Pausoni Mlanka
the corridor between the forest patches of Fufu and Mgwilwa. In 1994,
TFCG entered into discussions with the villagers of Lulanda and with the
has two wives. One has been forced to farm far away
District government to develop a strategy to ensure the continued exisbecause she lost a field when the corridor boundaries
tence of the forest. Photo © Hamadiel Mgalla.
The Impact of Participatory Forest Management: The Experience from Lulanda Village, Southern Tanzania
Natural Resource Management
were demarcated. The other had two acres of maize
near Fufu forest patch, but in recent years there were
too many baboons attacking the crops and she no longer farms there (C. Meshack unpubl. 2005). Despite
the problem of crop-raiding, villagers hope that in the
future, the increased abundance of wildlife will entice
tourists to visit the forest, bringing financial benefits to
the community.
Maintaining this trend in land-use change, with people abandoning fields adjacent to the forest, will allow
for forest regeneration and the provision of corridors
between the forest patches — entirely positive for biodiversity conservation. The effect on livelihoods is likely to
be positive too, with permanent tree crops acting as security for times when cash is needed.
Figure 4. The Lulanda native tree nursery. The seedlings are cultivated
for afforestation of the corridor between the forest patches of Fufu and
Mgwilwa. The person in the nursery is Mr. Hamadiel Mgalla, the Project
Officer of TFCG based in Lulanda village. Photo © Adam Mgovano.
The villagers
Participatory Forest Management in Lulanda has also resulted in benefits to the villagers, including access to health care,
and the development of new skills and understanding, most particularly for village women. Since the initiation of the
program, Lulanda forest has been viewed locally as a “forest of medicine.” A select group of medicinal herbalists have
permits to collect herbs to treat members of the community. It is possible to suspect that this system will make medicinal plant collection elitist, and that it will shrink the knowledge base on the forest’s medicinal plants. However, general knowledge about forest medicines, vegetables, mushrooms and fruit seems minimal in Lulanda anyway, possibly
because people only moved into the area in the 1950s, and they have a less intimate relation with the forest than is true
of many other communities. Nonetheless, TFCG has facilitated educational programs in primary schools (including
nature walks) to ensure that traditional knowledge of medicinal plants is not lost.
The TFCG has also helped individuals in the community — from school children to women and elders — develop
their knowledge and skills through practical, hands-on projects, seminars, training, exchange visits, and through the
media. Practical hands-on experience includes tree planting along forest boundaries and corridors, developing and
managing tree nurseries (Fig. 4), forming and managing Village Environmental Committees (VNRCs) and Local
Area Conservation Networks (LACNs), and record keeping. Seminars have included topics concerning environmental
awareness. Training has been offered in beekeeping, and the making and maintenance of improved stoves. Exchange
visits to other PFM sites in Tanzania has motivated and inspired individuals to exchange ideas and keep momentum.
The use of the Kiswahili newsletter Komba, along with radio broadcasts and video has also helped inspire action and
develop knowledge.
Women in particular have benefited from the development of the skills and experience they have gained through
participating in forest management. The TFCG officers have been careful to encourage the involvement of women in
meetings and committees. The improvement in the women’s participation in mixed meetings from 1996 to 2005 was
particularly evident.
The changes brought about by the Participatory Forest Management project have not all been positive, however.
Already mentioned is the increase in crop raiding by Bush pig, antelope and monkey. Those who continue to cultivate fields adjacent to the forest now spend more time protecting their crops, and have less time as a result to pursue
Indigenous Peoples and Conservation: From Rights to Resource Management
Natural Resource Management
alternative livelihood strategies and activities. For instance, Castory Mdalingwa, VNRC Secretary, noted that “Farmers
spend more time chasing baboons and are not coming to work on development days.” It is the poorer households with
little alternative farmland that have to continue farming these fields, and the children who are usually responsible for
guarding the crops and chasing the animals away. The children miss school to do this.
Another issue, mentioned above, is that knowledge of the forest and its resources may become restricted to elite
groups in the community, such as the licensed herbalists, or lost completely. Traditional beekeepers, for instance, can no
longer collect honey from the forest, and it is noticeable that they are being alienated from modern beekeeping initiatives rather than being drawn upon for their skills.
Social aspects
Overall, the impact of the Participatory Forest Management approach has been positive for the community in developing and providing access to networks, in its group memberships, fostering relationships of trust, and in giving access to
wider institutions of society. Participatory Forest Management as facilitated by TFCG has supported the development of
Village Natural Resource Committees (VNRCs) and Incoming Generating Activity groups (IGA groups). It has enabled
access to external institutions such as the Savings and Credit Scheme and District Natural Resource Office, and given
the villagers the wherewithal to network with other communities that are engaged in Participatory Forest Management
through exchange visits and network meetings.
The development of VNRCs has increased the villagers’ awareness of their communal and individual rights and their
responsibilities in managing the forest. This has empowered villagers to require more of the village government that represents them. For instance, in 2003 a villager set fire to the forest corridor and an area of forest because of negligence
when burning his fields. He left the village in fear of the consequences, but returned a year later. Villagers complained
when the village government took no further action. One person said, “You are asking us to replant trees in the corridor,
when that man was the one who burnt the trees and he is sitting at home!” (Leonard Kavaya 2005). Villagers demanded
that the village government force the man to plant trees to replace those he burnt. He was sick but his family took on
the responsibility of repaying his debt to the community. In this way the village committees are listening and responding to the needs of the people they represent, and with this developing a trusting relationship with their people. Table 1
shows the range of Income Generating Activities (IGAs) in Lulanda village. Members of most households are involved
in a variety of IGA groups. Working in groups is a risk-alleviating strategy, spreading financial and labour costs among
its members. Poorer households, headed by elderly widows, tend not to be members of IGA groups, due to lack of time
and money to invest in the group.
There are some areas where more care is needed in fostering the relationship between the District and the villages.
The TFCG must be careful not to take on too much of the work, and should make sure that both parties take on equal
responsibility for developing the relationship. Another important measure will be to alleviate the reliance of poorer
households on social networks for alternatives to forest products, either by offering them limited access to the forest
products or in seeking alternative ways to ensure that they obtain these resources.
Financial aspects
The TFCG has helped individuals and self-formed groups within the community to develop both customary and innovative sources of income through a variety of Income Generating Activities (IGAs). The TFCG staff have provided advice
and expertise directly or brought in outside specialists to extend the knowledge and skills of the community members.
At the simplest level, the formation of a few initial IGA groups has provided the inspiration and impetus for other community members to form their own range of IGA groups.
The Impact of Participatory Forest Management: The Experience from Lulanda Village, Southern Tanzania
Natural Resource Management
Of those IGAs that are innovative and directly linked to the local forest (Table 1), fish farming has considerable
potential, and is proving lucrative for the few that have ponds. Modern beekeeping is still in the early stages, and little
income has been generated so far. Medicinal herbalists have suggested the possibility of developing medicinal plant nurseries; an idea that the TFCG could investigate further.
There are a number of innovative IGAs that offer alternatives to forest products. Farm forestry, in the form of woodlots and agroforestry, has been facilitated by the TFCG. For a few of the better-off households the trees are sold for
timber, for furniture making, or for house building. The trees are also seen as a form of savings and security, to sell off
when cash is needed. Brick making for house building has taken off in Lulanda. Currently, approximately one-third of
houses are made of bricks, and many other households aim to improve their houses in the future. Improved stoves are
also popular.
Innovative IGAs that are indirectly linked to the local forest as transfer payments from the TFCG to the community are the maize milling machine and the Savings and Credit Scheme. These benefits are perceived as a reward to the
community for protecting and managing the local forest: “If it wasn’t for that forest, we wouldn’t have had help starting the Savings and Credit Scheme or had the Maize Milling Machine. Why is it we have these? Because of the forest!”
(Unorio Masonda 2005). A prerequisite of joining the Savings and Credit Scheme is that members who are physically
able must work in the forest on a Saturday morning; planting trees on the boundary and in the forest corridor and clearing fire breaks. This makes a clear and tangible link between the forest and the benefit it brings. The Savings and Credit
scheme started in 2004 with 20 members. Since then the number has increased to 129. The capital has also increased
from TZS 2,000,000 (US$2,000) in 2004 to TZS 8,868,000 (US$8,868) in 2008.
Alternatives have been introduced to substitute the traditional IGAs that ceased with the introduction of forest
management. For example, the introduction of modern beehives replacing traditional honey collection in the forest
and, replacing hunting, with an increased focus on providing alternative protein sources through fish farming and animal husbandry. It is not always the traditional experts who take up these alternatives, however, often due to the risk in
investing in new technology. It would be wise for the TFCG to foster links with these traditional experts; to involve the
traditional honey collector for example, in modern beekeeping as an advisor, making use of his skills and knowledge.
In this way, conflicts may be reduced and the alternative activities can be more successful. The TFCG, in collaboration
Table 1. Range of Income Generating Activities noted in Lulanda (C. Meshack, field data, 2005).
Income generating activities
Directly linked to local forest
Collection of medicinal plants; Beekeeping (modern hives); forcollection of water for domestic est-based tourism; research fees
charged to researchers for access to
forest; fish farming
Indirectly linked to local forest
Animal husbandry, including
dairy cows, goats, pigs, poultry,
guinea pigs; carpentry; food crop
Not linked to local forest
Basket and mat weaving; coffee
farming; tea houses; shops; professional positions, including school
teacher, nurse, tea picker
Ceased since PFM
Traditional honey collection;
hunting and trapping of animals
for wild meat; pit-sawing; crops
using forest shade, including bananas, bamboo, and cardamom;
forest clearance for farmland
Farm forestry; brick-making and
house building; improved stove
making; maize milling; savings
and credit scheme
Indigenous Peoples and Conservation: From Rights to Resource Management
Natural Resource Management
with the District Beekeeping Officer, is providing training to villagers. Training focuses on the selection of beehive types,
how to construct beehives and the selection of where to place them. The promotion of beekeeping is based on a good
potential market for bee products and low capital and operational costs. Initially, beekeeping in Lulanda involved only
men, but women have been involved since 2004. In 2008 beekeepers reported a revenue of about US$3,000, producing
1,170 liters of honey sold at an average of US$2.50 per liter.
Since Participatory Forest Management began, income for the community coming directly from forest resources
has been restricted, except for the specialist groups such as medicinal herbalists and modern beekeepers. Under the old
system of the Local Authority Forest Reserve fines for illegal access were remitted to central government (URT 2005).
Today in Lulanda there are no fines for illegal activities such as polewood collection and uncontrolled field fires. Instead
penalties take the form of community service, in which the trespasser has to repay the debt to the community, through
labor, such as replanting the forest corridor.
Hopes for obtaining direct financial benefits from the forest rest on harvesting timber. According to the Lulanda
Village Chairman (2005), “If the District decides to harvest timber in the far future, then a percentage of the money
should be left for communal purposes.” There are others who hope to be able to collect polewood in the future. Whether
these uses would be possible is debatable, since Lulanda is now primarily a fully protected Local Authority Forest Reserve
(LAFR). Forest-based tourism is another possibility, with tentative networks already created between the TFCG, the
District Tourism Office, and local tourist-based businesses. This activity is still incipient.
Revenue from the forest is channelled to supporting children’s secondary education, to the construction of brick
housing, and to paying for the start up and maintenance costs of IGAs. In Lulanda, there has already been an observable
improvement in housing and an increasing number of children going to secondary school. Villagers have attributed these
two improvements primarily to the introduction of the Savings and Credit Scheme, which has given them the means to
initiate innovative IGAs and make and save more money.
Conclusions and Lessons Learned
Although positive steps were made in improving the management of the forest from 1994 to 1998, the villager’s right
to manage and benefit from the forest was limited by the policy and legislation of this time that made no allowance for
community management of a Local Authority Reserve. Since the change in the National Forest Policy in 1998 (United
Republic of Tanzania 1998), the Lulanda Forest project has been helping the village become the designated managers of
the reserve. Maps and boundaries were established, and the Village Assembly (all adult members of the village) elected a
Village Natural Resource Committee with a remit to manage the forest. This group, with active participation from the
Ward and District government, prepared a forest management plan and bylaws. After a long struggle, eventually the joint
agreement between the Lulanda villagers and the Mufindi District was signed.
The next challenge for the project is to strengthen further the Village Natural Resource Committee (VNRC) so that
it can effectively manage the forest without the project’s assistance. One of the key issues to be resolved is the development of a financing mechanism for management costs. Activities such as maintaining forest boundaries, running patrols,
clearing the fire breaks, keeping records, and holding meetings involve costs, and it is unrealistic to expect people to offer
their labor without compensation. Lulanda is a small forest with few, if any, resources that can be harvested sustainably
to generate funds to cover these costs. If the management is to be implemented, funds need to be found to cover them.
Although Tanzania’s Forest Policy (United Republic of Tanzania 1998) and Forest Act (Tanzania, Ministry of Natural
Resources and Tourism 2002) support the participation of communities in managing forest reserves, and although they
talk about revenue sharing, the mechanisms and the details of “who gets what” have yet to be specified.
The Impact of Participatory Forest Management: The Experience from Lulanda Village, Southern Tanzania
Natural Resource Management
There have been a number of lessons learned over the nine years of the development of this Participatory Forest
Management initiative that can be applied to other sites. Achieving real changes in forest management and linking these
changes with real improvements to people’s livelihoods takes time. Even after nine years, the project still has some way
to go. It is particularly difficult to generate genuine participation from communities that have been alienated from the
forest resource by former unfavorable policies.
How a project deals with interactions between and within communities can also determine the success of a project.
As with all communities, Lulanda is made up of individuals with their own interests and agendas. There is a tendency in
some of the literature on sustainable forest management to portray communities as homogeneous, harmonious entities.
Lulanda is not a harmonious, homogeneous community and there have been power plays within the village that have
inevitably affected and been affected by the project. These have come out particularly when attempting to empower the
VNRC and in the management of the maize mill. The project has addressed these issues with great sensitivity.
Having a national forest policy that supports communities’ participation in managing the forest is the foundation
for a long-term management strategy. Having the policy and legislative support for Participatory Forest Management
has made a critical difference (Tanzania, Ministry of Natural Resources and Tourism 2001, 2002, 2003). Without this,
it would have been difficult to develop a long-term solution for the area, and given the alienation of the community
coupled with the lack of resources for direct management by the District, it is likely that the forest would gradually have
We are most grateful to the Critical Ecosystem Partnership Fund (CEPF), Arlington, Virginia, that supported this study
in 2005.
Literature Cited
Doody, K. 2002. An assessment of a reforestation programme in the southern Udzungwa Mountains, Tanzania. Tanzania
Forest Conservation Group Technical Report 3. Tanzania Forest Conservation Group (TFCG), Dar es Salaam. 82pp.
Lovett, J.C. and Congdon, T.C.E. 1990. Notes on Lulanda Forest, southern Udzungwa mountains. East Africa Natural
History Society Bulletin 20: 21.
Lovett, J.C. and Póocs, T. 1992. Catchment Forest Reserves of Iringa Region: A Botanical Appraisal. Catchment Forestry,
Forest and Beekeeping Division, Dar es Salaam.
Tanzania, Ministry of Natural Resources and Tourism. 2001. National Forest Programme 2001–2010. Forestry and
Beekeeping Division, Ministry of Natural Resources and Tourism, Dar es Salaam.
Tanzania, Ministry of Natural Resources and Tourism. 2002. The Forest Act, no. 7 of 7th June 2000, Ministry of Natural
Resources and Tourism, Dar es Salaam.
Tanzania, Ministry of Natural Resources and Tourism. 2003. Participatory Forest Management: A Report on Lessons
Learned. Forestry and Beekeeping Division, Ministry of Natural Resources and Tourism, Dar es Salaam.
Tanzania, Ministry of Natural Resources and Tourism. 2005. Legal Guidelines for PFM. Draft. Forestry and Beekeeping
Division, Ministry of Natural Resources and Tourism, Dar es Salaam.
United Republic of Tanzania. 1998. National Forest Policy. The United Republic of Tanzania (URT), Dar es Salaam.
Woodcock, K. A. 2002. Changing Roles in Natural Forest Management: Stakeholders’ Roles in the Eastern Arc Mountains,
Tanzania. Ashgate Studies in Environmental Policy and Practice, Aldershot, UK.
Indigenous Peoples and Conservation: From Rights to Resource Management
Natural Resource Management
Managing Traditional
Lands for Conservation
and Development:
The Wai Wai in Southern Guyana
Community Members of Masakenari, Susan Stone, Andrew
Demetro, Margaret Gomes and Curtis Bernard
Quick Facts
Country: Guyana
Geographic Focus: Forests of the Guayana Shield in
southern Guyana
Indigenous Peoples: Wai Wai Amerindians of the village
of Masakenari in the Amerindian District of Kanashen,
southern Guyana. The resident population is about 216.
Author Information
Susan Stone is the Senior Technical Advisor for Policy and Practice
in Conservation International’s Indigenous and Traditional Peoples
Program. She works with CI–Guyana and the Wai Wai people of
Kanashen on management planning for their Community-Owned
Conservation Area (C.O.C.A.).
E-mail: [email protected]
Andrew Demetro is the former Toshao (elected leader) of Nappi
Village in the Rupununi Region of Guyana, and advises CI–Guyana
on work with indigenous communities in southern Guyana, including
the the collaboration with the Wai Wai of Kanashen. He has worked
extensively in community mapping and resource use research.
E-mail: [email protected]
Margaret Gomes advises CI–Guyana on community engagement
and development planning. As a member of the Wapishana Village of
Sand Creek, she has been active in community service for many years.
She is a Wapishana interpreter and cultural advisor.
E-mail: [email protected]
Curtis Bernard is a Biodiversity Analyst at CI–Guyana. He is a biologist and expert in Geographic Information Systems. Over the years,
he has developed a close working relationship with the people of
Kanashen, and played a key role in the development of the C.O.C.A.
E-mail: [email protected]
At the southernmost tip of Guyana, in the forests of the Guayana
Shield, a small group of Wai Wai Amerindians are working to manage their ancestral lands by blending traditional governance and
resource use with modern concepts of management and zoning in the
protection of a 625,000 ha reserve. They live in the community of
Masakenari, in Kanashen District on the banks of the Essequibo River.
After acquiring absolute title to their land, the Wai Wai declared their
lands a Community-Owned Conservation Area (C.O.C.A.), in order
to preserve their forests and wildlife, and to guarantee their natural
resources, their culture, and way of life for their future generations.
The forests of the Guayana Shield, between the Orinoco and
Amazon rivers in the northeast of South America, are largely intact.
The Shield makes up part or all of six countries — French Guiana,
Suriname and Guyana, about half of Venezuela, a considerable part
of the Brazilian Amazon, and a small portion of Colombia. Despite
being in the tropics, the region is one the most sparsely populated
in the world, comparable to northern Canada and Siberia. French
Guiana, Suriname and Guyana are the three top countries worldwide
in terms of forest area per capita (FAO 2001).
In Guyana, inland forests are primarily populated by members of
nine indigenous tribes, or Amerindians as they are locally known; the
Wapishana, Akawaio, Arekuna, Macushi, Carib, Warrow, Patamona,
Arawak and the Wai Wai. All are working to accommodate their traditional way of life to the changes that the modern world is bringing and
to maintain their stewardship of the lands and natural resources that
they have inherited since man was first recorded in the region, some
9,500 years before present.
Natural Resource Management
This article describes the Wai Wai community’s vision for their lands, and the structure and management plan1 they
have created with the support of Conservation International to manage their lands for both the conservation of their forests and wildlife and the development of their community. As this is their story, the thoughts of community leaders and
members are incorporated by including excerpts from interviews conducted in the community. Maripa Marawanuru, a
village councilor and elder sets the stage:
The time came to elect a new Toshao — then Paul [Chekema] was elected. It was during his position as a leader we had discussion concerning land title because there were no clear boundaries or
title for our land, and so we ask government for land title which he gladly gave us. So we really
thank Government for this. Now our area is known as C.O.C.A. Since this has been established
things have improved. Now I can see the development in the community and now some persons
are employed and with C.O.C.A. more of this kind of job will come in, which I am very happy
about. That is why I say things are getting better than before.
Excerpt from interview, October 2007
Paul Chekema, Toshao2 or Kayaritomo, the leader, of the Wai Wai village of Masakenari summarizes the groundwork
leading to the realization of their C.O.C.A.
That time [came] we were to move from here [from their previous village site, Akotopono,
which flooded in 2002], but before [moving] we sat down together with the elders to discuss
our situation […] I held a meeting with the community before having any meeting with any
Minister. First, when I newly became Toshao in 1998, I was invited to a meeting and it was my
first meeting in the savannahs […] After more meetings with the regional authorities and fortunately too with the Minister [of Amerindian Affairs], on more than one occasion we got our
requests approved for the school building and the clinic because this was important for us. […]
So we got the projects approved in 2003 and had all the structures up that year.
Being invited to another conference at Lake Mainstay, I approached the Minister of
Amerindian Affairs and I actually requested of her that I had one more request and I said “we
want our land title.” Then she told me “Toshao, that is your land,” but holding a document in my
hand to prove this was better for me and my community. Although we were confident and happy
about what we were doing we were still uncertain about how really this was done.
However, when I was out in Lethem I managed to get hold of a newsletter from Conservation
International […] so I brought this home and passed this on to our Hinterland Affairs Worker
and others. After reading the news they told me that what was reported in the newsletter sounded
good. I had already contacted Brother Joe Singh3 about this before I requested land title. One year
later they called me to tell me that my land title was ready on that day. I was so glad that I could
1 Management Plan of the Kanashen Community-Owned Conservation Area (C.O.C.A.). December 2006
2 Toshao is the title used for the elected leaders of Amerindian communities. The traditional Wai Wai title is Kayaritomo.
3 Major General (Retd.) Joseph Singh, formerly head of Guyana’s Defense Force, was the Executive Director of Conservation International Guyana at the time the Wai Wai of Kanashen were granted
title to their lands. He was a young Lieutenant posted to the interior where he met Elka, Kayaritomo of the Wai Wai in 1969 .This began a 40-year friendship with the Wai Wai community and
leadership during which Major General Singh was a continuous advocate for the community receiving title to their “space.”
Indigenous Peoples and Conservation: From Rights to Resource Management
Natural Resource Management
have actually felt my head grow with joy and pride. This happened through the support of my
people and not only me. After I get land title I discuss with my people about conservation area
and not really sure of what was about to happen, even before the title we were planning to go conservation. This title was granted in 2004 by the president of Guyana, telling me that this is now
my land and nobody will take it away from me.
We then started to really think seriously around deciding to go conservation, which path we had taken since long
before but just in our thoughts. But we were not sure which
organization to work with, but we prayed hard for guidance.
We decided that we will partner with Conservation
International and this is what we wrote to the Government.
After three weeks we received an acknowledgment letter
from the Office of the President advising the community to
go ahead, but also needing an explanation on how the community intends to move forward […] My thoughts about
deciding on conservation was not only looking at money
but also for the future generation. I want this to continue
Figure 1. Toshao Paul Chekema. Photo © Vitus Anall the time into the future even after I die. We have our
tone, Conservation International.
sons and daughters and the grandchildren coming after us,
so this is for them too. So far I think this is happening very well, only to ensure that we keep our
important way of life intact, meaning our language more importantly. We realize that we have
been losing some important traditions which we will all work to get back through our older people. The best thing to do is to revive this for our own benefit.
Coming also with this is that we are already seeing money although very small but so much
better than trying to do things on our own. We are serious about developing our ability to manage our lands for the future generations through conservation.
I think CI will not lie to us but will work with us to develop our capacity to manage. Already
we are receiving a lot of help in the community today. In the community today we now have television sets, engines and so on. I feel that through conservation can come development that we
can all be happy about and we are always praying for all that is happening and to work for the
best with my people.
Paul Chekema, Toshao (Kayaritomo)
Excerpt from interview, October 2007
Absolute Title to the Amerindian District of Kanashen, a tract of approximately 625,000 ha in the southernmost part
of Guyana, was granted to the Wai Wai people by the President of the Cooperative Republic of Guyana on 10 February
2004. After receiving title, the community, through their leadership, the Ministry of Amerindian Affairs (MoAA) and
the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), made a request to Conservation International Foundation (Guyana)
Incorporated (CIG), to assist them in developing a plan for the management of their lands as a Community-Owned
Conservation Area (C.O.C.A.) in a way that would maintain their traditional relationship with the land and its resources
while conserving forests, rivers and wildlife. The community also requested that their C.O.C.A. be recognized as part
of a future national protected area system. Their request for assistance resulted in the signing of a Memorandum of
Managing Traditional Lands for Conservation and Development: The Wai Wai in Southern Guyana
Natural Resource Management
Cooperation on 1 November, 2004 between the Wai Wai community, Conservation International, and the Government
of Guyana, represented by the Ministry of Amerindian Affairs. The memorandum was followed by numerous engagements that paved the way for the development of a management plan for the Kanashen C.O.C.A.
The Wai Wai of Kanashen
The Kanashen Amerindian District that makes up the C.O.C.A. has one community, populated primarily by the Wai
Wai people; Masakenari (“Mosquito Place” in the Wai Wai language), which was established in January 2000. In the past,
the Wai Wai would periodically change the location of their villages, moving to new areas to farm (shifting cultivation).
They have a rich cultural history with many traditions and customs still observed today, and have kept a close spiritual,
cultural and social relationship with their environment and its resources. Their primary language is Wai Wai (a Carib
language) but they also speak English as a second language for interaction outside the community — with government,
partners, and in the educational system.
The village of Masakenari has a resident population of approximately 216 in 36 households (August 2009, as reported
by Toshao Chekema). The community is primarily Wai Wai but also has a few members of other Amerindian groups,
including Wapishana from Guyana and Trio from Suriname. The Wai Wai of Kanashen have a close relationship with
the Trio of southern Suriname and with the Wai Wai communities in Brazil, and many families from Kanashen have
relatives in Brazil or Suriname. Masakenari, like most other Amerindian communities, has a subsistence economy; the
primary activities are farming, hunting, and fishing. The practice of barter is widely used in the community, although
the people are undergoing a gradual transition to a cash economy in order to buy clothing, certain foodstuffs, and household items such as cooking utensils. Aside from the few people with permanent employment, the majority of households
have only occasional access to cash income. Some community members, mostly men, leave the village part of the year
to work as laborers for cash in other parts of Guyana and in Brazil. Many households have family members who have
moved permanently outside the community to find employment. Some young people attend secondary school or other
educational/training programs.
The community has solar powered electricity that provides limited lighting to homes and drives an electric water
pump that provides water to several collection points in the community. There is an airstrip 9 km from the village which
is useable during the dry season or at least when the ground is dry enough. Masakenari can also be reached by river from
Erepoimo (also known as Parabara), the nearest village, by traveling down the Kuyuwini River and then up the Essequibo
River. There is a trail connecting the village to Erepoimo. The journey can take up to two weeks when river and trail
conditions are optimal. Low water in the dry season or flooded trails during the rainy season can prolong the trip, and
at times can isolate the community completely.
Forests and Wildlife
The headwaters of Guyana’s largest river, the Essequibo, are in the Kanashen District, encompassing the southern portion
of its watershed, drained by the Kassikaityu, Kamoa, Sipu and Chodikar rivers. The biology of the Kanashen district is
relatively unstudied, with the flora being best known to date. The area is characterized by tall evergreen highland forest
and tall/medium evergreen lower montane forest, with small areas of tall evergreen flooded riparian forest and lowland
shrub savanna (Huber et al. 1995). Many plants are found only in the area (endemic). The wildlife there is typical of
the Amazon, including game species important for the Wai Wai. such as tapir (Tapirus terrestris), peccaries (Tayassu and
Pecari), forest deer (Mazama) and the larger primates of the Guiana Shield, such as the Guianan spider money (Ateles
Indigenous Peoples and Conservation: From Rights to Resource Management
Natural Resource Management
paniscus), the Red howler monkey (Alouatta macconnelli) the Guianan bearded saki (Chiropotes sagulatus) and Guianan
capuchin monkey (Cebus apella) (de Thoisy and Dewynter undated; Mittermeier et al. 2008) along with threatened and
rare species such as the Giant armadillo (Priodontes maximus), giant river otter (Pteronura brasiliensis) (see Eisenberg,
1989), Cock of the Rock (Rupicola rupicola), and harpy eagle (Harpia harpyja). Jaguar (Panthera onca) and other forest
cats are notably abundant in this remote region. Sanderson et al. (2008) predicted the presence of at least 42 mammals
in the area, and during a short survey in October 2006, recorded 21. The two sites surveyed by Sanderson et al. are used
as hunting areas by the Wai Wai during two weeks of the year, but were otherwise found to be pristine and undisturbed
and with the full complement of the large mammal species characteristic of the Guayana Shield.
Results of community-based bird surveys at three sites recorded 117 species, approximately 14% of the total recorded
for Guyana (see Braun et al. 2007; Robbins et al. 2007). A rapid biological assessment expedition to the region in 2006
increased the number to 319, including 27 Guayana Shield endemics (Alonso et al. 2008; O’Shea 2008a, 2008b).
The survey was short (three weeks) and O’Shea considered that a more realistic species count would come to at least
400 species. The birds observed included the Large-headed Flatbill (Ramphotrigon megacephalum), a first for Guyana and
a range extension of more than 900 km. O’Shea (2008) recorded 14 species of parrots, and indicated that populations
Figure 2. The Kanashen District in southern Guyana, showing the area comprising the Wai Wai titled lands and their C.O.C.A. Map © Conservation
Managing Traditional Lands for Conservation and Development: The Wai Wai in Southern Guyana
Natural Resource Management
of parrots and macaws, Spix’s guan (Penelope jacquacu),
and Black Curassow (Crax alector), all of which are
important to the Wai Wai, seemed healthy.
There is also high fish diversity — more than
100 species (in a short survey, they recorded 113, of six
orders, and 27 families), many of which are found only
in the Essequibo River (Lasso et al. 2008). The herpetofauna includes 26 species of amphibians and 34 reptiles (Señaris et al. 2008). Señaris et al. (2008) found an
aquatic lizard, a snake (Helicops) and a caecilian which
they believe to be undescribed species, and found the
area they surveyed to be “intact and in pristine condition.” Populations of caiman and turtles (part of the Wai
Wai diet) in the Essequibo River near to the villages of
Masakenari and Akutopono were found to be reduced,
but populations of other reptiles were healthy (Señaris
et al. 2008).
Figure 3. The village of Masakenari on the upper Essequibo River,
southern Guyana. Photo © Vitus Antone, Conservation International.
Opportunities and Challenges in the Management of the C.O.C.A.
The near-pristine condition and large size of the area presents a tremendous opportunity for biological research and wildlife studies and, with wise management by the Wai Wai, for the sustainable use of rich natural resources. The C.O.C.A.
has the potential to play an important role in the protection of the upper reaches of the Essequibo Basin and to be an
element for a network of connected protected areas in the Guayana Shield. Threats to the wildlife and forests of the
area arise mostly from natural resource extraction and wildlife trade. The community is becoming increasingly aware of
the potential effects of these practices on the health of their resources, and plans to manage them in a sustainable way
through the C.O.C.A. Management Plan.
The Vision and Goals of the C.O.C.A.
The people of Masakenari developed a specific vision for the conservation and management of the C.O.C.A. and drew
up a series of goals to achieve it. The vision they state as follows: “Our lands are managed in a way that preserves the biodiversity, our traditions and our way of life, while providing for both community and family development.” The community has long-established principles and traditions of stewardship of their lands, but also recognized that they needed
to express their ideas and beliefs in ways that people outside their community, notably government and NGOs, could
understand. They were supported in this process by the staff of Conservation International-Guyana, who over numerous
engagements, helped the community to put their vision and goals into words and to define a structure that would connect the C.O.C.A. to national and international conservation tenets and mechanisms.
Members of the community worked tirelessly to express these concepts in both Wai Wai and English. This was a
communal effort, with many meetings held to discuss how best to define new concepts in a way that could be expressed
meaningfully in both languages. The vision and goals of the C.O.C.A. are expressed here in both Wai Wai and English.
Indigenous Peoples and Conservation: From Rights to Resource Management
Natural Resource Management
The Vision Statement for the Kanashen C.O.C.A.
“Pasha rma-ewto poko kesehtînotopociitopo poko marha. On wara xa oyewton iixa wasi amne kacho.”
“Our lands are managed in a way that preserves the biodiversity, our traditions and
our way of life, while providing for both community and family development.”
The vision developed by the members of the Wai Wai
community indicates that while conservation of biodiversity is an important goal of the C.O.C.A., preserving
their way of life and building strong family and community development are also driving factors in their decision to form this conservation area. The community and
family development components encompass sustaining
livelihoods, promoting stability in population, income
generation, and other non-monetary benefits such as
improved access to health care and better education. The
Wai Wai of Kanashen want to use their natural heritage
to encourage their families to remain intact on the community’s land — to provide social and economic development for their young people through the management
Figure 4. Toshao Paul Chekema works with community leaders to define
of the C.O.C.A. so they do not have to leave the comgoals and objectives for the C.O.C.A. Photo © Vitus Antone, Conservation
munity to seek these opportunities elsewhere.
The community established six goals for the
C.O.C.A. that will help them achieve their long-term
vision for their lands — keeping their biodiversity, maintaining their traditions and ways of life, developing their community, and providing opportunities for benefits for families and individuals. In order to become part of a national
legal framework and have access to necessary resources to support activities, the goals of the C.O.C.A. also include
becoming part of a future national protected area system and the attainment of long-term financial sustainability. The
following paragraphs describe the objectives and approaches for achieving the goals of the Management Plan.
Keeping Biodiversity (Chemyapore cîîtopo Kiwyaso Ahnoro Roowo Pono Komo)
The Wai Wai community is a highly organized group, keen on developing opportunities to manage their lands well and
in a way that maintains their natural resources and provides opportunities for the development of their community. The
community recognizes that their lands contain unique ecosystems and biodiversity that are not only important for maintaining their way of life, but also as part of Guyana’s national patrimony and the world’s biodiversity. Since the headwaters of the mighty Essequibo River lie within the Kanashen C.O.C.A., the care of this region is of major importance to
all of Guyana. For the conservation of the natural resources of the C.O.C.A., it will be important to understand how
they are currently used, the types and levels of future use that will contribute to the long-term vision of the C.O.C.A.,
and to establish guidelines for management and monitoring.
Managing Traditional Lands for Conservation and Development: The Wai Wai in Southern Guyana
Natural Resource Management
Preservation of Traditions and Ways of Life (Pahsa
kehtoponho komo kirwanhe ciitopo kiwyaso
The Wai Wai of Kanashen seek to manage their lands
in a way that maintains their natural heritage, which
includes important traditions and ways of living that
are bound up with the health of their natural resources.
They wish to develop and progress while maintaining the essential spirit of their way of life. Two areas
Figure 5. Left: Preparing a traditional beverage from the fruit of the turu
are described by the community as important to
palm. Right: Recording names, uses and materials for traditional ornaments.
Photos © Vitus Antone, Conservation International.
strengthen the knowledge of their language, their history, and traditions. The first is the preservation of traditional ways of life, including indigenous knowledge and practice, taking in the following aspects:
continuation of the communal way of hunting, fishing, and gathering for special community occasions,
and the maintenance of the traditional ways of farming, working, playing and sharing of food, songs
and stories together;
passing on knowledge about the use of sustainable harvesting practices to preserve resources for
the future;
ensuring that the community preserves its knowledge on how to make and use the bow and arrow and
to build traditional houses, boats, and paddles, and also safeguards its expertise in other crafts such as
weaving and the confection of graters, stools and combs;
the need for elders to teach the younger generation regarding the names of plants and animals,
the use of medicinal plants, and the traditional ways that they use and manage their natural
integrating traditional methods with modern scientific knowledge for natural resource management,
with full respect for intellectual property rights pertaining to indigenous knowledge.
Kaiweh Shu Shu, a village elder, relates memories of villages life, culture, and traditional implements used in hunting, fishing and farming:
Years ago my parents and I used to live in Brazil. That is where my grandparents lived. There
my parents did not have any tools to do their agriculture, no fishing line and hooks to catch
fish. They used hog teeth and sometimes agouti or labba teeth for the knives to sharpen their
arrow points, neither any axe for felling trees for their farm. They only had stone axes to chop
down a tree and it takes time to cut down one tree. Where they lived they had a big benab
house, the whole family lived there together, and inside the building they used to have feasting and dancing. Next to it they had a smaller building that was especially for men only. Every
morning at three o’clock in the morning they would go over to the house to play their flute
and play their drums.
Kaiweh Shu Shu, Village Elder
Excerpt from interview, October 2007
Indigenous Peoples and Conservation: From Rights to Resource Management
Natural Resource Management
Table 1. An excerpt from the glossary of terms developed to express terminology related to the C.O.C.A. management planning process in Wai Wai.
English word or phrase
Meaning in English
Wai Wai Word or phrase
Meaning in Wai Wai
Capacity Building
Making sure the people have
the knowledge, skills and
understanding to manage the
Tooto Panatanmacho
Kirwautaw, yaronomexa tooto komo
Yîhtinotome ahce na cîîtopo poko takîhso
ewto cîîtome
Persons working together to
do something
Tooto komo ñetapichkexe îîtore ahce na
Community Conserved
A community conserved area Ewto Newyumar Roowo
is a kind of protected area
that is owned by local communities and voluntarily conserved to protect biodiversity
and cultural values, through
traditional or local laws
Ewto newyumar makî tan roowo
yînenîrî matha. Mîk hakî komo
Ehcamnopura ehtome, kehtopo kom
echamnopura ehtome marha. The second area identified by the community was the importance of improving literacy in the Wai Wai language. The
community members recognized the need to preserve Wai Wai as a living language by increasing its use and the overall literacy of the community in the language through a training program for community members. The preservation of
the Wai Wai language has been an integral part of all of CI–Guyana’s collaboration with the community of Masakenari.
Table 1 is an excerpt from the glossary of terms developed to express terminology related to the C.O.C.A. management
planning process in Wai Wai.
Community development (Ewto yakir wamati kacho)
Through the C.O.C.A., the community will manage its natural resources in a sustainable way that will generate benefits for the community as a whole. Several areas of priority action were identified to improve the overall health and well
being of the village, mainly in improving essential services such as healthcare and education, communication, and transportation. Ayaw Kuyuma, a church Elder in the community describes his thoughts on community development brought
through the C.O.C.A.:
I must say how happy I am when conservation was the way taken by the community and since
this has started I can see a lot of improvement in the community. Today members of this community have started to feel better and everyone is seeing the things we have never seen before.
Puranta (money) is coming and so I feel that conservation has been a good path taken by us the
people of this community.
Ayaw Kuyume, Church Elder
Excerpt from interview, October 2007
Managing Traditional Lands for Conservation and Development: The Wai Wai in Southern Guyana
Natural Resource Management
Family development (Ahnoro mîîmo yawno yakirwamacho)
The people of Kanashen seek to provide livelihood opportunities for families and individuals that help people to stay in
their community rather than being forced to leave for seasonal or permanent employment to meet their cash needs. They
want to be sure that income-generating activities are managed in a sustainable way, so that resources will remain available
to the community for the long term. Both the resources and the management of the C.O.C.A. itself can provide opportunities to generate employment and income opportunities for the families and individuals living within it. As Salome
Shu Shu, one of the teachers in the village school describes:
“… the community is developing through C.O.C.A., through CI there are opportunities in the
community, the people are happy and are willing to work for money. [There is] training in the
community — example the women learning to sew, the rangers are trained. CI is also assisting the
school club and the children are willing to work and learn along with the rangers. A change that
is taking place in the community is development but the people are happy to go for development.”
Salome Shu Shu, Teacher
Excerpt from interview, October 2007
A group of six community members completed training in late 2006 and became the first Community Ranger
team employed by the C.O.C.A. Community Ranger
candidates are selected by the C.O.C.A. Management
Team and complete an extensive training program in
natural resource use, science, legislation and social issues
related to environmental management. They are leading the community research and monitoring activities defined in the management plan, and will enforce
regulations established by the C.O.C.A. Management
Team. They are working to monitor both water quality
and weather patterns in the C.O.C.A., and are gathering data on fish populations. They will also assist visiting scientists as para-biologists, and contribute to environmental awareness activities. Kaiweh Shu Shu, village
elder, comments on the ranger training program:
Figure 6. Community Rangers monitoring fish stocks. Photo © Vitus Antone, Conservation International.
We also ask for conservation area for our large area which I am proud about. We have asked
CI–Guyana to train rangers so that they can do patrolling in the area in case any intruders come
in. Since this has started I can see more development in the community than before but our culture is the same which we will continue.
Kaiweh Shu Shu, Village Elder
Excerpt from interview, October 2007
Indigenous Peoples and Conservation: From Rights to Resource Management
Natural Resource Management
Participation in a future national protected area system (Roowo yewyomane komo yakro kehtopo komo iitore
The Wai Wai community wishes their C.O.C.A. to be recognized as part of, and to be supported by, a national protected
area system in Guyana. The C.O.C.A., which will be managed and formulated in accordance with and in the spirit of
IUCN guidelines for Community Conserved Areas, will serve as a model for other communities that are interested in
establishing their own community conservation areas.
Financial sustainability (Puranta)
Access to long-term financial resources is essential to the success of the C.O.C.A. A protected areas trust fund or similar
long-term and sustainable financial mechanism will be needed to provide secure financing for the C.O.C.A. Discussions
concerning this are ongoing. In addition, a long-term fundraising strategy will be designed and implemented to procure
the resources needed to fulfill the goals and objectives of the C.O.C.A. For the present, CI–Guyana has assisted the community in obtaining other grant commitments to provide initial funding for the management of the C.O.C.A.
Management Structure (Takhîso cîîtopo) of the C.O.C.A.
For centuries the Wai Wai have been effective environmental stewards of their lands. The intact condition of the C.O.C.A.
provides a living testimony to this stewardship. The Village Council headed by the Toshao manages all community affairs.
However, management of natural resources for biodiversity conservation and sustainable development in collaboration
Figure 7. Kanashen C.O.C.A. Governance Structure (Management Plan of the Kanashen C.O.C.A., December 2006).
Managing Traditional Lands for Conservation and Development: The Wai Wai in Southern Guyana
Natural Resource Management
with national and global processes calls for innovations
and new skills. The official Guyanese system of village
governance, strengthened by continued ties to traditional community leadership and participation will serve
as the basis of the C.O.C.A. management system, with
additional governing components added to address specific management needs related to the goals and objectives of the C.O.C.A.
Figure 7 shows the governance of the Kanashen
C.O.C.A. The official governing structure (shown in
green) is composed of the Toshao and Council and community as a whole. Other village leaders and elders (idenFigure 8. Former Toshao Cemce Suse working in the C.O.C.A. office.
tified in yellow) provide additional support to the village
Photo © Curtis Bernard, Conservation International.
council. Government agencies providing support from
outside the community are shown in mauve. Elements
added to the existing community governance structure to fill new needs for managing the C.O.C.A. are shown in orange.
The community has integrated new needs for the C.O.C.A. management into their existing system of community
governance. This creates a seamless integration of the new management elements and maintains the existing lines of
authority and community participation. But traditional governance has also embraced modern technology where it can
contribute to effective management and to achieving the goals of the C.O.C.A. The community has expanded its system of financial management, creating a full time position to manage the C.O.C.A.’s record keeping and finances. In
September 2008, the community also completed the construction of a C.O.C.A. Management office, with a satellite
internet connection and computer technology that establishes access to information and more effective communication
with the rest of Guyana and the world.
Rules and regulations
Building on existing community rules and regulations, and applicable provisions of the Amerindian Act of 2006, the
C.O.C.A. Management Team has developed an appropriate set of rules regarding the use of resources in specific areas
and regulating access to the C.O.C.A. area by people from outside the community. The Rules and Regulations were
submitted to the Guyana Parliament and were the first set of village rules to be gazetted into law on 26 September 2007.
The regulations will be implemented and enforced by the C.O.C.A. Management Team, within the powers of the
Toshao and Council, and according to the laws of Guyana and the community’s rights as landowners. Former Toshao,
Cemce Suse, described the community decision-making process in a paper submitted to the 8th Wilderness Congress
held in Anchorage, Alaska, in 2005, as follows:
“Permission has to be given to visit the area; we make a plan with the villagers and consult with
them [asking] ‘What do you decide?’.” Some will agree and some will ask what are they coming
to do? After all agree, we will make another plan on how to deal with them [visitors] when they
arrive. The village council will keep meeting about what they are coming to do and make a plan,
if we have accommodation and so on, we will set out the charges. When they decide that the visitors can come we will choose the guide leader… All decisions are made at a council.”
James Cemce Suse, October 2005
Indigenous Peoples and Conservation: From Rights to Resource Management
Natural Resource Management
Capacity-building is a critical supporting activity, necessary to ensure that the goals and objectives of the management
plan are achieved. The C.O.C.A. Management Team, in collaboration with the relevant agencies of the Government
of Guyana as well as existing Guyanan non-governmental partners, will conduct training needs assessments on
an ongoing basis in order to develop a program that will
refine and develop the relevant skill areas required for the
effective implementation of the management plan. Due
to the remoteness of the community and difficult access
and communication, it is imperative that training equip
the community and C.O.C.A. leadership for independent management and action. The components of this
long-term capacity-building approach are: environmental awareness, technical-skill building, and exchanges of
learning and experience. Ensuring that training opportunities will be made available throughout the community to interested parties is a key part of the approach
to capacity building. Men, women, youths, and community elders will have access to training programs. The
exchange of skills, especially between elders and youths,
Figure 9. Community environmental education class in bird observation
and identification. Photo © Vitus Antone, Conservation International.
will be encouraged in the community.
Environmental awareness
An environmental education program will increase the community’s awareness of the value of environmental services
provided by the C.O.C.A. so that they can incorporate best practices into their socio-economic plans and identify
any emerging threats to the area. The youths of the community (future guardians of the area) will be involved in
conservation-related activities — youths often function as the medium of new information flow to the other members of their families, particularly the elders. Relevant awareness tools will be developed for the entire community,
and over the long term the environmental awareness program will target not just residents of the C.O.C.A. but also
the visitors.
Development of technical skills
In addition to building upon the set of skills required to manage the C.O.C.A., a technical skills development program
is essential to support each of the C.O.C.A. management plan goals and objectives. Community members have already
been trained in financial management, computer skills, and income generation activities.
Exchange of learning and experience
A program of national and international exchange visits will provide opportunities for members of the C.O.C.A.
Community and Management Team and External Partners to share their experience and learning as well as to learn from
other communities’ successes and challenges in formulating and implementing management plans and processes.
In October 2007, Cemce Suse, the Toshao at that time, attended the IUCN Latin American Parks Congress in
Bariloche, Argentina, where he gave a presentation on establishing the C.O.C.A. He also attended the 2008 World
Managing Traditional Lands for Conservation and Development: The Wai Wai in Southern Guyana
Natural Resource Management
Conservation Congress in Barcelona, Spain. These interactions connect the Wai Wai C.O.C.A. to conservation initiatives around the world and provide the opportunity to connect with indigenous leaders from other countries to discuss
issues related to conservation and development and to share approaches and learning.
The Kanashen C.O.C.A. is the first entity of its kind in Guyana. Understanding how well the management process and plan perform toward achieving the goals and objectives of the C.O.C.A. will help the Management Team
and the community to learn from experience and adapt their Management Plan when necessary to improve performance or meet new challenges and opportunities. The experience of the C.O.C.A. will provide valuable learning to other community conservation initiatives in Guyana, as well as for other indigenous communities seeking
to manage their lands for both conservation and development while seeking to preserve their cultural traditions
and ways of life.
This work has not only been about the conservation values of the Wai Wai of Kanashen, but also about recognition
of their rights to their lands and for themselves as a people with an important role in Guyanese society. They are not
only guardians of a unique culture, language and way of life, they are guardians of an important tract of forest with
habitats for much of Guyana’s biodiversity. The Wai Wai of Kanashen have been able to maintain many traditional
values — and to transfer those values to new ways of living. They have embraced a new expression of their spiritualism and many modern ways while maintaining their value and respect for the land, their elders, and their community
The Wai Wai of Kanashen are pleased to share with others the story of how they have achieved ownership of their
lands, recognition for their traditions and culture, and effective management of their lands for current and future generations. The words of Yowkaru Mawasha, an advisor to the Village council, testify to the continuing commitment to
stewardship passed from the elders of the past to the forward thinking community of today:
Conservation in this area has not been a new one. Our way of life was conservation. Even before
thinking about title to land our closeness with the environment has a spiritual connection. Our
elders lived and died thinking that what they did to the environment would be left for their sons
and daughters and their sons and daughters. This was surely spoken of by our great leader Elka
when he was our leader decades ago.
Yowkaru Mawasha, Advisor to the Village Council
Excerpt from interview, October 2007
This article is a collaborative effort by members of the Wai Wai community of Masakenari, staff of CI–Guyana,
and the Indigenous and Traditional Peoples Program of Conservation International in Arlington, Virginia, USA.
It is based entirely on the collective inputs of the members of the community of Masakenari into their management planning process. Several individuals shared their insights into this process through personal interviews conducted by CI–Guyana staff in October 2007, including: Paul Chekema (Toshao [Kayaritomo]), Maripa Marawanaru
(a village councilor and elder), Yowkaru Mawasha (advisor to the Village Council), James Cemce Suse (former Toshao
Indigenous Peoples and Conservation: From Rights to Resource Management
Natural Resource Management
and member of the C.O.C.A. management team), Kaiweh Shu Shu (village elder), Salome Shu Shu (teacher), Ayaw
Kuyume (Church Elder), Kimikiu Marawanaru (Village Elder) and Chawa Shu Suh (Village Elder). Several current
and former CI–Guyana staff members have worked extensively with the Wai Wai community both in the management planning process and in capacity building activities: Eustace Alexander (Manager of Conservation Science),
Vitus Antone (Photographer and Field Programme Assistant), Natalie Victoriano (Field Programme Assistant), Gillian
Alfred (Community Development Officer), and Patricia Fredericks (Education and Awareness Officer). Also advising
on the organization of the management plan and defining of community development goals was Dianna Darsney, a
participant in the USAID Emerging Markets Development Advisor Program working with CI–Guyana.
Literature Cited
Alonso. L., McCullough, J., Naskrecki, P., Alexander, P.E. and Wright, H.E. (eds.). 2008. A Rapid Biological Assessment
of the Konashen Community-Owned Conservation Area, Southern Guyana. RAP Bulletin of Biological Assessment
(51): 90pp. Rapid Assessment Program, Center for Applied Biodiversity Science, Conservation International,
Arlington, VA.
Braun, M.J., Finch, D.W., Robbins, M.B. and Schmidt, B.K. 2007. A Field Checklist of the Birds of Guyana. 2nd edition.
Smithsonian Institution, Washington, DC. Website: <
bks1.pdf>. Accessed: 20 August 2008.
de Thoisy, B. and Dewynter, M. Undated. Les Primates de Guyane. Collection Nature Guyanaise, Société d’Etude, de
Protection et d’Aménagement de la Nature en Guyane (Sepanguy), Cayenne.
Eisenberg, J.F. 1989. Mammals of the Neotropics. The Northern Neotropics. Volume 1. Panama, Colombia, Venezuela,
Guyana, Suriname, French Guiana. The Chicago University Press, Chicago.
FAO. 2001. Global Forest Resources Assessment 2000. FAO Forestry Paper 140. Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO),
Hammond, D.S. 2005. Ancient land in a modern world. In: Tropical Forests of the Guiana Shield: Ancient Forests in a Modern World, D.S. Hammond (ed.), pp.1–14. CABI Publishing, Wallingford, UK.
Huber, O., Gharbarran, G. and Funk, V. 1995. Vegetation Map of Guyana. Preliminary version. Center for the Study of
Biological Diversity, University of Guyana, Georgetown.
Mittermeier, R.A., Rylands, A.B., Van Roosmalen, M.G.M., Norconk, M.A., Konstant, W.R. and Famolare, L. 2008.
Monkeys of the Guianas: Guyana, Suriname, French Guiana. Pocket Identification Guide. Conservation International
Tropical Pocket Guide Series, Conservation International, Arlington, VA.
Robbins, M.B., Braun, M.J., Milensky, C.M., Schmidt, B.K., Prince, W., Rice, N.H., Finch, D.W. and O’Shea, B.J. 2007.
Avifauna of the Upper Essequibo River and Acary Mountains, southern Guyana. Ornitologia Neotropical 18: 339–368.
O’Shea, B.J. 2008a. Birds of the Konashen C.O.C.A., southern Guyana. In: A Rapid Biological Assessment of the
Konashen Community Owned Conservation Area, Southern Guyana, L. E. Alonso, J. McCullough, P. Naskrecki, E.
Alexander and H.E. Wright (eds.), RAP Bulletin of Biological Assessment 51: 63–68. Conservation International,
Arlington, VA.
O’Shea, B.J. 2008b. Preliminary bird species checklist of the Konashen C.O.C.A., southern Guyana. In: A Rapid Biological
Assessment of the Konashen Community Owned Conservation Area, Southern Guyana, L.E. Alonso, J. McCullough,
P. Naskrecki, E. Alexander and H.E. Wright (eds.), RAP Bulletin of Biological Assessment 51: 78–86. Conservation
International, Arlington, VA.
Managing Traditional Lands for Conservation and Development: The Wai Wai in Southern Guyana
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Lasso, C.A., Hernández-Acevedo, J., Alexander, E., Señaris, J.C., Mesa, L., Samudio, H., Mora-Day, J., Magalhães,
C., Shushu, A., Mauruwanaru, E. and Shoni, R. 2008. Aquatic biota: fishes, decapod crustaceans and mollusks
of the upper Essequibo Basin (Konashen C.O.C.A.), southern Guyana. In: A Rapid Biological Assessment of the
Konashen Community Owned Conservation Area, Southern Guyana, L.E. Alonso, J. McCullough, P. Naskrecki, E.
Alexander and H. E. Wright (eds.), RAP Bulletin of Biological Assessment 51: 43–54. Conservation International,
Arlington, VA.
Señaris, J.C., Lasso, C.A., Rivas, G., Kalamandeen M. and Marawanuru, E. 2008. Amphibians and reptiles of the Acarai
Mountains, and Sipu, Kamopa, and Essequibo rivers in the Konashen C.O.C.A., Guyana. In: A Rapid Biological
Assessment of the Konashen Community Owned Conservation Area, Southern Guyana, L.E. Alonso, J. McCullough,
P. Naskrecki, E. Alexander and H.E. Wright (eds.), RAP Bulletin of Biological Assessment 51: 55–62. Conservation
International, Arlington, VA.
Indigenous Peoples and Conservation: From Rights to Resource Management
Natural Resource Management
Biodiversity Management
in New Caledonia:
Project in the Mount Panié Reserve
Conservation Project in
the Mount Panié Reserve
Henri Blaffart †, Djaek Folger and François Tron
Quick Facts
Country: New Caledonia
Geographic Focus: The Mount Panié Reserve, in the Hyehen district in the northeast of the island of Grande-Terre
Indigenous Peoples: The Kanak live in clans and are descendants from Austronesians who have lived in New Caledonia for 3,500 years.
Author Information
Henri Blaffart (1965–2008) was a Belgian conservationist and
environmentalist. He graduated from the Faculty of Agronomic
Science of Gembloux in Belgium in 1990 with a degree in agronomy,
and subsequently worked on various conservation projects in Ethiopia,
Cambodia, Samoa and Papua New Guinea. In 2002, with the support of Province Nord, the Maruia Trust and Conservation International,
Blaffart began working with the Kanak communities living around the
Mt Panié Wilderness Reserve, supporting the creation of the Dayu Biik
association in 2004. Henri Blaffart drowned while trying to cross the
Tiendanite River in Province nord on 21 March 2008. See McKenna
et al. (2009; p.184).
“The land is first, it is us. Without the returns of our land,
we remain a people without roots and without our identity.”
Rock Pidjot 1
Since 2002, the Mount Panié Wilderness Reserve Co-management
Conservation Project, a pilot conservation program, has received support from the government of the Northern Province of New Caledonia
and from Conservation International’s offices in New Caledonia and
Samoa. The project’s objective is to preserve the region’s biodiversity
with the full participation of, and emphasis on the benefits to, the
area’s indigenous Kanak communities. The Mount Panié Reserve is
in the Hyehen district in the northeast of the island of Grande Terre.
At 1,629 m, Panié is the highest point in the country. The mountain
slopes are very steep and the range plunges directly into the lagoon:
the New Caledonia Lagoons World Heritage Site, inscribed in 2008
(UNESCO 2008). The reserve is in a 35,000-ha rainforest; the largest
in the country. Here we report on the management of this reserve and
the participation of the local population.
Djaek Folger is a young Kanak from a local tribe who followed Henri
Blaffart in the forest for several years. Djaek went to New Zealand
for training in ecotourism business and pest control in protected
areas by indigenous Maoris and scientists from the Department of
Conservation. Djaek is now a full time staff member of Dayu Biik.
E-mail : [email protected]
At 17,000 km², the island of New Caledonia, in the south-west Pacific,
is the smallest of the 34 biodiversity hotspots; 3,700 plant species have
been documented on the islands, 80% of them endemic (Lowry et al.
2004). The North-East New Caledonian Corridor (Fig. 1) includes
coastal and montane rainforest, degraded savannah and lagoons. The
François Tron is an Agricultural Engineer, He is currently working as
Team leader for Province Nord for Conservation International’s New
Caledonia regional program in Hyehen.
E-mail: [email protected]
1 Rock Pidjot (1907–1990) was an important political leader promoting New Caledonia independence, and member of the Parliament in France from 1964 to 1986. See
Natural Resource Management
Mount Panié massif has a remarkable degree of microendemism. Traditional low-density and culturally rich
Melanesian communities have maintained a close relationship with the ecosystems and wildlife of this region;
they have depended on them for thousands of years.
Conservation International’s strategy for conserving the
New Caledonia “islandscape” was developed after a multisite terrestrial RAP in 1996, when Province Nord public authorities invited Conservation International to initiate a field conservation project in the Mount Panié
Reserve (Lees 1998). In 2002, the first permanent field
staff, the late Henri Blaffart, settled in Tiendanite tribe
to initiate consultations and operations. Conservation
Figure 1. World Heritage Site zoning and terrestrial buffer zones, integrating the 40-miles-long Mount Panié massif, including coastal and
International’s strategy included the development of a
montane rainforest, degraded savannah, mangroves and lagoons. Proridge-to-reef conservation approach, at the same time
tection of the integrity and continuity of this “islandscape” has been a
major focus of Conservation International’s program since 1996 for conencouraging the development of sustainable economies,
serving the remarkable degree of terrestrial micro-endemism and worldecotourism and ecological agriculture. This strategy fits
class reefs of this North-East New Caledonian Corridor (Lees 1998).
well with the political agenda of the region in promoting
the maintenance of rich, lively and adaptive local communities and their unique culture through conservation and ecotourism. Co-management means the active involvement of all local communities, led by their customary chiefs, public authorities endowing environmental stewardship,
and NGOs.
Austronesians from Asia were the first humans to walk on New Caledonian soil 3,500 years ago. The population
developed its own culture, characterized by the production of Lapita pottery. The Lapita civilization subsequently spread
from New Caledonia to Pacific islands further to the east. Until the arrival of Europeans, the people were organized
in clans that each had their own lands. Clans were headed by chiefs who reigned over various territories. There was no
global organization, which is reflected in the 28 different Melanesian languages that are still spoken in New Caledonia.
Melanesians united only when faced with European colonization, and the term “Kanak” was born, from the Hawaiian
word “Kanaka” which means “black man.” European navigators applied it to the indigenous populations of Melanesia.
From the 1960s, New Caledonian indigenous peoples appropriated the name, and today it has become one of the symbols of their cultural and political claims. The Kanak call their country “Kanaky.”
Making Contact with the Kanak Peoples
The strategy adopted in the Mount Panié conservation and co-management pilot project is still relevant today, and continues to influence other conservation projects in the country, especially in its involvement of local communities in the
management processes. Meeting community authorities and making contact with the local populations is mandatory.
It allows for an assessment and understanding of their interests and knowledge, and also provides vital insights to their
nature and ways, particularly as they relate to the natural world and conservation. A Kanak strongly identifies himself
with the land, and his secret Kanak name is linked to a well-defined area of land. On the death of the landowner, the
land returns to the clan. No other authority has any property rights, and the clan alone decides how land is used. Based
Indigenous Peoples and Conservation: From Rights to Resource Management
Natural Resource Management
on this understanding, Conservation International’s first step for the conservation project in the Mount Panié Reserve
was to contact the clan chiefs who lived there.
Beginning in 2002, Conservation International was careful to identify all of the clans in the four tribes living around
and in the Mount Panié reserve, and conducted a series of environmental surveys with each. The surveys made it possible
to make contact with all of the inhabitants, to assess their environmental knowledge, to explore the interactions between
individuals, the community and the wider environment, and to explain the objectives of the conservation project. Over
the following year, while compiling and analyzing the survey material, efforts were made to raise awareness, explore the
social context, and conduct field surveys prior to the drafting of a co-management project. This work was only possible
by living with the Kanak population.
Figure 2. The mountain range includes New Caledonia’s highest point, Mount Panié, elevation 5,341 feet (1,629 m). The Mount Panié Reserve, protecting
also part of the best remaining forest block on the island, is outlined in blue.
Biodiversity Management in New Caledonia: The Co-management Conservation Project in the Mount Panié Reserve
Natural Resource Management
The Local Management Association “Dayu Biik”
Conservation International and the community leaders determined the appropriate structure for a co-management plan
after a reconnaissance trip to New Zealand and the Province Nord. This led to the creation, in April 2004, of the Dayu
Biik Association. Dayu Biik is the local name for the Kaori tree (Agathis montana, Araucariaceae), a conifer endemic to
Mount Panié. Of the 41 species of conifers on New Caledonia (7% of all conifers) — the Kaori trees are the kings of the
New Caledonian forest, with some reaching a trunk circumference of 10 m.
The principal objective of the Association was defined as follows: “In the designated area, and based on the decisions of the Provincial Assembly, of the Council of the district of Hyehen, and of the Council of Elders of each tribe, the
Association has the objective to create and implement a management plan for environmental protection in general and
for the conservation of defined ecosystems and biological species in particular.”
Since then, the Province Nord public authority has regularly increased its funding; in 2010, three permanent staff
and many temporary employees are implementing pilot actions in various fields. Two of the staff members are young
Kanak from the local tribes who were trained in the early years of the project. Since its inception, the Association has
benefited from technical and financial support from Conservation International. The late Henri Blaffart, a key figure
in the Association from 2002 to 2008, was drowned in a flood; his life in the tribe and with the people led to the vital
trust now held between local Kanak and white people, only 15 years after a civil war between these two communities
(see McKenna et al. 2009, p.184)
Mount Panié Wilderness Reserve Co-management Conservation Project
First steps
Based on the results of the surveys mentioned above and following a number of meetings of the Dayu Biik Association,
conservation and ecotourism were identified as the two main initial components. They are linked. With its beautiful
landscapes, Hyehen was an obvious ‘must-see’ on any visitor’s itinerary, and since the district has only 2,400 inhabitants,
small-scale ecotourism could well sustain the livelihoods of many of the households. Delighted tourists would then communicate a strong conservation awareness message to the tribes. Ecotourism is impossible, however, without the appropriate infrastructure and logistic facilities for nature exploration. Reserve managers would need to maintain nature trails
and refuges, and ecotourism guides need to be trained. Local people were trained in dealing with tourists and in the sorts
of information which the tourists would expect to receive. The conservation component includes the control of invasive
species (for example introduced deer, pigs, rats, cats, pines, and fire ants), fire management, and forest restoration. The
initial demonstrative projects on the control of rats and pigs and on particular ecotourism initiatives allowed Dayu Biik
to recruit many local staff and foster their trust. This practical side of the work in the early years, responding very pragmatically to the perceptions and needs of local people, has been crucial to initiate a sense of a shared and practical stewardship, governance and co-management of the local exceptional biodiversity.
From 2005 to 2007, four themes were developed for the Ecotourism component of the Co-management Conservation
Project in Mount Panié. They were: 1) creating a system of hikes and refuges, with informative signage along the trails;
2) establishing accommodation with local people; 3) training guides; and 4) improving conservation awareness. The
Association has made significant progress in developing an infrastructure for hiking: 12 trails were set up totaling about
150 km, two refuges and picnic facilities were built, informative signs were prepared and placed, and cost estimates
Indigenous Peoples and Conservation: From Rights to Resource Management
Natural Resource Management
prepared for three campgrounds and a forest welcome center. Six youths were trained as hiking guides. An important
part of the Association’s work is to organize the tourists’ visits; work that capitalizes on the infrastructure and the guides’
knowledge, and generates significant income for the local people.
In 2006, following a preliminary survey with substantial involvement of the Association, the Province Nord and
the town of Hyehen started a concerted development operation focusing on sustainable activities (notably ecotourism)
and the conservation of the biological, cultural and historical heritage through the creation of a natural park — a major
contribution to biodiversity conservation in the region. Dayu Biik consulted with the team in charge of the ecotourism
operation to develop the following goals for the project: improve the organization of ecotourism visits; train the staff of
the tourist center; help create a transportation network for tourists and locals; and support the installation of a telephone
network. Conservation International and Dayu Biik provided the project with a list of 60 suggested ecotourism microprojects, which included a nature center in the middle of the village. The construction of a nature center is now underway and is projected to open in 2013.
To develop a successful tourism industry, it is crucial to train young Kanaks. Most young people leave school too
early, and subsequently find it difficult to realize their ambitions of obtaining qualifications and getting ahead in the
increasingly modern society of New Caledonia. Some young Kanaks underwent short training sessions as guides, but
would have benefited from receiving some sort of formal certification. The Association is now collaborating with the
Province Nord to develop training courses that lead to certification, a reciprocally beneficial process. Local students who
get a higher education and have the capacity to manage a project are very rare. Furthermore, it is important to trust all
people, young and old, with new responsibilities so that they can increasingly participate in project management.
Conservation science
Since the creation of the Dayu Biik Association, many scientific expeditions have been led in the reserve, with systematic participation of the local guides. This benefits both parties; the local population learns from the researchers, and
the Kanak people, with their local environmental knowledge, contribute significantly to the success of these expeditions.
Since its inception, Dayu Biik and the local Kanak population have contributed to studies on the inventory of
rainforest birds and seabirds of the Province Nord carried out by the New Caledonian Society of Ornithology (Société
Calédonienne d’Ornithologie – SCO), to studies on bats with the New Caledonia Agronomic Institute (Institut Agronomique
Néo-Calédonien – IAC), to research on hunting by the IAC, and to various botanical and entomological surveys undertaken by the French Development Research Institute (Institut de Recherche pour le Développement – IRD). Local collaborators in these studies were trained and are now able to work in the field independently. Many of them are regularly
employed by the same researchers for missions all over the country. Schools have also become involved in these activities
and produce exhibits, signs, and brochures. The new infrastructure facilitated the work of researchers and improved their
exploration. Dozens of insects and plants were discovered during these surveys, many of them new to science.
Many local people also participated in a Marine Rapid Assessment (RAP) of the reef biodiversity around Mt. Panié,
conducted by Conservation International in 2004 (McKenna et al. 2006). Supported by the results of this RAP, the
Lagoons of New Caledonia and Associated Ecosystems (1,574,300 ha), comprising six clusters of coral reefs and one of
the three most extensive reef systems in the world, was decreed a UNESCO Marine World Heritage site in 2008. The
RAP expedition and the creation of the World Heritage site inspired the province to begin creating protected marine
areas. Since then, two other marine RAPs have been conducted in Province Nord (McKenna et al. 2009) and, being such
a vital asset to conservation planning, several others (both on land and sea) are now planned. Eight years of involvement
in these surveys by Conservation International and Dayu Biik have led to excellent relations with numerous researchers.
Most of them are willing to participate in future studies, including more detailed ecological research on the rainforest,
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biological inventories to search for new species, and research to gain a better understanding of the spread of alien invasive species and their effects on the native fauna and flora.
At the end of 2006, Conservation International organized a workshop on the Mount Panié Conservation Project.
On the southern side of Mount Panié, La Guen is the largest waterfall in New Caledonia and its large watershed under
the summit of Mount Panié has never been explored. The aim is to establish a long-term research project on the ecology of the rain forest there. Many researchers agreed to participate. The initial baseline survey for birds was carried out
in 2009, and a terrestrial RAP will be carried out in 2010. The refuge facilities can host up to 25 people — researchers,
locals and tourists — and will be key to bringing together all the components of the Mount Panié project; ecotourism,
integration of the Kanak populations, training and employment opportunities, restoration, research, and conservation.
Conservation in Practice
Four factors pose serious threats to the biodiversity of New Caledonia and were identified as priorities in our co-management conservation plan: mines, commercial hunting and fishing, fires, and invasive species.
Nickel mines are present in half of the Caledonian territory but not in the north-east. Thanks to this, public authorities
have been keen to get involved in the less challenging project of Mount Panié. While demonstrating the many benefits
of conservation action, politicians and industrial businessmen are now keen to mitigate their environmental impacts by
engaging with Conservation International on carbon and biodiversity offsets; at the same time alleviating poverty in less
favored communities, protecting and restoring ecosystem services, and sustaining traditional culture and institutions.
Commercial hunting and fishing
Hunting and fishing are common activities, mostly for daily family subsistence but also for traditional ceremonies. Both
native (pigeons and fruitbats), and alien-invasive (deer and pigs) species are hunted. Hunting for native species must be
rigorously managed to avoid excessive offtake and population declines.
Deer and pigs also require management so as to maintain a sustainable
harvest, which would, one hopes,
diminish pressure on the native species. While the elders used to hunt
from day-to-day with bamboo sticks,
local people today hunt with guns,
4 × 4 offroad vehicles, and highintensity headlamps. Notous (the
New Caledonian Imperial-Pigeon,
Ducula goliath; reputedly the largest arboreal pigeon in the world) and
bats are hunted by some for trade to
provide for supplementary income.
Figure 3. Back from a successful pig-hunt with experts from New Zealand. Photo © H. Blaffart.
Efforts are underway to reduce the
Indigenous Peoples and Conservation: From Rights to Resource Management
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hunting on this particularly vulnerable endemic by involving the hunters in demographic studies of the species and by
carrying out awareness campaigns. Initial surveys carried out by Conservation International, Dayu Biik and other partners have shown that a widespread decline has occurred over the last 30 years. This has led to a new regulation on hunting, and the creation of nature police who are now very active in the field.
Fires are an ever present threat in New Caledonia. For centuries, people have set fires for a number of reasons: clearing fields for cultivation, deer hunting, opening up trails, burning trash, signaling presence, conflicts, chasing pigs away,
or just for show. Since 2006, Hyehen firefighters have benefited from the support of a helicopter-tanker to extinguish
fires in areas which were previously inaccessible. In 2006,
the Association participated in the Koôhné workshop on
fires, and supported the main proposals arising, which
included creating new firefighting centers, upgrading
equipment, and training more firefighters. Discussions
with authorities are also underway to provide firefighter
training for volunteers. The Association trustees appreciate and deplore the catastrophic damage caused by fires,
and while local people showed indifference to this question five years ago, most people now will call in the firefighters when a fire starts. Several tribes have requested
that areas damaged by fires be replanted. Conservation
International and Dayu Biik make every effort to fulfill
these requests knowing that those who plant a tree will
not allow it to burn. A local music band produced a CD
Figure 4. Participative bushfire monitoring and mapping. Photo © F. Tron.
and songs on this theme.
Invasive species
Invasive animal and plant species are another serious threat to New Caledonia’s endemic biodiversity. Introduced mammals (rats, cats, dogs, pigs, and deer) are severely depleting the populations of numerous species and degrading New
Caledonia’s terrestrial habitats. Invasive species can be found everywhere, and fighting against them is a constant and
highly technical task. Beyond the control of mining, the control of invasive species is the single most important measure for the conservation of the rich biodiversity of New Caledonia and its islands. The situation is extremely serious,
especially as the authorities are slow to take on this long, expensive and complicated battle. Since 2003, Conservation
International has worked with the New Zealand Department of Conservation (NZ DOC) and the Pacific Invasive
Initiative (PII) to look at strategies and solutions for this problem. In 2006, a collegial task force on invasive species produced an expertise that has led to a permanent collegial body that facilitates the exchange of relevant experiences in their
control and elimination. In 2004 and 2005, with the NZ DOC experts and in collaboration with the members of the
Tiendanite tribe, the Co-management Conservation Project marked out 100 ha in the rainforest and began an intensive
campaign to catch all of the cats and rats. Over 40 days, we caught 1,400 rats and nine cats. Shortly after this operation,
local people witnessed significant bird and seedling recovery.
Meanwhile, our Kanak colleagues asked us why we were concerned with cats and rats in the forest, while no one was
helping them fight against pigs that destroy their gardens. They light fires to keep the pigs away, and pigs were seen as
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the greatest threat not merely to the forest but also to their livelihoods. We set up snares to catch pigs, and brought in
two Maori hunters from New Zealand who, with three dogs, caught 23 pigs over two weeks. The only native mammals
in New Caledonia are bats, and the snares proved to be very efficient.
Well-trained and healthy dogs can help the local people to keep the numbers of pigs down, but the dogs living with
the tribes are not well-fed and are in poor health. They breed often, are numerous, and are themselves pestilential in scavenging for food in the forest. We initiated a veterinary study that demonstrated not only the poor health of the tribes’
dogs but also that they carry diseases contagious to humans. Using leaflets, we informed the tribes of the importance of
simple and inexpensive veterinary care, of the need to have healthier dogs that can keep pigs away to protect their gardens, and of the advantages of reducing the incidence of fires. The 2006 workshop on the problem of deer and the damage they cause to both natural habitats and crops resulted in two proposals: 1) to capture breeding deer; and 2) for members of the Hunting Federation to hunt them. The latter option was taken up.
Towards the Restoration of the Island’s Ecosystems
The rapid and widespread decline in biodiversity and the accompanying biosimplification and loss of resilience and
functioning in New Caledonia’s ecosystems demand proactive measures beyond just protecting set asides and the
elimination of invasive species. Major restoration programs for degraded habitats are needed. Populations of
slow-growing species such as the several-hundred-yearold kaori trees will not recover spontaneously even if
seedling predators such as deer and pigs are eliminated
unless they are also provided with favorable soils and
appropriate microclimates. Trees, habitats and vegetation types are being lost at a rate faster than they can
recover naturally.
In New Caledonia, vast areas of forest have been
lost through fires and mining, and even larger areas are
severely affected by invasive species. Success achieved
by the Mount Panié pilot and demonstrative project is
leading towards the involvement of public authorities
and mining industries in forest restoration programs
that provide many benefits for the local communities.
Reforestation with native species is educational, and combines with numerous other activities that will promote
the well-being of the native New Caledonians. Dayu
Biik has therefore helped to establish three tree nurseries for native trees and shrubs, giving local employment
and generating income, and providing the wherewithal
for ecosystem-based management through agroforestry,
beneficial for the livelihoods of the New Caledonians
and the region’s fauna and flora, as well as providing for
Figure 5. A monospecific orchid genus; Eriaxis rigida (Vanilloideae) enresilience in the face of climate change.
demic to the savannas of New Caledonia. Photo © F. Tron.
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Next Steps
After the tragic loss of Henri Blaffart,
it was possible to imagine that Dayu
Biik could falter and lose its momentum. The Province Nord authorities
and Conservation International acted
quickly, however, promptly recruiting
a technical director, whose experience
allowed him to combine technical support for Dayu Biik and institutional
advice for Province Nord. Dayu Biik
was subsequently invited to submit
a formal management plan for the
Mount Panié Wilderness Reserve, and
a new series of consultations of the
tribes was organized. At this time the
hiking trail network was completely
Figure 6. Elders teach younger guides to census birds. Photo © F. Tron.
renovated, and the Bird survey baseline
was set up at La Guen. Mixing planning and practice for the new team has
been a success, and Province Nord has significantly increased its funding to Dayu Biik and to Conservation International.
A Marine Protected Area is being planned, with an active role being taken by Dayu Biik, which is within the spirit
of Conservation International’s initial Ridge to Reef Islandscape strategy. In 2010, the proposed Hyehen Natural Park
is under discussion, and it is Conservation International’s vision to set it up so as to incorporate biogeographical criteria
encompassing a very large area. The Mount Panié project will now incorporate pilot operations for a major Multibenefits
Forest Project, involving carbon offset and poverty alleviation, and providing for the conservation of terrestrial, freshwater and marine biodiversity and ecosystem services, as well as social peace and the preservation of native culture. During
this transition, Dayu Biik trustees and supporters have shown their commitment to the initial vision, and governance
has increased to the level that it is now one of the most successful and trusted Kanak NGOs in New Caledonia, even to
the extent of having a seat on the government advisory board for the environment.
From its beginnings the Mount Panié Project, accompanied by the creation of the Dayu Biik Association, has provided resolutions to many of the major environmental issues on New Caledonia, and has demonstrated above all that
conservation is a critical consideration for the success of larger development goals. Conservation International and its
partners are translating these pilot actions into more extensive plans to effectively slow down and reverse the current degradation of New Caledonia’s ecosystems, to conserve the islands’ remarkable wildlife, and most importantly to provide
for the well-being of the Kanak people.
Literature Cited
Lees, A. (ed.). 1998. Conserving Biodiversity in Province Nord, New Caledonia. Volume I: Main report. Volume II:
Appendices. Report, Conservation International, Washington, DC, and Maruia Society, New Zealand in association
with Province Nord Provincial Government, New Caledonia.
Biodiversity Management in New Caledonia: The Co-management Conservation Project in the Mount Panié Reserve
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Lowry II, P.P., Munzinger, J., Bouchet, P., Géraux, H., Bauer, A., Langrand, O. and Mittermeier, R. A. 2004. New Caledonia.
In: Hotspots Revisited, R.A. Mittermeier, P. Robles Gil, M. Hoffmann, J. Pilgrim, T. Brooks, C.G. Mittermeier,
J. Lamoreux and G.A.B. da Fonseca (eds.), pp.193–197. Cemex, Mexico.
McKenna, S.A., Baillon, N., Blaffart, H. and Abrusci, G. (eds.). 2006. Une evaluation rapide de la biodiversité marine
des récifs coralliens du Mont Panié, Province Nord, Nouvelle Calédonie. RAP Bulletin, PER d’évaluation biologique
42: 126pp. Conservation International, Washington, DC.
McKenna, S.A., Baillon, N. and Sapaggiari, J. (eds.). 2009. Evaluation rapide de la biodiversité marine des récifs coralliens du lagon Nord-ouest entre Kopumanc et Yandé, Province Nord, Nouvelle-Caledonie. RAP Bulletin, PER
d’évaluation biologique 53: 184pp. Conservation International, Arlington, VA.
UNESCO. 2008. Lagoons of New Caledonia: Reef Diversity and Associated Ecosystems. United Nations Educational,
Scientific and Cultural Organisation (UNESCO), Paris. Website: <>. Accessed:
29 May 2009.
Indigenous Peoples and Conservation: From Rights to Resource Management
Natural Resource Management
Indigenous and Local
Community Based
Conservation in India:
Current Status and Future Prospects1
Ashish Kothari and Neema Pathak
Quick Facts
Country: India
Geographic Focus: Country-wide
Indigenous Peoples: Communities that can broadly be
termed to be the original human inhabitants of the Indian
subcontinent are known as adivasis. About 7% of the total population is classified as ‘scheduled tribes’, which are
listed in the Indian Constitution as such on account of their
unique cultural, political, and economic characteristics.
India, however, does not officially accept the term ‘indigenous peoples’.
Author Information
Ashish Kothari is a member of Kalpavriksh – Environmental Action
Group, India. He has been co-chair of the IUCN Strategic Direction on
Governance, Equity, and Livelihoods in Relation to Protected Areas
(TILCEPA), and on the steering committees of two of IUCN’s commissions. For over two decades he has advocated a model of conservation that takes into account social issues, and has worked to bring the
voices of indigenous peoples and local communities into conservation
policy at national and international levels.
E-mail: [email protected]
Neema Pathak is a member of Kalpavriksh – Environmental Action
Group. She is a member of two of IUCN’s commissions, and has been
working on community conserved areas for many years. She has carried out a detailed study of an indigenous CCA in central India, and
continues to actively support communities through documentation,
legal and policy advice, and outreach.
E-mail: [email protected]
This paper examines the current status and future prospects of conservation initiatives that are inclusive of the needs and livelihoods of
indigenous peoples and local communities in India. The world over,
as a series of international agreements has shown, there has been an
increasing understanding that biodiversity conservation requires the
involvement of the rural communities that live in natural ecosystems. In India, there have been a number of policy processes and pronouncements that have stressed the need for broad-based conservation
efforts which encompass also the well-being of local communities who
depend on natural resources. The key question is: how much has this
intent been translated into action at the legal/policy level and on the
ground? And, where measures have been taken, how successful have
they been as what we refer to as “Community based Conservation
(CBC)” initiatives; benefitting biodiversity and involving and benefitting the local communities? 2
There are three broad aspects of CBC; 1) initiatives by indigenous
peoples and other traditional local communities to conserve wildlife
and biodiversity, 2) involvement of indigenous peoples and communities in formal, government-managed protected areas, and 3) indigenous peoples and community involvement in NGO-led conservation
initiatives. This last is rather limited in India and we will discuss it no
further. There has been much debate and much has been written with
regard to the involvement of indigenous and local communities in
1 This paper in its original version was prepared for the Workshop on “Role of Civil Society in Forestry Sector in India”,
Indian Council of Forestry Research and Education, Dehra Dun, India, 10–11th October, 2007. It also builds on an
earlier article on the subject, published in Insight Guides: Indian Wildlife (Lord and Bell, eds., APA Publications, Hong
Kong, 2007). This paper was not written from an academic perspective, so we have not put in detailed referencing.
However, references are available for all the information contained here, and can be provided at request.
2 We use the term communities generically here, to include both indigenous peoples and/or other traditional local
communities. It should be noted that the term ‘indigenous peoples’ is not used officially in India, it is replaced by
the term adivasis (‘original inhabitants’) or ‘tribal communities.’ However the communities themselves often use the
term ‘indigenous’.
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government protected areas, so we will discuss this only briefly here, pointing mainly to key constraints and future steps.
We deal with the first aspect in more detail because it remains a seriously neglected aspect in India’s formal conservation
and forest/ecosystem management strategies.
Community Conserved Areas and Species
India’s first wildlife protected areas and forest reserves were not set up by the government, or by kings and sultans. They
were created by ordinary people, by adivasi (indigenous, tribal) communities who set aside parts of the landscape for cultural, ethical, or economic reasons. Community conserved areas (CCAs) are not only a historical fact, however, they are
a reality of present times.
Perhaps the original CCAs were sacred sites. Patches of forest, water bodies, or grasslands that were considered to
be inhabited by gods, ancestors, or totems, and therefore strictly protected from any resource extraction. Many of these,
still existing, may be several thousand years old. Among the youngest of the CCAs are those where communities, having
faced scarcity of water, fuel or fodder, or becoming alarmed by the rapid decimation of wildlife, have declared natural
ecosystems as sites for protection and/or conservation with restricted use.
The range of CCAs
There are literally thousands of such areas in India and other countries. We here provide a few examples, and more
detailed case studies on these and other CCAs are available in Pathak (2009).
Sacred sites were once extremely widespread across India, covering perhaps about 10% of many regions. These
included forest groves, village tanks, and Himalayan grasslands. Although now considerably less in number and coverage,
there may still be between 100,000 and 150,000. Many groves have preserved remnant populations of rare and endemic
species that have been wiped out elsewhere. In general such areas are quite small (sometimes only a handful of trees), but
they can also be as large as 400 ha, as in Meghayala. Interestingly, in some parts of India such as Uttarakhand, communities have designated new forest areas as sacred in order to protect them.
Dozens of heronries are being protected by communities that live around them. Trees in or near village ponds are
often the favorite nesting and roosting sites for waterbirds. Well-known examples include Kokkare Bellur in Karnataka;
Nellapattu, Vedurapattu, and Veerapuram in Andhra
Pradesh; Chittarangudi and Vedanthangal in Tamil
Nadu, and many others (some of which have become
officially protected sanctuaries). Many of these harbor
rare or threatened species such as the Spot-billed Pelican
(Pelecanus philippensis) ranked as “Near Threatened” by
the IUCN (2008).
Wintering water bird populations also find a safe
haven in many wetlands in or adjacent to villages.
Mangalajodi village in Orissa, on the edge of the Chilika
lagoon, harbors several hundred thousand migratory
ducks and waders. Even though this is a village full of
one-time bird catchers (with substantial income coming from selling them), the residents now offer complete
Figure 1. Kokkare Bellur village, Karnataka, co-inhabited by people and
protection against hunting and other disturbances. Patna
waterbirds. Photo © Ashish Kothari.
Indigenous Peoples and Conservation: From Rights to Resource Management
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Lake in Etah District of Uttar Pradesh can support up to 100,000 water birds in a favorable season. The lake was declared
a wildlife sanctuary in 1991 but has been protected for centuries by the locals as a sacred pond.
A number of species of plants and animals are protected across the landscape because of their spiritual, religious,
cultural, or economic value. The Blue bull or Nilgai (Boselaphus tragocamelus), Rhesus macaque (Macaca mulatta), and
Blackbuck (Antilope cervicapra) are the most common. Examples of plants include numerous figs (Ficus, Moraceae) such
as Banyan (F. benghalensis) and Peepal (F. religiosa), both of which are protected throughout India for their religious and
spiritual significance, and also have several medicinal and other uses. In central India, the Mahua or butter tree (Madhuca
indica, Sapotaceae), valued for its flowers and fruits, is almost never cut, even while clearing land for cultivation. In
Rajasthan, the Khejdi (Prosopis cineraria, Mimosoideae) is considered a kalpavriksh (tree that grants all wishes) and zealously protected by many communities; its flowers, bark leaves, and fruits have medicinal properties, the foliage provides
high quality fodder, and its pods are made into various foods. In some communities, elephants or tigers are considered
sacred and left strictly alone.
In Orissa, Andhra Pradesh, and other states, tens of thousands of hectares have been regenerated and/or protected by
village communities on their own initiative (including by all-women forest protection teams such as at Dengejheri village
in Orissa), or occasionally through government-supported programs involving joint forest management. The biodiversity
value of these forests is considerable, providing habitat to a number of threatened mammals and birds. In Orissa alone,
there are more than 10,000 village forest-protection committees, and in some parts of the state, elephants are reported
to be frequenting the community conserved forests, having moved there from previously occupied ranges that have been
disrupted by highways, railway lines or industry. In the Ranpur block near Bhubaneshwar, 180 conserving villages (many
of them adivasi settlements) have created a federation to combine their initiatives at a landscape level to maximize cooperation, reduce conflicts and provide a unified organization for dialogue with the government or outsiders.
In Nagaland, several dozen villages have over the last decade or two, conserved natural ecosystems as forest or wildlife reserves. One of the biggest is the Khonoma Tragopan and Wildlife Sanctuary, spread over 20 km², where hunting
and resource extraction is completely prohibited; in another 50 km² or so, very minimal resource use, for domestic purposes only, is allowed. Amongst the earliest initiatives were the forest and wildlife reserves set up by Luzophuhu village
in Phek district, and the Ghoshu Bird Sanctuary declared by Gikhiye village in Zonheboto district, both in the 1980s.
Given the indiscriminate hunting that this state has witnessed in the last three decades, these efforts are crucial in giving
Nagaland’s unique biodiversity a renewed lease of life.
In Uttarakhand, some of the state’s best forests are
under the management of Van Panchayats (‘forest councils’ established by legislation and based on traditional
village institutions prevalent in the area). There are dozens of these Van Panchayats in the area of Kumaon,
although by no means are all such areas well conserved.
Of the 2,240 km² stretch of the Gori Ganga River
Basin, 1,439 km² is under the management of the village Van Panchayats. This area forms an important corridor between, Nandadevi Biosphere Reserve and Askot
Wildlife Sanctuary, which is critically important for the
montane wildlife of the region. Together with Nandadevi
Figure 2. Community-protected forests of Kakoijana, Assam, harboring
and Askot, the total area under protection in this ecologthe threatened Golden langur (Trachypithecus geei). Photo © Ashish
ically sensitive area comes to about 88% of the entire
Indigenous and Local Community Based Conservation in India: Current Status and Future Prospects
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river basin. In addition, some villages in the Tehri Garhwal district, influenced by the Chipko movement, have regenerated and protected hundreds of hectares of forests and helped renew populations of leopard, bear, and other species.
In western Assam, several clusters of villagers are protecting forests containing, amongst other things, groups of the
endangered Golden langur (Trachypithecus geei); this includes 28 villages conserving 17.24 km² of the Kakoijana hill
range, Shankar Ghola settlement protecting a few hundred hectares, and Chakrashila Sanctuary, declared an official protected area after several villages began protecting its forests.
With help from the NGO Tarun Bharat Sangh (TBS), several dozen villages in the Alwar district (Rajasthan) have
restored the water regime, regenerated forests, and helped revive populations of wild herbivores, birds, and other wildlife.
Bhaonta-Kolyala villages have even declared a “public wildlife sanctuary” over 1,200 ha.
In 1,800 ha of deciduous forest, Gond adivasis of Mendha (Lekha), Gadchiroli district (Maharashtra), warded off
the threat of the construction of a paper mill which would have destroyed the bamboo stocks, and also stopped the practice of lighting forest fires, and have made progress towards the sustainable extraction of non-timber forest produce.
Despite some continued hunting, the area harbors considerable wildlife including the endangered central race of the
Giant squirrel (Ratufa indica). The initiative has spread to several neighboring villages. Many traditional practices of sustainable use have helped in wildlife conservation. For instance, pastoral communities in Ladakh, Rajasthan, Gujarat and
many other states have strict rules about the amount and frequency of grazing on specified grasslands. Ornithologists
have recorded that these helped (and in some cases continue) to maintain viable habitats for threatened species such as
bustards (Ardeotis nigriceps and Chlamydotis undulata) and floricans (Sypheotides indicus and Houbaropsis bengalensis).
At Khichan village (Rajasthan), villagers provide safety and food to the wintering Demoiselle cranes (Grus virgo) that
flock there in huge numbers of up to 10,000. Several hundred thousand rupees are spent annually by the residents on
this without a grudge or grumble.
The Bishnoi, a community in Rajasthan and Punjab famous for its self-sacrificing defense of wildlife and trees, continues its strong tradition of conservation. Blackbuck, in particular, are plentiful. Blackbuck conservation is also taking
place as a traditional practice in other parts of India; for example, the Buguda village of Ganjam district in Orissa has
even left fallow a considerable part of its agricultural land for Blackbuck to roam and graze.
In Goa, Kerala, and Orissa, important nesting sites for sea turtles such as the beaches of Galjibag and Rushikulya
have been protected through the actions of local fisher people, with help from NGOs and the Forest Department. In
2006, over 100,000 Olive Ridley turtles (Lepidochelys olivacea) were reported to have nested at Rushikulya, on the
Orissa coast, where the Rushikulya Sea Turtle Protection
Committee formed by youth of Puranabandha village
and a youth committee of Gokharkuda village in 1998,
zealously protect the nesting beach.
There are also very many instances of natural ecosystems and wildlife populations having been saved by
local communities from certain destruction. As examples, several big dams that would have submerged huge
areas of forest or other ecosystems have been stopped by
people’s movements. This includes proposed dams such
as the Bhopalpatnam-Ichhampalli in Maharashtra and
Chhattisgarh, which would have submerged a major part
Figure 3. The threatened Golden langur (Trachypithecus geei) in the
community-protected forests of Kakoijana, Assam. Photo © Raju Das.
of the Indravati Tiger Reserve. In addition, the National
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Fishworkers’ Forum has staved off destructive trawling over hundreds of kilometers of India’s coastline and the adjoining marine waters, fought for the implementation of the Coastal Regulation Zone, and assisted in movements against
industrial aquaculture — all leading to the protection of marine wildlife. Many such movements have saved areas that are
equal in size, if not sometimes bigger, than official protected areas.
Ecological benefits of CCAs
A number of sites conserved by communities have been recognized to be of such wildlife value that they have been
declared wildlife sanctuaries or national parks by state governments. In Punjab, lands belonging to the Bishnoi with
considerable blackbuck and Indian gazelle or Chinkara (Gazella bennettii) populations, have been declared the Abohar
Sanctuary. Several heronries in southern India, such as Nellapattu, Vedanthangal, and Chittarangudi, are now wildlife
sanctuaries. In some cases this has helped to stave off outside threats, but in several cases, it has transferred the responsibility of conservation away from villagers to government agencies who do not always have the resources or the zeal to
carry out their obligations. As a result, the areas have suffered neglect and decline. In some cases such as the Karera Great
Indian Bustard Sanctuary, the declaration of the protected area led to a significant increase in the Blackbuck population,
which devastated local people’s crops; they in turn became hostile to the sanctuary, resulting in the elimination of the
entire population of bustards (Ardeotis nigriceps), one of India’s most endangered birds.
Many CCAs provide corridors for animal and gene flux, including between officially protected areas. The example of
Van Panchayats in the Gori River basin of Uttarakhand given above, as studied by the Foundation for Ecological Security
(FES), is exemplary (FES 2004-2005). These CCAs along with the officially protected areas of Nanda Devi and Askot,
could comprise one of India’s biggest protected areas if the village forests were recognized as equivalent to PAs.
CCAs can thus be a powerful tool for enhancing the formal protected area (PA) network of a country. In addition,
they provide a host of ecological benefits, such as secure watersheds, and protection against natural or human-caused
disasters, and crucial livelihood and cultural benefits.
Institutional dynamics of CCAs
The range of mechanisms used by communities in CCAs is fascinating. At virtually all sites, the community has formed
rules and regulations with penalties for anyone violating them. At some places the penalties differ depending on the
nature of the violation, or even on the class of the offender, with poorer people being fined less. Usually also, there is an
institutional mechanism set up to protect the area, such as forest protection committees, youth groups, wildlife protection groups, women’s committees, or even full gram sabhas (village assemblies).
Another critical aspect of many CCAs is the availability of knowledge with the community. Not only their own traditional and local knowledge, but also input from outsiders with a scientific background, have greatly helped to empower
and support people in their resource and wildlife conservation initiatives. In some cases, local mobilization in other arenas (for example, development or community empowerment) has helped in conservation; in others, local mobilization in
conservation has helped improve livelihoods and work toward more sustainable developmental practices and procedures.
Security of tenure of the land or resources being conserved, or at least the confidence that the community could continue with its initiative irrespective of the legal ownership of the land, is key to a successful initiative. Where ownership
or control is clearly established (for example, in Nagaland’s CCAs), conservation appears more secure; in turn, community efforts to conserve resources have at times increased the tenurial security over the area or resources being conserved.
Where questions of land tenure are uncertain, conservation is on a more tenuous footing. Of course, sometimes where
strong incentives or traditions for conservation do not exist and strong commercial interests do, mere ownership of a
resource has also opened it up for over-exploitation.
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Finally, we have found that strong leadership from within the community, and often a catalytic or supporting outside person or institution, is crucial to successful conservation. This can also make the initiative vulnerable, however,
once the leaders are no longer on the scene, unless the effort has become institutionalized so that other members can
continue it.
Threats and challenges to CCAs
CCAs continue to face a host of problems. One of the most serious is that India does not have a fully supportive
policy environment. A number of legal provisions are now available to back CCAs, but all of them have serious
limitations, or are not yet fully in force (for a full discussion, see Pathak [2009]). For instance, in 2003 a category
of “community reserves” was added to the Wild Life (Protection) Act 1972 (India, Ministry of Environment and
Forests 2003b) and could have provided much-needed legal backing to CCAs. Unfortunately, it is very restrictive,
as it allows community reserves only on “community or private” lands. It appears that this does not include government land (though clarity is needed on this point) where most of the CCAs are located. The new Biological
Diversity Act 2002 (India, Ministry of Environment and Forests 2003a) could provide some support, if its category
of “Biodiversity Heritage Sites” is appropriately defined. Additionally, the Scheduled Tribes and Other Traditional
Forest Dwellers (Recognition of Forest Rights) Act 2006 (India, Ministry of Law and Justice 2007) could provide
powerful legal backing to forest CCAs as it gives a right to people to protect forests as ‘community forests’ (more
on this below).
Administrative programs such as Joint Forest Management (JFM) schemes or Ecodevelopment Schemes (see “The
government response: Ecodevelopment” below) are usually the only avenues available that can provide for governmental support to CCAs. However, these schemes have severe limitations; they may not be applicable to many CCAs (for
example, until recently, standing forests were not eligible for JFM in most states, and many wetland/coastal/grassland
areas are not covered), or they involve greater government control, so the conserving communities may not wish to bring
their areas under these schemes. In several instances the imposition of these schemes has resulted in the breakdown of
previously well-functioning community initiatives. For instance at Kailadevi Sanctuary in Rajasthan, self-initiated forest
conservation institutions (kulhadi-band panchayats or ‘no-axe councils’) were undermined by officially-imposed ecodevelopment institutions set up under a World Bank funded project in the late 1990s.
Many CCAs are threatened by mining, hydro-electricity and irrigation projects, urban expansion, industrialization, Special Economic Zones, and other ‘development’ projects. The locally sustained economies of CCAs are not seen
as contributing to the economic well-being of the country. For example, the proposed Utkal Coal Project for open-cast
mining at Raijharan in Orissa is in an area densely covered with Sal (Shorea robusta, Dipterocarpaceae) forests. Four villages have been conserving these forests for over 15 years. Also in Orissa, Sterlite Group’s Vedanta Alumina proposes to
blast the Niyamgiri hilltop for bauxite ore. This hill is sacred for the Dongaria Kondh tribe and is rich in biodiversity.
The Blackbuck habitat in the Bishnoi land in Punjab has been divided into two by a canal that was constructed ignoring villagers’ protests.
Despite a widespread community forestry movement in states such as Orissa, there is still no state-level policy to
facilitate or support these initiatives, except through straitjacketed and top-down schemes such as JFM (or its clone,
Community Forest Management [CFM]). These forests are either reserved forests under the Forest Department’s control, or disputed forests that can be claimed by the government at any time.
Wider market forces and modern’ lifestyles are changing aspirations and rendering traditional value systems ineffective amongst the youth. The modern system of education does not inculcate a respect for local values, and denigrates the
Indigenous Peoples and Conservation: From Rights to Resource Management
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knowledge systems that formed the basis for traditional conservation. The youth are becoming more and more isolated
from local realities and drifting away, threatening the human and institutional base of many CCAs.
Often considerable effort and time is spent by the villagers in protecting and patrolling the forests. This is at the cost
of wages that could be earned. Because many areas are remote, there are not many employment opportunities. In some
cases, because of appropriate support, the livelihoods of local people have been improved and strengthened, but in many
cases the communities are still struggling, and the youth in particular face serious employment challenges. At sites such
as Mangalajodi and Rushikuliya in Orissa, or many CCAs in Nagaland, communities are very keen on initiating ecotourism. In areas where non-timber forests products (NTFP) are easily available and exploitable, communities would
like to start sustainable, organic forest-based enterprises, but the resources, know-how, and appropriate policy conditions
for such livelihoods are lacking. Many NTFP, such as Tendu (Diospyros melanoxylon, Ebenaceae), whose leaves are used
in the the making of bidis (Indian cigarettes), and Mahua (Madhuca indica), the fruits, bark, seeds and leaves of which
have numerous uses, have been nationalized by the government and cannot be sold in the open market. This makes collectors dependent on government-approved contractors or government-run purchasing centers, neither of which give the
collectors their desired prices.
A relatively recent threat comes from increasing human-wildlife conflicts. Ironically, in many places the regeneration of ecosystems in CCAs has increased wildlife populations (or attracted them from nearby degraded areas), some of
which may be spilling out and causing damage to crops, livestock, or even threatening human life. Communities have
been seeking help to resolve these conflicts, which in some places are weakening their resolve to continue their conservation efforts.
What is the way forward?
CCAs need a number of supportive measures to overcome the above constraints. Some policy level support has
come in the form of recommendations in the National Wildlife Action Plan (NWAP) 2002–2016 (see India, Ministry
of Environment and Forests 2002), the Final Technical Report of the National Biodiversity Strategy and Action Plan
(NBSAP) 2004, (Technical and Policy Core Group and Kalpavriksh 2005) and the National Environment Policy 2006
(India, Ministry of Environment and Forests 2006b). Additionally, a scheme in the country’s Eleventh 5-Year Plan
(2007–12) (India, Planning Commission 2008), on conservation outside protected areas, aims to fund CCAs; its
guidelines are under finalization. However, these plans or schemes are mostly still on paper, and need to be translated
into action.
CCAs also now have a strong footing in international policy. The Program of Work on Protected Areas of the
Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD), explicitly recognizes CCAs as equivalent to PAs, and recommends various
measures for governments to take in this regard (see CBD 2007). The International Union for Conservation of Nature
(IUCN) has recently revised its guidelines on protected area categorization, to include various forms of governance; this
encourages countries to explore all kinds of protected areas (from strictly protected ones to managed resource areas)
under indigenous or community governance (Dudley 2008).
But while a number of national and international pronouncements encourage CCAs, actual measures on the ground
are few. The fact that they exist, often in large numbers, is increasingly being recognized as researchers and field practitioners document them (for several national reviews and case studies, see IUCN/ICCA [2009a]). However, they are
not given this recognition, in most countries (for a survey of legal regimes relevant to CCAs in several countries, see
IUCN/ICCA [2009b]). In India, the following steps, amongst others, are needed to put CCAs on a secure footing (from
Pathak 2009).
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Steps towards Greater Recognition and Support for CCAs
• Document and publicize more examples and the role of CCAs in conservation, including through participatory mapping.
• Lobby for effective legal, administrative and political support of CCAs, including clear tenurial security and rights.
• Create national, state or sub-state level systems and institutions for continuous support, guidance and monitoring of CCAs. This could include support for regional cooperation and the building of coalitions and federations
among CCAs.
• Help communities resolve conflicts with powerful people who violate their rules, particularly from outside
the community.
• Support local institutions, systems, rules and regulations and give these the status of statutory provisions.
• Strengthen local institutions and facilitate greater equity and transparency in their decision-making processes,
where required.
• Facilitate the formulation of management plans for the CCAs, where the need is expressed by the community.
• Assist in obtaining and adapting appropriate ecologically friendly technologies and practices for enhancing livelihoods and, where appropriate, fostering links with consumers and sensitive markets that do not undermine local
• Help in tackling key threats, including those emanating from the communities themselves, such as inequities in decision-making and benefit-sharing, as well as those emanating from external forces such as those involving unsustainable ‘development’ projects and commercialization.
• Give social recognition and awards to exemplary CCAs.
Required Technical Support for Ecological, Social, and Economic Issues
• Conduct detailed and locally participatory studies on ecological and other aspects of CCAs to help establish their
role in conservation. These studies should also help communities resolve issues related to particular species and their
management, and impacts of resource extraction on biodiversity.
• Train community members in appropriate resource and wildlife management and monitoring.
• Train community members in basic accounting, marketing, management, and leadership skills.
• Address the problem of wildlife-related damage to crops, livestock, and property, using both traditional and
new methods.
• Provide awareness and training on the importance of biodiversity conservation in the regional, national, and global
context, on issues of gender and social equity linked to conservation, on local governance issues, and on legal and
policy measures relevant to conservation and livelihoods.
• Provide support for youth (leadership) programs.
Needed Legal and Policy Measures
• Optimize the use of existing provisions, including the Forest Act of 1927, the Wild Life Act of 1972 (as amended in
2002), the Biological Diversity Act of 2003, the Scheduled Tribes and Other Traditional Forest Dwellers (Recognition
of Forest Rights) Act of 2006, and panchayat related laws of 1993 and 1996.
• Move towards amendments in laws, bringing in provisions that fully enable community based approaches. This
includes amending the Community Reserves provision of the Wild Life Act to encompass community conserved
government lands and to empower a range of community institutions. The critical changes and strengthening needed
concern tenurial rights and responsibilities of local communities.
Indigenous Peoples and Conservation: From Rights to Resource Management
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• Incorporate community based approaches into relevant conservation schemes and programs, including the orientation of staff who implement these programs.
• Develop, with ample consultation, guidelines for supporting existing CCAs in legal and other ways without undermining the uniqueness of each CCA and without disrupting community control.
• Facilitate the initiation of CCAs in other areas.
Government Protected Areas
India has much to be proud of regarding its ambitious program of setting up wildlife protected areas (PAs). Nearly 5% of
the landmass is now covered by about 600 national parks and sanctuaries, notified under the Wild Life (Protection) Act.3
This network has been instrumental in retrieving many species from the verge of extinction and conserving representative samples of some of India’s last remaining natural ecosystems. Without their current legal status these areas may by
now have been gobbled up by the rapacious industrial growth seen over the rest of India’s landscape, or slowly whittled
down by various biotic and other pressures.
Protected areas in trouble
Yet it is clear that the PA system is in trouble. The crisis of a Sariska Tiger Reserve without tigers and a Karera Great
Indian Bustard Sanctuary without bustards is a complex one. Various problems plague almost every PA, some serious
enough to create Sariskas and Kareras, some currently latent but with the potential to happen at any moment. Much has
been written about the managerial, staff capacity, financial, and other constraints of PAs, so we will not dwell on them
here, except to stress that they are all serious and need urgent action. Our focus here is on the interface between PAs and
local people, which to our minds is the single biggest challenge that the PAs face.
Most PAs in India cover areas which communities have used for generations or even centuries. Estimates in the late
1980s and again in the early 2000s indicate that there are anywhere from three to four million people living in PAs, and
several million more outside that are dependent on their natural resources. A majority of these millions (but by no means
all) comprises people who are economically and socially marginalized. Unfortunately, PA policies and programmes have
been largely insensitive to the rights and needs of these people, and have in many cases further impoverished them (see
Wani and Kothari [2007] for further details). These policies and programmes have almost never involved local people
in the conceptualization, planning, and management of PAs. These twin failures — of meeting people’s needs and of
involving them — are not only causing widespread human suffering but also backfiring on conservation itself. These
were the leading factors for the fiascoes of Sariska and Karera. The recent report of the Tiger Task Force set up by the
Prime Minister also clearly highlighted these issues as being as much at the core of the tiger crisis as the problems of weak
anti-poaching measures, inadequate management planning, poor staff capacities, and lack of financial resources (India,
Ministry of Environment and Forests. 2005a).
Linked to these failures is the increasing threat facing PAs across India, similar to their CCA counterparts, from
‘development’ projects. A Kalpavriksh report some years back listed over 60 PAs where mining was present or proposed inside or in adjacent areas (Vagholikar et al. 2003). PAs also face threats from dams and canals (for example, one
3 Three other categories of PAs are now recognized under this Act: community reserves, conservation reserves (since 2003), and tiger reserves (since 2006). As of mid-2009, only four community reserves have been declared, since the provisions in the Act are too restrictive for community liking. Forty-three conservation reserves have been declared, but 41 of these are former game reserves, and
the change in status does not indicate any further participation of the people. Most existing tiger reserves have been formally notified. See also section on Future challenges and prospects for PAs.
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threatening the only habitat of the critically endangered Jerdon’s courser, Rhinoptilus bitorquatus, in Andhra Pradesh),
expressways, ports, Special Economic Zones, commercial fisheries, industries, and so on. In the last few years, under
pressure from a government intent on reaching an economic growth rate of 10%, both state and central environment
agencies have rubber stamped hundreds of mega-projects with enormous destructive potential. Local populations, who
otherwise could have been major allies in resisting such ‘development’ projects, are not particularly cooperative because
they have mostly only suffered at the hands of PA authorities. Additionally, often huge amounts of money are being
poured into ‘buying off’ people from within communities, enticing them with promises of jobs and untold riches.
The government response: Ecodevelopment
Having realized the problem of local community alienation from PAs, the government has responded with ambitious
ecodevelopment programmes. In these, people’s needs are sought to be met through ecologically sensitive developmental
inputs. Since 1990 this has been a central-government aided scheme for state governments use in villages around PAs.
By and large these have not been used for villages inside PAs, the assumption being that such villages must be resettled.
From 1997 to 2002, the Government of India also received substantial assistance from the GEF/World Bank for ecodevelopment in seven prominent PAs. Independent evaluations have suggested that this project met with mixed success. In
some PAs such as Periyar Tiger Reserve (Kerala), it was successful in turning a conflict situation around into one of positive cooperation, providing improved livelihoods and reduced poverty in several villages on the periphery of the reserve
(though it seems clear that this was more because of “out-of-the-box” initiatives of the forest department team that were
handling the project than to project design), whereas in many others such as Nagarahole National Park (Karnataka) and
Pench National Park (Maharashtra) it either failed or created new tensions.
One key conceptual problem with ‘ecodevelopment’ is that it still treats local communities and conservation as being
incompatible. In most cases, the projects are very much mainstream rural ‘development’ projects, with no clear connection to conservation or the improvement of livelihoods. In almost no known case (exceptions could include Periyar Tiger
Reserve), has ‘ecodevelopment’ created a greater involvement of local people in the management planning and decisionmaking of the PA. The model of ‘ecodevelopment’ prevalent in India is not one which takes people’s access to natural
resources as a matter of customary right, nor is it one which moves the country towards a new paradigm of conservation.
Such new paradigms are now being accepted worldwide (see section “What is the way ahead?”), but India is very far from
adopting them in official policy and practice.
One strong move towards this was, however,
taken in the making of the National Wildlife Action
Plan (NWAP) 2002 (India, Ministry of Environment
and Forests 2002), and in the process of formulating a National Biodiversity Strategy and Action Plan
(NBSAP) (Technical and Policy Core Group [TPCG]
and Kalpavriksh 2005). The NWAP explicitly recognizes
the need to involve local people in conservation, including PA management, and suggests some steps towards
this, such as the PA level committees including local
community representatives. The final technical report
of the NBSAP (an official document the Government
of India brought out in 2004, but not, unfortunately,
Figure 4. Trans-Himalayan landscape of Changthang Sanctuary, Ladakh.
the basis of the final National Biodiversity Action Plan
Photo © Ashish Kothari.
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of 2008 [India, Ministry of Environment and Forests 2008]) goes further, advocating a central role for communities in
management of conservation sites, respect of their customary rights, integration of livelihood security and poverty eradication with conservation, recognition of their own conservation practices and community-protected sites, building on
traditional knowledge relevant for conservation, and so on.
The National Environment Policy (NEP) states, “Conservation of wildlife, accordingly, involves the protection of
entire ecosystems. However, in several cases, delineation of and restricting access to such Protected Areas (PAs), as well as
disturbances by humans in these areas have led to man-animal conflicts. While physical barriers and better policing may
temporarily reduce such conflict, it is also necessary to address their underlying causes. These may largely arise from the
non-involvement of relevant stakeholders in identification and delineation of PAs, as well as the loss of traditional entitlements of local people, especially tribals, over the PAs.” (India, Ministry of Environment and Forests 2006b, p.31) In
its goals, it therefore talks about “participation of local communities”, and the need to “harmonize ecological and physical features with needs of socio-economic development”.
The NWAP and the NEP remain toothless without the corresponding legislative measures. There are therefore very
few signs of actual changes on the ground.
Judicial pronouncements and their aftermath
Judicial bodies, and in particular the Supreme Court, have become quite active in conservation issues in the last few
years. In a number of cases, potentially destructive activities have been stopped, thereby protecting both wildlife and
communities. In general, though, the Court seems reluctant to stop major ‘development’ projects, though quite happy
to curb local community activities. A number of recent orders have exacerbated conflicts between conservation and local
people in protected areas rather than resolving them.
In 2000, the Indian Supreme Court passed an order restraining all state governments from ordering the removal of
timber (fallen or standing), grasses, and other such resources from protected areas. This order was made in the context of
a disguised move by one state government to re-open logging activities inside PAs, and was probably never intended to
affect the use of the resource by local communities. However, in 2003 and 2004, it was more widely interpreted by the
Ministry of Environment and Forests (MoEF), and by the Centrally Empowered Committee (CEC), in asking state governments to halt all exercise of rights inside PAs, This extremely ‘generous’ interpretation of the Court’s direction, was
even beyond the spirit and letter of the Wild Life Act, since it negates Section 24(2)(c) which clearly allows continuation
of resource use rights if the relevant authorities allow it.
Due to this, some 3.5 to 4 million people are being
affected, and many livelihood-related activities that are
dependent on forest or other natural products have been
curtailed. Without explicitly ordering this, India’s central
judicial and executive bodies have set into motion a process that will first dispossess, and then forcibly displace
millions of people. Already the impacts are being felt in
many states. In Orissa, for instance, the government has
implemented a prohibition on non-timber forest produce collection. This has affected several thousand adivasi (indigenous/tribal) people, taking away their sole or
main means of livelihood, and forcing many to migrate
Figure 5. Forest officials, villagers and civil society organizations in a diain search of employment and income. It is also backfiring
logue at Periyar Tiger Reserves, Kerala. Photo © Ashish Kothari.
Indigenous and Local Community Based Conservation in India: Current Status and Future Prospects
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on conservation itself, as people are turning to illegal activities, or not cooperating in reporting poaching, and putting
out forest fires, for example (Kalpavriksh 2007; Pathak 2009). These recent orders have created a situation of enormous
tension and escalation of conflicts across India. Some NGOs have legally challenged the orders in 2005, but the Supreme
Court has yet to hear their arguments.
Future challenges and prospects for PAs
In late 2006, two pieces of legislation created the potential of democratizing forest and conservation management and
providing greater benefits to local communities, but also some concerns about their effects on conservation itself.
The passage of the Scheduled Tribes and Other Traditional Forest Dwellers (Recognition of Forest Rights) Act 2006
(India, Ministry of Law and Justice. 2007) is being looked upon by social action and human rights groups as an important and welcome step towards reversing historical marginalization of the tribal (indigenous) and other forest-dwelling
people of India. The Act (in short called Forest Rights Act or FRA) mandates the vesting of 14 kinds of rights over forest land and forest produce on two categories of communities: 1) scheduled tribes (i.e., indigenous people who are listed
in a schedule of the Indian constitution), and 2) “other traditional forest-dwellers” defined as those living in forests for
at least three generations.
The provisions of the FRA relevant to protected areas are of special interest. The FRA specifies that all rights need to
be identified and established regardless of the status of the forest, including also those residing in the PAs. Furthermore,
it mandates a process for determining “critical wildlife habitats” inside PAs, and assessment of whether people’s activities
within such habitats can be in consonance with conservation (thereby promoting ‘co-existence’). If “irreversible damage”
is established, communities can be relocated with their informed consent and after ensuring the readiness of relocation
and rehabilitation. Communities can also claim the right to manage and protect forests. Gram sabhas (village assemblies) have also been empowered to protect wildlife and biodiversity, and to keep destructive activities out of the forests
in which they are given rights.
The FRA’s provisions regarding community rights to manage and protect forests, coupled with its mandate to gram
sabhas to set up committees for conservation, could provide a powerful backing to CCAs in forest areas. Indeed, in this
sense the FRA has the potential to considerably democratize forest and wildlife governance. However, thus far, implementation of the FRA has focused largely on individual land rights, and considerably more attention needs to be given
to community rights.
While the FRA has certainly taken a significant step in democratizing conservation practice and extending longdenied rights to livelihood of communities dwelling inside forests, it has also caused serious concern about its potential
impact on conservation itself. In the context of PAs, for instance, it is not clear if the rights could over-ride the steps necessary to achieve conservation. The fact that adivasis can claim land rights to lands ‘encroached’ upon to December 2005
could lead to fresh encroachments that people can try to claim as being pre-2005. The precise relationship with the Wild
Life (Protection) Act (WLPA) of 1972 (which governs PAs) is unclear, leading to possible confusion on the ground on
what action can be taken if a right granted under the FRA violates a provision of the WLPA. Fears of this kind are justified, but have been exaggerated by a handful of conservationists who adhere to the exclusionary model of wildlife protection. Some of them have filed a constitutional challenge to the FRA in India’s Supreme Court.
Interestingly, the second legislative measure of note is within the WLPA itself. In late 2006, the Wild Life
(Protection) Amendment Act was passed, setting up a National Tiger Conservation Authority (NTCA) (India, Ministry
of Environment and Forests 2006a). This was in response to a long-standing demand from conservation groups, and
made urgent by the disappearance of tigers from Sariska (Rajasthan); one of India’s well-known tiger reserves. The
Amendment brought in processes for notification and management of Tiger Reserves (which makes them a 5th category
Indigenous Peoples and Conservation: From Rights to Resource Management
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of PA under the WLPA), and the setting up of a Wildlife Crime Bureau. It has specified (similar to the Forest Rights Act
mentioned above) that “inviolate” areas need to be determined in a participatory manner and that relocation from such
areas needs to happen only with the informed consent of communities. Areas of concern pointed out by conservationists include the dropping of a number of provisions of the WLPA from being operative inside Tiger Reserves (although
the NTCA clarified that this is not so and all provisions still apply), and the somewhat loose language used (for example, “local people”) with regard to forest rights. As of late 2006, a legal challenge to such provisions has been mounted
in the Supreme Court by some conservation organizations (including some of the same who later filed petitions against
the FRA).
These national legislative developments must also be seen in the light of international conventions, treaties and
agreements that have given a firm push to participatory and inclusive conservation processes, and India is, at least on
paper, committed to implementing them.
National laws and international treaties notwithstanding, the crucial test of whether India is going to move towards a
more participatory, inclusive, and effective form of conservation, is on the ground. At a number of sites such as Periyar
Tiger Reserve in Kerala and Chilika Lagoon (including Nalaban Sanctuary) in Orissa, where forest and other government officials have worked with communities to enhance the effectiveness of conservation and improve livelihoods,
this is just about beginning to happen. At other sites, NGOs and community organizations have taken a lead in collaborative forms of conservation. But such efforts with the necessary foresight, dedication, and democratic spirit, are
still few and far between. On the other hand, the thousands of communities that have taken up conservation initiatives on their own or with outside help, such as the CCA examples given above, have yet to receive adequate recognition and support.
Meanwhile, concerned by the increasing polarization between advocates of wildlife protection on the one hand and
human rights or adivasi rights activists on the other, several organizations that take a more middle-path approach (the
integration of conservation and livelihood rights), have formed a Future of Conservation Network (FoC). The FoC has
produced two sets of guidelines on how to use the critical wildlife habitat and critical tiger habitat provisions of FRA and
the WLPA (respectively), to achieve effective conservation and also secure the livelihoods and involvement of local communities ( Such attempts to promote new conservation models are as yet marginal, but
likely to get stronger as the common threat to both wildlife and local communities becomes clearer. India needs to take
a number of key actions to meet its challenges to wildlife and biodiversity conservation, increasing the number of participatory initiatives in official protected areas by government agencies, NGOs, and communities, and recognizing and
supporting community conserved areas. Such steps would help resolve the constraints and limitations such sites face,
scaling them up into larger landscape level initiatives, staving off the threats posed by destructive forms of ‘development’,
and evolving truly sensitive models of human welfare. Only an enlightened partnership amongst all sectors of society
will help achieve this.
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Lord, M. and Bell, B. (eds.). 2007. Insight Guides: Indian Wildlife. Apa Publications, Hong Kong.
Pathak, N. (ed.). 2009. Community Conserved Areas in India: A Directory. Kalpavriksh, Pune, Delhi.
Technical and Policy Core Group (TPCG) and Kalpavriksh. 2005. Securing India’s Future: Final Technical Report of
the National Biodiversity Strategy and Action Plan (NBSAP). Kalpavriksh, Pune, Delhi. Website: <http://www.>. Accessed: 8 August 2009.
Vagholikar, N., Moghe, K. and Dutta, R. 2003. Undermining India: Impacts of Mining on Ecologically Sensitive Areas.
Kalpavriksh, Pune, Delhi. Website: <>. Accessed: 8 August 2009.
Wani, M. and Kothari, A. 2007. Conservation and People’s Livelihood Rights in India. Final Report of a Research Project
Conducted Under the UNESCO Small Grants Programme. Kalpavriksh, Pune, Delhi. 146pp. Website: <http://>. Accessed: 8 August 2009.
Indigenous and Local Community Based Conservation in India: Current Status and Future Prospects
raditional Knowledge, the wisdom and know-how of millennia, is the most essential possession of
indigenous groups — it constitutes their relationship with their land, nature, and their natural resources.
Traditional knowledge, its practice and application, is learned through experience and passed from generation to generation. It is used in various ways within and among communities, family units and across gender
roles to address health and nutrition, customary law and the use and management of biodiversity for their
benefit and maintenance, and is central to decision-making and planning, most especially in how territories
are used and how community “life plans”1 are developed. It is part of the worldview or “cosmovision” of
indigenous peoples, and is a critical aspect of life in subsistence communities. It allows for high resilience in
times of natural disaster and most particularly when faced with the demands and challenges of government,
business, and conservation interests in their lands.
The traditional knowledge of many communities is under threat, undergoing gradual erosion due to
influences from western society, from youth moving to large cities in search of economic benefits, and from
bio-prospecting, and most particularly when communities are forced to move away from their lands, or are
restricted in their use of them. This loss has generated a movement among indigenous peoples to revive traditional knowledge in their communities, focusing especially on the younger generations. The issues of bioprospecting — the commercialization of traditional medicine and practices — has also forced indigenous peoples to engage in policy arenas focused on issues of access and benefit sharing, the means for indigenous
peoples to secure and assert their rights and appropriate compensation for the benefits that their traditional
knowledge provides to broader humankind.
This section of the book looks at these issues through various lenses, contexts and realities. In Botswana,
we see how San work through oral history projects that bring youth and elders together to emphasize the
importance of traditional knowledge (White). The Tlingit in Alaska focus on sustaining relationships with
nature through their traditional ecological knowledge (Thornton and Kitka). In New Zealand, certain Maori
populations exploit specific marine food sources in ways that have guaranteed long-term sustainability, and
the article of Moller and Lyver focuses on their Traditional Ecological Knowledge (TEK) and partnerships
with science to raise awareness and develop a more holistic picture to solve wildlife management issues and
1 “Life plans” refer to community development strategies. This term is often used by indigenous peoples in Latin America in relation to discussions of territorial management.
Traditional Knowledge
food security in modern times. Canadian researchers addressing Caribou conservation challenges in north
Canada are discovering the extraordinary wisdom and understanding concerning Caribou migration, feeding and demography in the traditional knowledge possessed by the Dene, Inuit, Metis and Cree peoples
(Kendrick and Manseau). And in Fiji, we see how Fijian traditional knowledge and practice is being used to
address climate change and sea level rise (Veitayaki and Sivo). The experiences of these indigenous peoples demonstrate above all how traditional knowledge respects nature, empowers communities, provides
insights from traditional management and monitoring systems to improve contemporary approaches, and
positions indigenous peoples more securely to address climate change through their own adaptive management practices.
Traditional Knowledge
The Bugakhwe and the
|| Anikhwe San of the
Okavango Panhandle:
Traditional Knowledge,
Conservation and Empowerment
Alison White and the || Anikhwe and the Bugakhwe San of the
Okavango Panhandle
Quick Facts
Country: Botswana and Nabibia
Geographic Focus: The Okavango Delta and Panhandle on
the northern fringes of the Kalahari Desert
Indigenous Peoples: The Bugakhwe and the || Anikhwe
San also known to others as Basarwa or Bushmen, and the
|| Anikhwe, as Banoka or River Bushmen.
Author Information
Alison White is a friend, supporter and former colleague of the San
and Kuru Family of Organizations.
Letloa Trust’s Lands, Livelihoods and Heritage Resource Centre
(LLHRC) and TOCaDI (Trust for Okavango Cultural and Development
Initiatives) were responsible for collecting the voices of the San.
E-mail: [email protected]
Onkabetse Kerazemona is is the Coordinator of the LLHRC.
E-mail: [email protected]
The Biological
The Okavango Delta on the northern fringes of the Kalahari Desert in
the Ngamiland district of northwestern Botswana is an internationally
renowned inland delta, also known as “the jewel of the Kalahari” (Ross
2003). It is a seasonal floodplain that fans out over a vast area, estimates of the extent of which vary from author to author depending on
their boundary delimitation. The area under flood depends on annual
rainfall and ranges from about 7,000 km² to 28,000 km² (Ross 2003;
Ramberg et al. 2006; Hitchcock 2008b; McCarthy 2008). The Delta
is a maze of lagoons, islands, papyrus beds and channels that are ever
shifting. It is the largest Ramsar Site in the world, having been designated as a Wetland of International Importance under the Ramsar
Convention in 1997 (Botswana, DEA 2008).
The Okavango River flows approximately 700 km through Angola
and Namibia before entering Botswana as the Okavango Panhandle
and then on to the Delta (total length is 1,600 km). It is a river that
never meets the sea, but simply evaporates into the skies above and
seeps into the sands of the Kalahari. The Panhandle is an area of
floodplain approximately 15 km wide and 100 km long, a geological fault that constricts the path of the river until it reaches the Delta
proper (Warne 2004). It is the lifeline of the Okavango Delta, carrying the floodwaters of the Okavango Basin, and sees an average annual
variation in water level of between 1 and 2 m depending on local
and regional rainfall. The Panhandle contains the deepest and most
diverse underwater habitats found in the Delta, with the same channels, papyrus-choked lagoons, islands and reed beds as the Delta itself,
through which the mainstream winds its way.
Traditional Knowledge
The Okavango Delta and Panhandle are of great significance for their geomorphology and hydrology and their biological diversity. In this semi-arid region, the Delta accounts for 95% of Botswana’s surface water. It provides a home to
over 1,300 species of plants, 70 species of fish, 30 species of amphibians, 60 species of reptiles, 400 species of birds, and
120 species of mammals (Ramberg et al. 2006), including some rare species, such as the sitatunga (Tragelaphus spekii), a
splay-hoofed swamp antelope, and the Wattled Crane (Bugeranus carunculatus). There is archaeological evidence, backed
up by historical records and oral testimony that indicates the long-standing presence of humans and their use of this rich
‘land’ (Campbell 1976 cited by Hitchcock 2008a).
Indigenous Community
There are approximately 50,000 San living in Botswana, making up approximately 3% of the total population. The
Bugakhwe and the ||Anikhwe San people living in the Panhandle region of the Okavango in Ngamiland are also known
to others as Basarwa or Bushmen, and the ||Anikhwe, as Banoka or River Bushmen. The San are often described as
‘nomadic’, but it has been revealed that they are not truly nomadic but have always lived in well-defined territories
belonging to different clans and families who guarded and protected their natural resources:
In the past we had policemen with bows and arrows [...] for patrolling our lands and checking
our traditional borders. One day these policemen met Thogoyankwe […] they beat him, asking
him why he had left his place and come to hunt in our land. […] After beating him, they took
his things […] to Lobilo [their chief ]. When they got there, Lobilo asked them, “Where did you
meet him?” They answered that they found him at Kyengoâ; hunting without permission […]
Lobilo said that he was wrong to do so, but that they should let him go this once.
Mokobe Geyetu, Badiba 2
Because the San were inaccurately perceived by the incoming Bantu tribes and white colonists as nomadic huntergatherers with no formal land-use structures, they were extremely marginalized. They are not mentioned in Botswana’s
Constitution, and thus, are not represented in the country’s Tribal Land Act of 1969, which divided Botswana
into territories, but only among tribes recognized in its
constitution. This dispossession has continued through
the Tribal Grazing Lands Policy (TGLP) White Paper of
1975 and the Fencing Component of the 1991 National
Agricultural Development Policy (Taylor 2004).
The San no longer have any territory they can call
their own — a fundamental issue not only with regard
to their ability to develop economically, but also for the
continuation of their identity. Even today, the Botswana
government has not embraced multiculturalism, as have
Figure 1. Papyrus channel in the Okavanga Delta. The Okavanga Delta in
South Africa and Namibia (Mazonde 2004). The San are
Botswana is the largest Ramsar Site in the world, denoting a Wetland of
not recognized as the indigenous people of their counInternational Importance. It provides 95% of Botswana’s surface water
and is home to over 1,300 species of plants, 70 species of fish, 60 species
try; there is no provision of mother-tongue education
of reptiles, 400 species of birds, and 120 species of mammals. Photograph © Alison White.
in their first few years of schooling (Geingos 2004),
Indigenous Peoples and Conservation: From Rights to Resource Management
Traditional Knowledge
Figure 2. Map of Ngamiland, Botswana and surrounding areas including the distribution of the Khwe in Botswana, Namibia, Angola and Zambia. Adapted
from Voices of the San, Kwela Books, 2004. Maps © Conservation International.
The Bugakhwe and the || Anikhwe San of the Okavango Panhandle: Traditional Knowledge, Conservation and Empowerment
Traditional Knowledge
which contributes to high drop-out rates. The over-riding philosophy is to integrate them into the cultures of the main
Botswana tribes. These issues of land, integration, education and language, alongside their lack of representation within
political structures, have resulted in the San feeling dispossessed; victims without the knowledge or understanding of
how to “fight back”:
In the present life, it looks as if the Khwe community is under the other tribes and this we do
not like, because it means that we are under the representatives of the other tribes. Today the
Government of Botswana denies all the Khwe communities’ chiefdoms, lands, wildlife and natural resources. In the past, the Khwe communities used their own chiefdoms and rules about control of the earth, the land and environmental survival.
The other tribes and the government fenced these lands and created boundary lines and the
Khwe communities are confused by this because these lands were all part of the life of our tribe.
‡Geru Mananyana, Tobere
But the winds of change have been blowing for a number of years now. The San groups have come together and
shared their experiences; support organizations have been created; San-owned projects have been developed, and the San
are standing up with pride. For the Bugakhwe and ||Anikhwe this started with an Oral Testimony Project.
Oral Testimony Project
One way to turn the tide and help the San reconnect
with their elders and understand the importance of their
traditional knowledge, especially regarding the conservation of their land and natural resources, has been
through an oral history project that was started in 1998
among the elders of communities along the Panhandle.
It was executed by young San themselves.
Michael Baise and Jesi Segole were two ||Anikhwe
visionaries who began gathering oral histories of their
elders in the same year the Kuru Development Trust1
opened an office in Shakawe, the Trust for Okavango
Cultural and Development Initiatives (TOCaDI).
Through their efforts, TOCaDI was able to help the Khwe
groups form their own trust, Teemacane (Teemacane
Trust – Khwe Oral History/Testimony Programme
2003). At the same time, the Panos Institute in London2
was looking for partners to undertake an oral testimony
Figure 3. Dindo Pove drinking yica from a |qom tree, through a ‡ami
straw. Through an oral history project first started in 1998, young San are
collecting the words of their elders: their traditional knowledge, history,
way of life and pride. This information is archived and has led to the accumulation of a wealth of knowledge that was almost lost. Photograph
1 KDT, now Kuru Family of Organisations, is a network of San self-help organizations, initially established in D’Kar in the Ghanzi District of Botswana in 1986, including TOCaDI and Letloa based in
2 Panos is an information and advocacy organization aiming to inspire informed and inclusive debate around key development issues to facilitate sustainable development.
Indigenous Peoples and Conservation: From Rights to Resource Management
Traditional Knowledge
project on the issue of resettlement in southern Africa. Connections were made which resulted in the creation of the
regional oral testimony project in collaboration with the Working Group of Indigenous Minorities in Southern Africa
This initiative was based on Panos Institute’s philosophy of “amplifying the voices of the unheard” (Panos Institute
2000) and was designed to give the San a forum where they could express their thoughts about development and its influence, using research that would at last have a clear and concrete meaning for their current situation.
The way we started was to tell our communities at a meeting what the project was about and what
the tape recorders meant. I went to interview in the mornings, before it was too hot, or in the
late afternoon, when the work was finished. I asked permission to ask some questions. I made
sure that not too many people were present, so that we could talk more easily. If the wind was
too strong or there was too much noise, I apologized and came back later. Many people thought
I was working for some white people and I had to explain very well that this information was for
ourselves, and that I, as a young person, did not know enough about my culture, that was why
I was asking. I told them too that if they did not speak, things might never change in our lives.
Then I started to enjoy this work very much. I worked hard and it was difficult, but I learned such
a lot that now I feel I am a professor of my culture. After that I was also trained in land-mapping
and how to use the GPS, and I do not want this work to stop; I want us to continue till we have
covered all the Khwe lands and history.
Sefako Chumbo, original OT Project interviewer and Researcher for the Letloa Trust’s Lands, Livelihoods and Heritage Resource Centre (LLHRC)
Although the focus of the Panos Institute project was on resettlement and the initial training was built around that,
it was impossible to prevent the “stream of consciousness” style that developed once the interviewers were inspired and
the project took off. The open-ended style and lack of focus resulted in repetition and loss of valuable chances for information, but at the same time the open approach allowed for a spontaneous accumulation of knowledge and for genuine
surprises (Le Roux and Chumbo 2002):
Our grandparents taught us the four directions of moving about according to the sun and the
moon. We know that the sun rises in the east and then sets in the direction of west, and they were
the most important tools for directions used by our grandparents in the past.
The east and west directions show us the length of the world and the north and south directions show us the width of the world. This is how my grandparents taught me, and these directions
are very important in our lives.
Moronga Ntemang, Tobere
A very broad base of knowledge has been and continues to be accumulated. Hidden in those hundreds of pages
of what might be considered by many professional researchers as worthless rambling, lies the voice of the San people
of today. The most prominent themes weaving through the interviews have been land and origin, traditional lifestyle,
effects of modern life, folklore, hunting and gathering, health and healing, religious practice, contact with other San and
non-San groups, and leadership. Although it has been challenging for editors, the voices of the San are being ‘heard’ in
The Bugakhwe and the || Anikhwe San of the Okavango Panhandle: Traditional Knowledge, Conservation and Empowerment
Traditional Knowledge
well-structured publications, and many years of discovery of the various layers of their culture awaits San researchers who
will hopefully return to these interviews.
We used to think that our people were just from the bush and knew nothing […] But today we
are the ones who know nothing, for we do not know our families […] because the governments
have put these fences that divide us, this has brought problems for the San people. These fences
separated us from our families, bisecting our traditional territories and our movements were
restricted by force.
Kotsi Mmaba, original OT Project interviewer & LLHRC Researcher
Figure 4. Land mapping exercise with the Shaikarawe community (OK RIVER = Okavango River and BD = Namibian border). The oral history project reinstilled pride and awakened the youth to value their culture and empowered them to not only document the information they gather, but use it to work
towards such things as claiming their land’s resources, developing community-based tourism, and advocating for mother-tongue literacy training. Photograph © LLHRC.
Indigenous Peoples and Conservation: From Rights to Resource Management
Traditional Knowledge
The Bugakhwe and ||Anikhwe Tell It Themselves
The Oral Testimony Project highlighted the Bugakhwe and ||Anikhwe San’s incredible knowledge and understanding of
their natural environment:
In the past the men hunted with their sons to show them how to hunt, how to be brave in the
hunt, how to climb trees and collect wild fruit, and also to show them the different wildlife footprints, and which were dangerous for tracking, like lion and elephant. They were also taught
which trees had edible fruit and which were used for medicine. They showed the sons how the
bow and arrow were used, and how to make the point of an arrow and how to poison it. To poison an arrow, which worms should be used and explained to him how long it would take to kill
an animal. The young girls were taken to the bush by their mothers; who showed them the different kinds of plants and how to collect wild fruit. They were also taught to know the difference
between edible and inedible plants and medicinal plants of the bush. The mothers also told them
about seasonal plant collection, like that in autumn they collected wild orange fruit and how to
know when it got ripe. The age of the children that were being taught was only about 4–5 years
of age, but today we depend on reading and writing, and that is why our children know nothing
about our past.
Peter Goro, Tobere
One of the plant resources that we gathered in the past was Kyara [Peeling-bark ochna or Peeling
plane]. Kyara produced cooking oil for us in the past. After the fruit was gathered the Khwe people used to stamp the Kyara with water, while boiling, and when they stamped this mixture they
used to sing its songs. This was done by the older women only. The oil that they produced could
be as much as 20 liters within two days.
Moronga Ntemang, Tobere
There’s the stinging bee that nests in trees and another that is found underground, which doesn’t
sting. There is a little bird called “the guiding bird”. The people have observed the behavior of the
bird and can read its signals. If the bee’s nest is far, the little bird will disappear for a minute or
so before coming back again. If it stays close to the person, it means the bee’s nest is near. It then
goes straight to the tree and sits on the top without making any sounds. If the little bird starts
performing its guiding rituals in places where there are no trees, only bushes and undergrowth,
it is probably indicating the presence of a snake, lion, or buffalo, something other than a bee’s
nest. People know if there are no big trees around where there is likely to be honey, the bird is
warning them to be careful. This little bird is known in English as the Honeyguide. It is so much
respected by the people who treat it “like a son or daughter.” They know that if they find this little bird they have found food.
Kotsi Mmaba, Sekondomboro
We used to get water from the pans during the rainy season, and also in the hollow of a tree and
from the river. Water from the tree hollows was the Khwe community storage place for water in
the past. This was rainwater. This water we used to remove using a monkey orange shell, and we
The Bugakhwe and the || Anikhwe San of the Okavango Panhandle: Traditional Knowledge, Conservation and Empowerment
Traditional Knowledge
also drank the water with a tube, a kind of grass called ‘‡ami’, if there was not a wide enough
hollow in the tree. When tracking in the rainy season you collected this grass and carried it with
you, and when the hunter got thirsty he was able to use this tube for drinking. You had to carry
it, because in other places there were not many of these tube-like grasses. This tree hollow water,
called ‘yica’ in Khwe language, was in many places in the past, but today we do not use this yica,
because of the present lifestyle.
Mashika Maraka, Shaikarawe
The interviews also revealed the San’s view that the livelihood strategies of the more dominant groups have been
legitimized and supported by the government, while their management techniques and use of the land have never even
been acknowledged. The result of this has been that the other groups’ unsustainable hunting methods, slash-and-burn
agriculture and cattle rearing have become the predominant land-use methods in Botswana, which has significant implications for environmental sustainability, in contrast to the San’s natural “farming” methods, which worked in harmony
with the land, flora and fauna:
In the olden days, the Khwe community were known as hunters and gatherers. […] The Khwe
people hunted with bows and arrows, because this was the best method of killing animals and
was known as the “silent killing” of animals, and the other animals did not even know that people were killing them. […] The older ones were being killed, not the young ones. This was how
we controlled and grazed our animals in the past.
Chumbo Maraka, Kaputura
When the main groups came onto our land, they found plenty of wildlife living with us. The
main groups were used to hunting game with horses, and this is why the land is no longer decorated with game in the present. The main groups also used guns to hunt with, and this also chased
away our wildlife.
The main disadvantage of using horses when hunting is that once the hunter is riding on his
horse he does not select the game he is going to hunt, he just rides into the group of game and
chases them from behind […] and this caused the wildlife to move from where we live today. [...]
This is why our wildlife is not with us here today. Once the hunter was on his horse, he chased
the game until he had killed one of the group of animals, then the rest of the animals would see
that their friend is dead and would run as far as Maun village. […] Here in our environment now,
we only see a few elephant sometimes, but no game.
Moronga Ntemang, Tobere
Conserving the natural resources was not only our traditional leader’s duty, but every grown up
peoples’ task. […]
We have people from far away places, I am talking about Hambukushu, Bayei, Basubiya and
the rest, all of these peoples don’t know how to collect, how to catch fish, what size can be caught,
when to burn the land and how to burn. These problems are coming because the government
gave migrators the power and freedom of living everywhere and not recognizing the rightful citizens of the land and their traditions. […]
Indigenous Peoples and Conservation: From Rights to Resource Management
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Jackalberry is a type of fruit tree, “tcukx’om” in our language. I understand these trees are
being chopped down, and the number of trees is becoming smaller. The people who do this are
Hambukushu, because they don’t know about these things, as they are farmers. This is the best
type of our fruit trees in the floodplains. The Bugakhwe and ||Anikhwe are living on collection
and hunting. Their staple foods were wild fruits and animal meat, so they cannot collect food by
chopping down trees.
Kgarango Monye, Xakao
I was hunting but I did not destroy my wildlife in the past. I took care of my animals everyday,
because they would reproduce for me and my family and we knew that we would have food for
the future and for the next generation. Today we find that the lands used by our animals are now
used as fields for crop planting and the animals are now fearful of open areas; which makes them
stay far away from us. In the past we did not remove the bushes in the areas that the animals lived,
therefore these animals were kept as tame animals for the future generations.
Peter Goro, Tobere
The Khwe knew to kill only the male animal in a herd. Females were not killed and only one
male was taken. Inside the females were the seeds of those to be born, which would increase the
animals for us to feed on them. Animals and veld foods were known as the Khwe farm, to live
on for the time ahead.
David Jamo, Ngarange
Current Status
A whole range of local, national and regional materials have already been generated from this project, providing a rich
resource for policy makers and people trying to implement sustainable solutions for conservation, particularly in the
Okavango Panhandle. There is a description of the Khwe people’s past life (Chumbo and Kotsi 2002), a booklet about
the community’s natural resources (Teemacane Trust – Khwe Oral History/Testimony Programme 2003), a large coffee
table book that brings together all the San oral testimony projects in Botswana, Namibia and South Africa (Le Roux and
White 2004). Finally, there is a resource on the Khwe’s traditional knowledge of veld plants (LLHRC 2007). A database of information gathered by the communities is kept by the Letloa Trust’s Lands, Livelihoods and Heritage Resource
Centre (LLHRC) for community and other use, and for developing more products as required.
Today the oral history project is continued by Kuru through the LLHRC, funded by Open Channels (UK). The
LLHRC continues to support Teemacane Trust, and all interviews are still conducted in the local San language — in this
case Khwedam or ||Anikhwedam — recorded on tape or digital recorders and translated into English, so that other people can also get to know and understand the San groups and because so few Bugakhwe and ||Anikhwe can read or write
their own languages at this time. Ultimately, however, the information will also be translated into Khwedam as part of
the ongoing literacy project.
Alongside the oral testimony project, TOCaDI and Letloa have assisted the communities with two land-mapping
projects, one in the Khudicgao area and the other with the Shaikarawe community. In Khudicgao, seven maps were produced by community members assisted by a consultant. This resulted in the formation of the ‡Heku Trust and the development of a management plan for the area, which includes cultural tourism projects. TOCaDI continues supporting the
The Bugakhwe and the || Anikhwe San of the Okavango Panhandle: Traditional Knowledge, Conservation and Empowerment
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Teemacane and ‡Heku Trusts to lay a claim for community use of the area’s resources, which is under consideration by
the Land Board. The Shaikarawe maps will be used in negotiations with government to establish a community-managed
forest around the settlement.
As can be seen, these Kuru organizations assist the San communities not only to document the information they
have gathered, but to take it a step further and use it to work towards land acquisition, community-based tourism,
Community Based Natural Resource Management (CBNRM) projects, enterprise development, and mother-tongue
literacy training, etc.
If the Government could give us the right to use our natural resources, we could take care of
them and ourselves. Tourists could come and pay to see our natural resources […] and the money
would help us.
Makumbo Mangasha, Sekondomboro
Next Steps
The San (Bushmen) of southern Africa are involved in a battle of endurance, a race to not only survive, but to take their
place proudly and assuredly in this “modern world.” If they can be assisted to achieve this, modern cultures will have a
chance to be bolstered by the knowledge and understanding of how they lived. The San have a mix of rich, complex and
enviable cultures. They were the first custodians of this land and, unlike the peoples of today, they lived in harmony with
nature. To use modern phrases that we in the west now
promote, theirs was a “carbon neutral” existence; their
footprints did not destroy, they were erased by sand carried on the breeze.
That life has all but ended; it remains only in the
romanticized productions of the media. The San, and
many other cultures, have been catapulted into today. Most
still live without electricity or running water, although
mobile phones are everywhere. For many, the only accessible mode of transport, aside from their feet, is the humble donkey, but a car is the dream; the sand, or a fallen tree,
is their furniture, but the chip board and velour sofa set,
available on HP (hire purchase) is their ambition.
The principle tribes, the government, and the ‘west’
have made their mark; they have not guided the San into
this life, enabled them to fully understand it, work in it,
and grow with it. It has taken a number of years, a lot of
hard work and many failed attempts for the San to realize that only by knowing and having pride in themselves,
their knowledge and their cultures can they take their
rightful place in this imposed world. By so doing, the
Figure 5. Even in the dry season, the San can identify their plants: ThiSan will actually be in a stronger position than those in
renga Dirawa shows Nyamxoexoere, a medicinal plant. Photograph
the west, where our natural resources have already been
© Alison White.
Indigenous Peoples and Conservation: From Rights to Resource Management
Traditional Knowledge
significantly depleted and where many people have reached that point in development at which, they have “everything”
but have lost themselves, their history, their identity and their connection to the land.
The San have been working for 10 years now to prevent this from happening to their children, by collecting their oral
testimonies, the histories of their knowledge, cultures and traditions, as well as the challenges they face, and by incorporating this information in projects, proposals and plans. The ultimate goal of the Oral Testimony Project has been to
help the San towards self-representation, to stop their dispossession and resource loss, and change the power relations.
The project has to continue, to build on what has already been achieved and follow the steps laid down by similar projects, such as the Cultural Resources Auditing and Management (CRAM) Project with the ‡Khomani people in South
Africa, who had some of their land returned to them and were given limited rights to use the Kgalagadi Transfrontier
Game Reserve.
The Bugakhwe and ||Anikhwe have collected much information, but there is more to gather. As well as acquiring
their land and the control and protection of their natural resources, they want to produce school materials, community
history books, local village exhibitions, etc. so their people, their children and their children’s children can stand proud.
Others can help, but the challenge of managing these cultural resources and using them practically and to heal their society by reestablishing their identity down through the generations — this is a process that needs to remain in the hands of
the San themselves. As they say, “it is our work, for our future.” And if the environmental sustainability of the Okavango
Panhandle, and the Delta itself is to be assured, it is work that should be encouraged, supported and used to collaborate with the government, conservation organizations and other stakeholders to inform policy and project development.
Guide to the Pronunciation of the Click Symbols, International Phonetic Alphabet
dental click: tip of the tongue is pressed against the front teeth and quickly withdrawn
alveolar-palatal click: tip of tongue is pressed against the alveolar ridge and adjacent palate, then released
sharply downwards
palatal click: tongue is pressed against the upper palate and released sharply downwards, something like when
a cork is pulled from a bottle
lateral click: click sound produced at the side of the tongue when tongue is held pressed against the palate
Bibliography of San Oral History Project
||Xom Kyakyare Khwe: ‡Am Kuri Kx’ûî â – The Khwe of the Okavango Panhandle: The Past Life. Teemacane Trust, Gaborone,
Botswana. 2002.
Khwete Kx’ûîkarahî xudji Khyanimn||gèhîxodji kx’ei|am n|im Butcoanacim||Xomki – Community Natural Resources of
Bugakhwe and ||Anikhwe in the Okavango Panhandle in Botswana. Booklet, Teemacane Trust, Botswana’s CommunityBased Natural Resource Management (CBNRM) Support Programme, IUCN – The World Conservation Union,
Gland, Switzerland, and SNV – Netherlands Development Organisation. 2003.
Voices of the San – Living in Southern Africa Today. W. Le Roux and A. White (eds.). Kwela Books, Cape Town, South
Africa. 2004.
||Xom Kyakyare Khwe: Tc’ao Yidji Djaoka||oe Kx’ea ‡’Ûî ||oe Yidji nu Tcokae||oe Yidji – The Khwe of the Okavango Panhandle:
The Use of Veld Plants for Food and Medicine (Part 1), booklet, Letloa Trust’s Lands, Livelihoods and Heritage Resource
Centre (LLHRC), Shakawe, Botswana. 2007.
The Bugakhwe and the || Anikhwe San of the Okavango Panhandle: Traditional Knowledge, Conservation and Empowerment
Traditional Knowledge
Literature Cited
Botswana, DEA. 2008. The Convention on Wetlands of International Importance (Ramsar Convention) – 1971. Government
of Botswana, Department of Environmental Affairs (DEA), Gaborone. Website: <
bw/ncsaword/ramsar.rtf>. Accessed: March 2008.
Campbell, A.C. 1976. Traditional utilization of the Kavango Delta. In: Proceedings of the Symposium on the Kavango
Delta and Its Future Utilization, Botswana Society (ed.), pp.163–173. Botswana Society, Gaborone.
Chumbo, S. and Kotsi, M. 2002. ||Xom Kyakyare Khwe: ‡ Am Kuri Kx’ûî – The Khwe of the Okavango Panhandle: The Past
Life. The Teemacane Trust and the Trust for Okavango Cultural and Development Initiatives (TOCaDI), Shakawe,
Geingos, S. 2004. Hai||om Youth League and Working Group of Indigenous Minorities in Southern Africa (WIMSA).
Presentation for the Youth Development and Peace Conference, Sarajevo, Bosnia, 5–7 September 2004.
Hitchcock, R.K. 2008a. The Kavango Basin: A Case Study. The Water Page, Water Policy International Ltd., Pretoria.
Website: <>. Accessed: 1 March 2009.
Hitchcock, R.K. 2008b. Water resource use and management in the Okavango system of southern Africa: the political economy
of state, community and private resource control. The Water Page, Water Policy International Ltd., Pretoria. Website:
<>. Accessed: 1 March 2009.
Le Roux, W. and Chumbo, S. 2002. When it is about the process, not the product — oral testimony collection among
the San of Southern Africa. Paper presented to the XIIth International Oral History Conference, Pietermaritzburg,
South Africa. June 2002.
Le Roux, W. and White, A. (eds.). 2004. Voices of the San: Living in Southern Africa Today. Kwela Books, Cape Town.
LLHRC. 2007. ||Xom Kyakyare Khwe: Tc’ao Yidji Djaoka||oe Kx’ea ‡’Ûî ||oe Yidji nu Tcokae||oe Yidji – The Khwe of the
Okavango Panhandle: The Use of Veld Plants for Food and Medicine. Letloa Trust, Lands, Livelihoods and Heritage
Resource Centre (LLHRC), Shakawe, Botswana.
Mazonde, I. 2004. Equality and ethnicity: how equal are San in Botswana? In: Indigenous Peoples’ Rights in Southern Africa,
R.K. Hitchcock and D. Vinding (eds.), pp.134–151. International Work Group for Indigenous Affairs (IWGIA),
McCarthy T. 2008. Kalahari Wetlands. The Okavango Research Group, University of the Witwatersrand, Johannesburg.
Website: <>.
Accessed: 1 March 2008.
Panos Institute. 2000. Giving Voice: Practical Guidelines for Implementing Oral Testimony Projects. Panos Institute, London.
Ramberg, L., Hancock, P., Lindholm, M., Meyer, T., Ringrose, S., Sliva, J., Van As, J. and VanderPost, C. 2006. Species
diversity of the Okavango Delta, Botswana. Aquatic Sciences 68: 310–337.
Ross, K. 2003. Okavango: Jewel of the Kalahari. Struik, Cape Town.
Taylor, M. 2004. The past and future of San land rights in Botswana. In: Indigenous Peoples’ Rights in Southern Africa,
R.K. Hitchcock and D. Vinding (eds.), pp.152–165. International Work Group for Indigenous Affairs (IWGIA),
Teemacane Trust – Khwe Oral History/Testimony Programme. 2003. Khwete Kx’ûîkarahî xudji Khyanimn||gèhîxodji
kx’ei|am n|im Butcoanacim||Xomki – Community Natural Resources of Bugakhwe and ||Anikhwe in the Okavango
Panhandle in Botswana. IUCN – The World Conservation Union, Gaborone, Botswana.
Warne, K. 2004. Africa’s miracle delta. National Geographic Magazine. December, 2004. Website: <http://ngm.>. Accessed: 1 March 2008.
Indigenous Peoples and Conservation: From Rights to Resource Management
Traditional Knowledge
The Tlingit Way of
A Matter of Respect
Thomas F. Thornton and Herman Kitka Sr.†
Quick Facts
Country: United States of America, Alaska
Geographic Focus: Alaska’s southeastern panhandle.
Indigenous Peoples: The Tlingit population is today around
Author Information
Thomas F. Thornton is a Senior Research Fellow and Director of the
Master of Science Program in Environmental Change and Mangement
at Oxford University. He lived in Áak’w Kwáan (centered in Juneau)
from 1989–2000 and has conducted ethnographic research throughout southeast Alaska for the past 20 years.
E-mail: [email protected]
Herman Kitka Sr. was a Tribal Elder and Leader of the Sitka Tlingit
Kaagwaantaan Clan. He was a lifelong fisherman, hunter, and trapper,
and maintained a remote subsistence camp in Deep Bay, where his
family has dwelled for hundreds of years. See page 217.
Conservation is inherently about building relationships: the term ecology is derived from the Greek word for house, and successful conservation schemes must be concerned with structuring sustainable
relations between beings and their homes. For the Tlingit people of
Alaska — one of the most complex, highly developed, and densely
settled groups of hunter-gatherers in the world — the relationships
between them and their habitat are built on the principle of respect
(at yáa awuné), which governs all relations among beings in the cosmos. To them, respect is not maintained by “managing resources”
from outside nature’s “house,” but by “sustaining relationships” within
it through proper cultivation, interaction, and stewardship. To go
“against nature” is the Tlingit definition of “taboo” (ligáas). Tlingit
conservation practices, thus, flow from this premise of respect. And,
like most peoples who have successfully adapted to their habitats over
long periods of time, the Tlingit practice conservation as the product of ecological knowledge and relationships developed in a dynamic
kwáan (habitat, dwelling place, or ecosystem) over time. Although the
establishment of national parks in their territory initially limited the
traditional hunting and fishing practices of the Tlingit, a closer look at
their practices reveals that their traditions are based on sound ecological knowledge derived over generations and on inherently sustainable
principles of conservation based on respect.
Tlingit Principles of Conservation
For thousands of years, Tlingits have inhabited around a dozen separate kwáan stretching across the bountiful, verdant archipelago and
marine waters of Alaska’s southeastern panhandle. Today they are
20,000 strong and still control about 10% of their original lands
through claims settlements that gave them corporate ownership rights.
The rest of Tlingit country is dominated by the Tongass National
Traditional Knowledge
Forest, Glacier Bay National Park, and the Admiralty National Monument; all federally protected lands to which Tlingits
have limited access and hunting, fishing, and gathering rights, depending on government regulations.
Tlingits share their kwáan or dwelling places with hundreds of fishes, wildlife, and plant species important to them.
They have learned, over time and through intergenerational experience, which populations are important to sustain
human life, their interrelations, habits, needs, and vulnerabilities. These relations are not always readily apparent and
must sometimes be learned the hard way — through experience and failure. Failure may lead to adaptation or “social
learning” (Berkes 1999), which results in new conservation practices that allow resilient species to rebound, and that are
based on more successful and respectful relationships between these species and humans.
According to the Tlingit, intelligent non-human beings learn the same lessons over time or else risk extinction or
marginalization. This point came up during a conversation between the Tlingit and the well-known conservationist John
Muir and his missionary friend S. Hall Young, who journeyed with the Tlingit to what is now Glacier Bay National Park
in the late nineteenth century. They were among the first Americans to engage Tlingits in discussions about conservation. Interestingly, the discussion was interrupted by the howling of a wolf, upon which the Tlingit posed a metaphysical question to Reverend Young:
When our talk was interrupted by the howling of a wolf [...][the Tlingit leader] Kadachan puzzled the minister with the question, “Have wolves souls?” The Indians believe that they have
[spirits or yéik], giving as foundation for their belief that they are wise creatures who know how
to catch seals and salmon by swimming slyly upon them with their heads hidden in a mouthful
of grass, hunt deer in company, and always bring forth their young at the same and most favorable time of the year. I inquired how it was that with enemies so wise and powerful the deer were
not all killed. Kadachan replied that wolves knew better than to kill them all and thus cut off their
most important food-supply. […] Wolves, not bears, Indians regard as masters of the woods, for
they sometimes attack and kill bears.” (Muir 2007).
As this example suggests, wolves developed a sense of balance, if not conservation, and knew that their important
deer supply could be compromised by over-hunting. In fact, there are stories of Tlingit hunters admonishing wolves for
taking too much game and not leaving enough for humans. Interestingly, many Alaskans now look to the government to
cull soulless wolf herds through “wolf control” or “wolf management” (sometimes done by machine gun and helicopter),
so that more caribou and deer will be available for human harvest. Traditionally, Tlingits appealed to the wolves themselves to leave a supply of game for human populations, and generally they obliged. If the wolves did not abide, there
were conflicts; Tlingits would hunt more wolves.
This brings us to another key principle of conservation: the need to control those who use critical resources.
Conservation is useless if one cannot ensure that those within or outside of your group conform to hunting, fishing,
or gathering limits. Effective in-group control can be achieved through education (prescriptions) and restrictions (proscriptions or taboos), whereas control of those outside your group may only be possible through maintaining territorial
boundaries to limit access to critical species and/or habitats.
Tlingits practiced all of these strategies with great success. Some anthropological literature (Dyson-Hudson and
Smith 1978) holds that to be economically defensible, the benefits of maintaining a territory must outweigh the costs
of doing so; this is likely only when territorial resources are dense and predictable (but not superabundant, since then
there would be more than enough for everyone and no need for defense). Much of the new literature on the “ecological
Indian” (cf. Harkin and Lewis 2007) neglects the issue of control. It finds that Indians often failed to conserve resources
Indigenous Peoples and Conservation: From Rights to Resource Management
Traditional Knowledge
in the post-contact era, precisely the time when their territorial boundaries and other regulatory controls were being systematically undermined and violated by whites and their surrogates competing for the very same resources. Under such
circumstances, the incentive to conserve is low, for what you do not take, your competitor will, resulting in a phenomenon known as the “tragedy of the commons” (Hardin 1968).
Salmon: Avoiding a Tragedy of the Commons
Tlingits avoided a “tragedy of the commons” scenario through effective communal territories that structured human
interactions with non-human species in caring, respectful ways. Most of the productive salmon streams were owned,
defended, and cared for by Tlingit matrilineal house groups or clans. When commercial salmon canning and fishing
interests arrived in the late 19th century, they broke the Tlingit system of communal property in order to gain access to
the lucrative salmon stocks. Despite Tlingit pleas for conservation and respect for their territorial boundaries, commercial salmon boats fished right up and into the stream mouths, often completely blocking them with their nets, so that the
salmon had no escape back to their spawning grounds. Offshore, plunderous floating fish traps were set up on marine
pathways, indiscriminately enveloping all that passed by.
This relentless extraction and the existing common property regime (in which anyone could fish almost anywhere),
brought the southeast Alaska salmon fisheries to a “tragedy of the commons”: by the mid twentieth century, it was
declared a disaster by the federal government (Langdon 1989). Ultimately, the government’s solution was to re-regulate
the salmon fisheries by “limited entry,” restricting participation to a fixed number of individual permit holders. While
the overall conservation of salmon has become more stable under this regime, the system has served to further alienate
Tlingits from their fisheries and from watershed management.
This is unfortunate because in Tlingit communities salmon streams have always been the backbone of the community’s livelihood, status, and wellbeing, the most prized possessions of local matrilineal clans. Tlingit clan leaders refer to
their relationship over salmon streams as “taking care of it” (at daat kuyawusitaak), or one of stewardship. Taking care
of a stream involves conscious, deliberate
actions to maintain healthy salmon runs:
In Tlingit communities salmon streams have always been
“streamscaping” to create better habitat;
the backbone of the community’s livelihood, status, and
limiting harvests to ensure sufficient escapewellbeing, the most prized possessions of local matrilineal
ment of salmon to spawn; culling predators;
and honoring salmon through respectful
clans. Tlingit clan leaders refer to their relationship over
conduct and gifts (Langdon 2006, 2007).
salmon streams as “taking care of it” (at daat kuyawusitaak),
The Tlingit “master of the [salmon] stream”
or one of stewardship.
(héen s’aatí) is analogous to the master of a
lineage house (hít s’aatí); he ensures the sustainability of the resources by managing the relations between the various inhabitants (fish and human) of the dwelling
place (Thornton 2008, p.170). So for the Tlingit, managing salmon is similar to managing their own families.
Failure to maintain healthy relations could bring deleterious ecological consequences. One example of this is blocking a salmon stream with a fish weir. “A salmon knows its river,” Tlingits say, and will find its way back to its natal
stream to spawn. When a salmon’s way is blocked by a weir or other man-made objects for a significant period of time,
it may become insulted and abandon the stream altogether. Tlingits, who have possessed weir technology for thousands of years, sometimes learned this lesson the hard way. One oral history tells of the little sockeye (red) salmon, or
dagák’, which today is found only at Necker Bay, south of Sitka. These little sockeye used to be present in other streams
The Tlingit Way of Conservation: A Matter of Respect
Traditional Knowledge
around Sitka, but when these watersheds became blocked or disturbed by human activity, the dagák’ abandoned them,
insulted; today they inhabit just one place. Tlingits acknowledge the insult and tell the story to avoid further offending this fragile but cherished little salmon. “Those little sockeye get offended if you don’t leave them a hole in your
[fish] weir; they won’t come back if it [the stream] is all blocked off,” says elder Herman Kitka Sr. “Sitka people have a
saying about it,” he notes, “Tleil dagák’ ahawateeni yík.” Literally, it means, “Don’t stomp off [insulted] like those little sockeyes.” In human contexts, such as at a ceremonial potlatch or memorial party, it indicates that the hosts want
the guests to return for the next gathering. This is the way Tlingits feel about salmon too. They want them back at the
next gathering and know they must cultivate proper, respectful relations in order to ensure that the salmon do return
(Thornton 2008).
The covenant for respectful relations with salmon is related in the “Salmon Boy” story, versions of which can be
found among indigenous people up and down the northwest coast of North America (for example, Swanton 1909; Boas
1916; de Laguna 1972). In the Tlingit version, set in a fishing camp, a hungry boy insults the salmon by derisively casting aside a piece of dried fish offered him by his mother because it is moldy on one end. The salmon respond to this
insult by “kidnapping” the boy and taking him to their underwater world where he finds that the “salmon people” exist
as tribes with a social structure and protocols resembling those of the Tlingit. The boy lives with the salmon tribe, learning their customs and learning to see the world from their perspective. Finally, the salmon chief calls his people to board
their “canoes” and return to their natal spawning grounds. Upon reaching the Tlingit fishing camp, the boy “stands
up” (i.e., jumps) to see the smokehouses and proceeds up the river to the eddy where his mother is processing fish. The
mother admires the beautiful salmon and directs her husband to spear it. He does, but when the fish is presented to the
mother for cleaning, she notices it possesses a copper necklace like the one her son wore when he disappeared. The parents consult a shaman, who directs them to place the salmon on a large plank at the top of the house near the smoke
hole. By the next morning, the salmon boy has transformed back to his human form. He instructs his people in the
ways of the salmon and how to treat them respectfully so that they will return each year. Eventually the boy becomes a
powerful shaman himself. Some versions of this story also detail how the boy instructed the people in how to carry out
the “first salmon ceremony” in which the bones of the
first salmon caught are burned and/or returned to the
water in a ritual of regeneration that perpetuates “relational sustainability” (Langdon 2007) between salmon
and Tlingits. In this idealized cosmology, Tlingits not
only play a role in protecting salmon stocks but literally
help them regenerate on an annual basis.
As this Tlingit story and their system of watershed
management illustrate, respect is not only ideological but
practical. Whether we call this respect “conservation” or
“relational sustainability” is perhaps not as critical as recognizing that it is an ingenious and effective system of
Figure 1. Tlingit country from a non-Tlingit perspective. Highlighted are
“resource management” (as we call it today), which was
major towns, protected lands, and southeastern Alaska’s international
consistently misrecognized and undermined by nonborder with Canada (yellow dotted line). Today Tlingits are 20,000 strong
and still control about 10% of their original lands in the region. The rest
Natives. The Tlingit use conscious, deliberate cultivation
of Tlingit country is dominated by the Tongass National Forest, Glacier
of social relations and material conditions to sustain and
Bay National Park, and Admiralty National Monument, all federally protected lands to which Tlingits have limited access and hunting, fishing,
even enhance the salmon runs, upon which their liveliand gathering rights, depending on government regulations. Map courtesy of MapQuest <>.
hoods depend. This requires intimate local knowledge
Indigenous Peoples and Conservation: From Rights to Resource Management
Traditional Knowledge
and engagement with salmon and their habitats; it also requires controlling salmon fishing according to abundance or
scarcity. The Tlingit even manage salmon through transplantation, a practice similarly found among indigenous peoples
of the Northwest Coast and elsewhere to help plant cultivation (Thornton 1997; Deur and Turner 2006).
Bird Eggs: Sustainable Hunting Based on Ecological Knowledge
Environmentalists and natives do not always find themselves in agreement about how to best conserve biological species.
Despite respect for native traditions of sustainability and adaptation, some environmental groups tend to view modern
indigenous people as pretty much like the rest of human society — a potential threat to the conservation of non-human
species. They also view traditional native means of conservation as impractical for protecting biodiversity in the face of
modern industrial society and its high population, technology, and consumption levels. Environmentalists, or “Friends
of the Animals” as Tlingits sometimes call them, have been held accountable for their failures to accommodate native
livelihoods into conservation projects such as parks and wildlife refuges (Chapin 2004). A good example of this can
be found in the management of Glacier Bay National Park and Preserve, a Biosphere Reserve and World Heritage site,
where John Muir and the Tlingits first discussed conservation.
Glacier Bay National Park has emerged as a premier wilderness site and location for research as a result of Muir’s
vision that wild places be preserved for contemplation and the scientific study of nature’s processes. From the Park’s perspective, these values are best achieved when human interactions with the landscape are limited to “non-consumptive”
uses, such as touring in kayaks or cruise ships, rather than more “contaminating” interactions such as hunting and fishing. But Tlingits have another view of Glacier Bay. To them it is their homeland and their “icebox” (where they store
food). As Huna Tlingit elder Richard Dalton put it, “This is the place we were in love with […] because it provided, like
an icebox.” Tlingits who trace their ancestry to Glacier Bay seek to continue traditional hunting, fishing, and gathering
within the Park, so as to nourish their bodies and sustain relations with the spirits of their ancestors, who still
inhabit the landscape. Glacier Bay foods are “special,”
not only because the micro-climactic conditions actually
produce tastier foods (Thornton 1997) but because, as is
often said, “that’s our home.”
While Tlingit harvests of resources such as bird eggs,
fish, and seals were tolerated at some level in the early
years of Glacier Bay National Monument (Catton 1997),
by the time it became a park in 1980 such activities had
been severely circumscribed or outlawed altogether. One
resource about which Tlingits were extremely concerned
was seagull eggs. For generations they had collected the
eggs of the Glaucous-winged gull (Larus glaucescens) and
Figure 2. Tlingit country from an indigenous perspective, emphasizing Tlingit kwáan, or dwelling areas. Each kwáan was inhabited by
other birds in the Spring (late May and early June) at
three or more matrilineal clans (naa), subdivided into house groups
Glacier Bay. Though they comprised a small (1%) por(hít). Food production was organized along these lineages and ceremonial exchanges (such as potlatches) took place between two retion of the total food harvest, gull’s eggs were considered
ciprocating “super lineages,” or moieties (halves), known as Raven
very significant as “first fruits” of the subsistence season,
and Eagle-Wolf. Through centuries of inhabitation, innovation, and
social learning, Tlingits developed sustainable practices of hunting
marking the end of winter encampment and the beginand fishing based on principles of respect and an in-depth knowledge
ning of movement to remote fishing sites. The most
of species and habitats. Map courtesy of Tlingit Readers.
The Tlingit Way of Conservation: A Matter of Respect
Traditional Knowledge
favored places for gull’s-egg harvesting were the islands
in Glacier Bay, where the scouring effects of glacial recession left lightly vegetated, rocky islands for gulls to nest
upon. North and South Marble Islands, not far from the
mouth of Glacier Bay, were considered ideal.
The Tlingits suggested that their egg harvests were
sustainable because they had rules for limiting the harvest. The main rule was to pick from nests with only one
or two eggs, and to leave alone nests with three or more
eggs. They believed that, if there were already three or
more eggs in the nest, then the eggs had already begun
to develop embryos (less favored, except as a rare delicacy among elders). But if you pick from nests with only
one or two eggs, the gulls will come back and lay more
eggs. Scientific studies of gull reproductive ecology have
found this to be true, as they are “indeterminate nesters” and will typically keep laying eggs serially until a full
clutch of three to four eggs is reached. So the dominant
Huna Tlingit strategy of picking from nests with one to
two eggs would encourage the female gull to replenish
the eggs in the nest.
In sum, the Tlingit egg harvesters had devised a
practical conservation scheme transmitted from elders
Figure 3. Herman Kitka Sr. preparing strips of salmon for drying at his
to youth during the harvest and enforced by public
smokehouse at Deep Bay, 1994. Tlingit smokehouses are ingenious techopinion to ensure that this vulnerable resource, the gull
nologies that render salmon useable throughout the year by drying it.
Fueled by carefully-tended central wood fires, the smoke is distributed
egg, would remain sustainable from year to year. We
throughout the smokehouse to dry the fish. As it dries the salmon is
reported our findings to the Park Service (Hunn et al.
rotated to the outer reaches of the smokehouse so it does not overcook. Finally, it is packed away for later use or trade. Salmon fishing was
2003, 2005), which initially agreed to support a harpracticed sustainably through communal management of key salmon
vest, but only outside the boundaries of the Park due to
streams. Photo © T. Thornton.
concerns among conservationists within the Park ranks
about the effects of gull egg harvesting on the wildlife and scientific value of the Park. Other venues outside of the
park were tried but with limited success and Huna Tlingits longed to return legally to their favored Marble Island egging grounds. The Park is now considering this option through legislation. If successful, it will be an inspiring example of how the government learned to appreciate and respect Tlingit traditional knowledge and conservation practices
enough to allow their continued use of a culturally significant wildlife resource. Children might return again to Marble
Island, learn from their elders about how to properly gather gull eggs, and perhaps even rub their first-found egg to
their eyes — an age-old technique reputed to help them see more of the mottled brown treasures that lay camouflaged
among the rocks.
Indigenous Peoples and Conservation: From Rights to Resource Management
Traditional Knowledge
Conclusion: Conservation through Cultural Practice
Indigenous communities such as the Tlingit have responded to multiple threats to their environment, from the destruction of their salmon fisheries to the cordoning off of their most sacred homelands and “iceboxes” as parks, by insisting on
sustainable livelihoods through their traditional rights to the renewable resources of southeastern Alaska’s bountiful forest, riparian, and marine ecosystems. The above examples illustrate just how richly detailed Tlingit environmental knowledge is, and how practical and effective their conservation measures have been in sustaining relationships with the critical
species upon which their lives depend. Their salmon stream and gull’s egg conservation systems are supreme examples of
adaptive management, developed and tested over generations.
The key to success in adaptive management from a Tlingit perspective is continued respectful engagement with nonhuman species. Alaska’s fish and game regulations provide for some level of engagement, but local tribes and clans typically do not have a meaningful role in managing critical species or their habitats. Tlingits maintain that these species, as
well as their own communities, would be better off if they did. Why not train and appoint Tlingit héen saat’í to help manage salmon fisheries and watersheds? Why not engage Tlingit hunters, fishers, and gatherers to help better understand sea
mammal ecology or bird reproductive biology? The knowledge is there, yet scientists too often insist that it is “anecdotal”
or embedded in non-rational “belief ” systems. But is it truly scientific to ignore such data simply because they do not fit
neatly with existing paradigms, or because they are the product of different conservation philosophies? The least rational system of all may be the one that insists that animate “resources” can be “managed” according to human principles of
maximum yield without teaching respect for the relationships that comprise their foundation. As Herman Kitka Sr. has
put it elsewhere:
This teaching was what made each Tlingit a good citizen in each community. The young people
learned to respect the land they live on. They also learned to take only what each family needed
to make it throughout the year. We need to keep on teaching our children our subsistence lifestyle and our culture and religion. Without this teaching our Tlingit cultures will be lost forever.
(in Thornton 2008, p.126)
As these words suggest, the health of human beings and their cultural and ecological systems are inextricably intertwined.
The rich biodiversity of the Pacific Northwest bioregion today is in part a result of the stewardship of its indigenous inhabitants, who have cultivated sustainable, respectful relationships with the region’s plants, animals, and fish over millennia. This
teaching is still relevant today, and may help improve conservation where non-Native efforts have failed. Biological conservation can best be served through cultural conservation in which Tlingits continue to maintain ecological knowledge and
respectful relations with the species and habitats that sustain them through the practice of living on the land.
Herman Kitka Sr. †
Herman Kitka Sr. walked into the forest on December 27, 2009. A lifelong member of Alaska Native Brotherhood,
boat-builder, contractor, trapper, hunter, and fisherman, Herman was also a founding director of Shee Atika (Native)
Corporation, which he named in Tlingit for his community of Sitka. He was recognized with numerous honors for his
achievements and service, including the distinguished Kaagwaantaan name, Kusataan (referring to the signal splash of a
killer whale leading its pod), and an honorary doctorate from the University of Alaska. Kusataan will be remembered for
the path he made for his people as a clan, as a cultural and organizational leader, and a tireless advocate for subsistence,
land, and cultural rights.
The Tlingit Way of Conservation: A Matter of Respect
Traditional Knowledge
The authors thank Nels Lawson for his assistance in preparing this essay, and also Mike Turek for reminding us of the
passage from John Muir.
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University of Nebraska Press, Lincoln, NE.
Hunn, E.S., Johnson, D.R., Russell, P.N. and Thornton, T.F. 2003. Huna Tlingit traditional environmental knowledge,
conservation, and the management of a ‘Wilderness’ Park.’ Current Anthropology 44 (suppl.): S79–103.
Hunn, E.S., D.R. Johnson, P.N. Russell and T.F. Thornton. 2005. Huna Tlingit Gull egg harvests in Glacier Bay National
Park. Practicing Anthropology 27(1): 6–10.
Langdon, S.J. 1989. From communal property to common property to limited entry: historical ironies in the management
of southeast Alaska salmon. In: A Sea of Small Boats, J. Cordell (ed.), pp.304–32. Cultural Survival, Cambridge, MA.
Langdon, S.J. 2006. Tidal pulse fishing: selective traditional Tlingit salmon fishing techniques on the west coast of Prince
of Wales Archipelago. In: Traditional Ecological Knowledge and Natural Resource Management, C. Menzies (ed.),
pp.21–46. University of Nebraska Press, Lincoln, NE.
Langdon, S.J. 2007. Sustaining a relationship: inquiry into the emergence of a logic of engagement with salmon among
the Southern Tlingits. In: Native Americans and the Environment: Perspectives on the Ecological Indian, M.E. Harkin
and D.R. Lewis (eds.), pp.233–273. University of Nebraska Press, Lincoln, NE.
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Swanton, J.R. 1909. Tlingit Myths and Texts. Bureau of American Ethnology, Bulletin 39. Government Printing Office,
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Thornton, T.F. 1997. Tléikw Aaní, the ‘Berried’ Landscape: the structure of Tlingit edible fruit resources at Glacier Bay,
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Thornton, T.F. 2008. Being and Place among the Tlingit. University of Washington Press, Seattle.
Indigenous Peoples and Conservation: From Rights to Resource Management
Traditional Knowledge
Traditional Ecological
Knowledge for Improved
Customary Wildlife Harvests
by Māori in New Zealand
Henrik Moller and Phil O’B. Lyver
Quick Facts
Country: New Zealand/Aotearoa
Geographic Focus: Four different regions in New Zealand:
Oreti Beach/Te Waewae Bay, Rakiura Titi (Muttonbird)
Islands, Te Urewera Ranges, Ruamaahua (Aldermen)
Indigenous Peoples: Three Māori tribes: Ngāi Tahu’s
Rakiura Tītī and Murihiku Toheroa harvesting communities, Hauraki, and Ngāi Tūhoe. Māori are New Zealand’s
indigenous people and currently make up around 17% of
New Zealand’s 4.5 million people.
Author Information
Henrik Moller is an Associate Professor and Co-Director of the
Centre for Study of Agriculture, Food and Environment (Kā Rakahau
o te Ao Tūroa) at the University of Otago (Te Whare Wānanga o
Otago). He is an ecologist by training and has been working with
the Māori for the past 15 years to forge cross-cultural models for
environmental research and management.
E-mail: [email protected]
Phil O’B. Lyver is a Māori (Ngāti Toarangatira) research scientist
for the Manaaki Whenua (Landcare Research, Ltd.). He is an ecologist by training and has been working with Canadian First Nations
and Māori over the past 15 years.
E-mail: [email protected]
Introduction: A Need for the Meeting of Different
Knowledge Traditions
Traditional management systems offer insights into how contemporary harvests of wild foods might be managed more sustainably.
Traditional Ecological Knowledge (TEK)1 can give long-term perspectives on trends in wildlife populations, past and current distributions,
and associations between different species.2 Knowledge about significant conditions and perturbations in the past can help identify threats
and actions to ensure sustainable harvesting. However, although globalization and the technological revolution have greatly expanded the
threats to customary harvests of wild foods3, and despite considerable
opportunities for using TEK to sustainably manage wild food harvests, many governments of the colonized New World nations seem to
struggle to adequately incorporate it into contemporary wildlife management regimes.
There are a number of reasons why the two cultural knowledge
traditions — TEK and science — so rarely meet. Simple unawareness
of what is included in traditional management systems is undoubtedly one of them, and in this essay we will outline some lessons emerging from four studies of customary harvesting by Māori, the indigenous people of New Zealand. We are both wildlife ecologists working
with Māori communities on TEK-science partnerships. The knowledge we present is not ours; rather it was shared by people from four
Māori communities. We hope that our contribution can build their
1 We define traditional knowledge as “a cumulative body of knowledge, practice and belief, evolving by adaptive
processes and handed down through generations by cultural transmission” (Berkes 2008).
2 See Lyver et al. (1999) for one example from the Tītī population case study. Since that publication the research
team has been given seven other sets of harvest records, in one case stretching back to 1938. More generalized
examples are provided by Usher (2000) and Moller et al. (2004).
3 Modern technology does not always increase harvest rate. For example, motorized plucking machines have a minimal impact on the time required to harvest Tītī chicks (Lyver and Moller 1999). On the other hand the advent of the
helicopter has greatly reduced the refuge areas of Tītī breeding colonies that are not harvested (Moller et al. 2009c).
Traditional Knowledge
knowledge into a bigger picture, raise awareness of the need for scientists and wildlife managers to listen more attentively
to indigenous peoples, and involve them more in joint problem-solving. All ethnicities share a quest to find sustainable
ways of living; we just have not yet learned how to effectively apply cross-cultural partnerships.
An Overview from New Zealand
The use of TEK (Māori call it mātauranga) to guide wildlife management in New Zealand is gradually gaining
momentum, and has been supported by New Zealand’s
ratification of international agreements such as the
Convention on Biological Diversity 19934 and through
the Treaty of Waitangi settlement process.5 TEK has also
taken a more prominent role in guiding and directing
domestic science and research.6 New Zealand Māori
acknowledge that their TEK has undergone a period
of erosion over the last 200 years since the arrival of
Europeans in the early 1800s. Reasons for this breakdown are related partly to assimilation with European
culture7, but also because the Māori were separated from
their natural resources by government land confiscation
and harvest prohibitions. Even so, many tribes assert
that their TEK can still reliably inform wildlife management and conservation in New Zealand.8
Figure 1a. Tītī are chicks of the Sooty Shearwater (Puffinus griseus) that
are harvested close to fledging time by Rakiura Māori from 35 islands in
southern New Zealand. Photo © Josh Newman.
Gathering mātauranga Māori: four case studies
The TEK of the tribes of Ngāi Tahu9, Hauraki, and Ngāi
Tūhoe forms the basis of their relationships with several culturally significant taonga (treasured) or rangatira
(chiefly) food species. In this essay we discuss harvests of
two burrowing seabird species (Tītī, Sooty Shearwater,
Puffinus griseus, Figs. 1a and 1b) and Oi (Grey-faced
Petrel, Pterodroma macroptera gouldi, Fig. 2)10, the New
Figure 1b. Adult Sooty Shearwaters (Puffinus griseus) can continue
producing Tītī (chicks) for up to 40 years. Traditional lore amongst Rakiura Māori is to never harvest the adults and to minimize disturbance to
their breeding so as to promote sustainable harvesting of their chicks.
Photo © Henrik Mouritson.
4 The CBD (UNEP 2007) bound New Zealand to create a biodiversity strategy that includes Māori environmental management principles.
5 For example, the Ngāi Tahu Settlement Act (1998) instigated several new ways that Ngāi Tahu, New Zealand’s most southerly tribe, can influence wildlife management (see Moller et al. 2000 for
a review).
6 See Moller (1996), Taiepa et al. (1997), and a new national network of Māori communities that have joined forces in a project called Te Tiaki Mahinga Kai (<>). Te Tiaki
Mahinga Kai means the guarding of food gathering, but mahinga kai can also refer more generally to environmental management as a whole.
7 See Tau (2001) for a discussion of loss of knowledge and its relative efficacy for more globalized knowledge systems such as science.
8 Lyver (2002) showed how the knowledge does much more than simply maximize harvest. It also indicated trends in numbers and changing ecological conditions that potentially threaten harvest
sustainability. Newman and Moller (2004) and Moller et al. (2009a) outline ways that TEK complements scientific approaches and leads to altered study design and different research priorities.
9 Rakiura Māori do not constitute a separate iwi, but we have referred to them from Ngāi Tahu, Ngāti Mamoe and Waitaha peoples of southern New Zealand to distinguish the Rakiura Tītī harvest as a
case study. Rakiura Māori are made up mainly from those iwi, but are actually defined on the basis of their rights to harvest Tītī from the Tītī Islands (Stevens 2006).
10 Detailed descriptions of the traditional harvests and TEK are provided by Kitson and Moller (2008) and Moller et al. (2009a, 2000c) for Tītī and by Lyver et al. (2008a) for Oi.
Indigenous Peoples and Conservation: From Rights to Resource Management
Traditional Knowledge
Zealand Pigeon (Kererū, Hemiphaga novaseelandiae
novaseelandiae; Fig. 3)11 and Toheroa (Paphies ventricosa; Fig. 4) a shellfish (surf clam) that is gathered from
exposed sandy beaches.12 The locations of our study
areas are shown in Figure 5.
In all case studies, researchers were invited by the
tribal governing authorities to present a proposal for
matauranga-based studies, which were then presented to
and sanctioned by each community at hui (tribal gatherings). We selected interviewees from each tribe who were
recognized by the community as having reliable knowledge and up-to-date experiences about the resources and
their harvest. Prior to beginning an interview, we discussed the project description with the interviewee as
well as an oral history agreement governing information
use and confidentiality. The interviews were semi-structured, with questions presented in the context of discussion to allow for a more “natural” conversation and for
unanticipated insights to emerge.13
Figure 2. Grey-faced Petrels (Pterodroma macroptera gouldi) range in
offshore waters (>1000 m depth) across the southwestern Pacific Ocean
and Tasman Sea. Use of the Australian Exclusive Economic Zone (EEZ),
New Zealand EEZ and High Seas means that multiple nations are responsible for managing potential impacts resulting from fisheries bycatch and
resource competition. Photo © Brian Karl.
Sensing changes in wildlife populations
Just as ecological science often approaches wildlife management through estimations of population abundance, so too
did conversations with the kaitiaki (Māori environmental guardians) naturally turn to fluctuations and trends in the
abundance of the target species. Ngāi Tūhoe, Rakiura and Hauraki interviewees used a range of subjective (for example,
visual, auditory, and social) and objective (for example, harvest success) indicators to monitor changes in the abundance
of their bird populations (Table 1). In all cases, the changes observed in these indicators were associated with declines
in the populations. Visual assessment mostly involved looking at flock size, although some would assess tracks used by
Tītī, observing footprint densities or vegetation trampling caused by birds departing the islands. Auditory cues were also
linked to flock size; noting diminishing noise as the density of birds aggregating at focal points (for example, islands, and
groves of Toromiro, Prumnopitys ferruginea trees) declined.
Harvest-based indicators were typically characterized by declines in total annual harvests. In all three bird casestudies, these declines could be measured as a reduction in catch per unit effort, such as chicks/hour or chicks/burrow
entrance.14 These measures were supported by more subjective harvest-based indicators such as (i) a decline in burrow
densities; (ii) an increase in time spent moving between burrows; (iii) decline in occasions where a large number of
birds were caught; and (iv) fewer tribal members participating in the harvest each year. Our studies have confirmed that
there is a reasonably robust relationship between harvest rate and Tītī chick abundance during the rama (last) phase of
11 See Lyver et al. (2008b) for detailed results from the Kererū study.
12 See Futter and Moller (2009) and Moller et al. (in press b) for the detailed Toheroa findings.
13 See Huntington (2000) and Telfer and Garde (2006). Reyes-Garcia et al. (2006) show some of the problems that can arise if researchers try to describe TEK by questionnaires and multiple-choice
styled approaches instead of in-depth interviews such as those we conducted.
14 Lyver et al. (2008a, 2000b); Moller et al. (2009b)
Traditional Ecological Knowledge for Improved Sustainability: Customary Wildlife Harvests by Maori in New Zealand
Traditional Knowledge
the harvest (Fig. 6), though not necessarily at the nanao
(first) phase of the harvest.15
Rakiura interviewees also associated changes
observed in harvest patterns to declines in Tītī abundance. Rakiura TEK predicts that years with larger and
fatter chicks will have greater chick abundance; however,
over the last 15 years, birders reported years in which
chicks were fat, but there were less of them in the burrows. It indicated to them that local food supply for
Tītī was not limiting the population because the chicks
remained fat. In two instances, interviewees perceived
the scale of population decline based on the people’s lack
of contact with the resource and the subsequent erosion
of knowledge and tikanga (traditional customs and rituals) related to the birds and the harvest.
Figure 3. The Kererū is an endemic forest-dwelling frugivore in New
Zealand forests. Its numbers are greatly depleted in many areas, mainly
because introduced rats (Rattus rattus) and stoats (Mustela erminea)
destroy eggs and chicks. Kererū were an important food of Māori in the
past and their feathers are used in clothing and ornaments. Photo © Jamie
Table 1. Methods used by Ngāi Tūhoe, Rakiura, and Hauraki interviewees to monitor changes in the abundance of bird species (Kererū, Tītī and Oi)
Sensing mechanism
Population monitoring indicators
Change in numbers of birds in flocks
Kererū, Tītī
Change in frequency of branches broken under weight of flocks alighting in toromiro
Change in wear of tracks used by birds to depart island
Change in sound of flocks flying overhead
Change in sound of birds vocalizing and moving within forest canopy and islands
Kererū, Tītī
Change in the intensity of guano smell associated with islands
Change in total annual harvest tallies
Kererū, Tītī, Oi
Change in harvest rates (chicks/hour)
Kererū, Tītī, Oi
Change in strike rate (chicks/burrow entrance)
Tītī, Oi
Change in number and density of burrow entrances
Change in time spent between moving between burrow entrances
Change in number of “tally” nights per season
Change in number of birders harvesting
Kererū, Oi
Change in harvest pattern
Change in harvest from community to individual activity
Kererū, Oi
Change in feather utilisation
Change in when birds are eaten
Kererū, Oi
Change in depth of traditional knowledge base
Kererū, Oi
Change in tikanga (customs and rituals) and level of respect accorded to bird
Kererū, Oi
15 Kitson (2004) compared harvest rates with Lyver (2000) to infer that hunters become saturated at relatively higher density so their harvest rate no longer reliably indicates population abundance.
Indigenous Peoples and Conservation: From Rights to Resource Management
Traditional Knowledge
For Toheroa, the harvesters mainly observed the density of feeding holes while harvesting in the lower intertidal zone. Catch rate was also used as an immediate indicator that the abundance of Toheroa had remained high
in areas where the beach has remained sandy. However,
interviewees were unanimous that accumulation of gravels and/or erosion of sand cause the Toheroa to “move
away” or “die-out.” All but one informant considered
that this habitat deterioration at Te Waewae Bay (Fig. 5)
had been happening since the late 1960s when the Waiau
River was dammed and most of its water diverted for the
Figure 4. Toheroa (Paphies ventricosa) is an endemic surf clam found on
electric power generation project. 16
exposed sandy beaches of New Zealand. It can grow to 155 mm. Photo
© Julie Futter.
Integrated ecosystem health indices have been developed recently by Māori to monitor the state of their
environment in aspects which are culturally important.17
These indicators are now being applied regularly to
streams , are under development for lakes and coastal habitats,19 and are planned for other habitats in New Zealand.20
The recurring theme of these investigations is that the opportunity to harvest healthy food from an abundant wildlife
population is the most common way that Māori evaluate ecosystem health.
Traditional management of wild food harvests: The importance of knowledge
Interviewees said that authority for making decisions about the resource and its harvest generally came from their
kaumātua (respected male and female elders) who had experience and held the diachronic information about tribal
custom and natural history related to the species and its habitat (Table 2). More recently, however, with the advent
of European-style tribal governorship (for example, trusts, boards, and administering bodies) much of this power was
devolved to a mix of older and younger generations. Interviewees acknowledged that without this system of internal governorship and control there would always be the very real potential that someone, either from within or outside the iwi,
would use unsustainable practices and endanger the resource. Rakiura, for example, moved rapidly in the early 1900s to
petition government to instigate a set of Tītī harvest regulations that reflected their own tikanga and kaitiakitanga (environmental guardianship). This protected the resource from outsiders — a rare example of where law and lore were made
congruent to protect a wildlife harvest successfully.21
Some of the Toheroa interviewees were concerned that kaitiaki did not hold sufficient TEK or did not actively harvest enough themselves to hold up-to-date and reliable knowledge about the resource levels. One interviewee in the
Toheroa project emphasized that by going to a kaumātua or tohunga (expert) before harvesting, one could learn the best
16 See Futter and Moller (2009) for details.
17 The process of developing the “Cultural Health Index” is described by Townsend et al. (2004) and Tipa (2006).
18 See Te Rūnanga o Ngāi Tau (2005) for their own tribe’s ‘State of the Takiwā’ environmental assessments. These complement similar State of Environment assessments undertaken by Regional
Councils and the New Zealand Ministry for Environment.
19 Addition of Cultural Health Indices for lakes and coastal areas will complete a ‘Ki Uta, ki Tai’ (“Mountains to the sea”) landscape management approach by Ngāi Tahu. Design considerations are
discussed by Schweikert et al. (2008 and in press).
20 These are reviewed by Schweikert et al. (2008).
21 Incorporation of law to reflect lore is an example of “Adaptive co-management” of indigenous communities that reach for new social institutions to secure sustainable resource management and
conservation goals (Kitson and Moller 2008; Moller et al. 2009a, 2009c).
Traditional Ecological Knowledge for Improved Sustainability: Customary Wildlife Harvests by Maori in New Zealand
Traditional Knowledge
places to gather the food. They were also required to report back harvest success to the kaumātua, so that their experience could assist the next expeditions. Food gifts are a way to maintain the information network as well as family and
community bonds and the collective responsibility for resource management.
Toheroa harvesters unanimously agreed that the current permission system of kaitiaki that authorizes harvesting for significant cultural events is much better than the occasional ‘open days’, where New Zealand’s Ministry of
Fisheries allowed anyone to harvest Toheroa22. Interviewees were distressed by the habitat disruption, the driving of cars
onto the beaches (which kills Toheroa), the waste and
general disrespect for the kai, and ignorance of appropriate gathering methods. There was a general concern
that people were ignorant of traditional rules and customs and even the basic ecology of the species (for example, identification, distribution on the beach, behavior).
The prolonged prohibition of Toheroa harvesting by the
Ministry of Fisheries, and the media hype before the
open weekend, created a rush to the beaches and considerable damage to the resource; in stark contrast to
the moderate and steady harvesting for culturally significant events by skilled harvesters within the Māori
Selective harvesting to reduce demographic impacts
Both Rakiura and Hauraki recognize the value and contribution of adult birds in the Tītī and Oi population; to
harm or interfere with this life stage is considered a serious transgression. Only chicks should be harvested. Our
mathematical models predict that this teaching alone
reduces harvest impact by around five times.23 Hauraki
also do not harvest Oi chicks that are large and well
developed because these are considered to be the ones
most likely to survive and recruit into the breeding population (Table 2). In contrast, Rakiura harvesters prefer the larger and more developed Tītī chicks24, which
have been shown in studies to have a higher survival
and probability of recruitment.25 Similarly, one Toheroa
informant had been taught to leave the “black stripers”
while harvesting because these were considered to be the
Figure 5. Map of New Zealand with the locations of traditional tribal harvest areas under the guardianship of Hauraki (Oi), Ngāi Tūhoe (Kererū),
Ngāi Tahu (Toheroa) and Rakiura (Tītī). During interviews, it became apparent that all tribes had restrictions and principles that guided the use and
treatment of these areas to ensure sustainability.
22 Futter and Moller (2009) and Moller et al. (in press b).
23 Population ecologists use a calculation called the ‘reproductive value’ to estimate the effect of removing a single individual of a given age on the next generation’s population. For Tītī the calculated
reproductive value for harvesting an adult was more than five times that of a chick.
24 These larger chicks are fatter and are considered better eating (Hunter et al. 2000).
25 Only the larger and fatter chicks have the resources to undertake the lengthy transequatorial migration immediately after fledging (Sagar and Horning 1998).
Indigenous Peoples and Conservation: From Rights to Resource Management
Traditional Knowledge
breeding stock.26 All other Toheroa informants were unaware, however, of this teaching, and took all the large Toheroa
whatever their color. Interviewees from all our case studies asserted that setting maximum size (or age) limits for allowable harvest would lead to more sustainable and elevated harvest levels than current strategies of western fisheries science
that set minimum size (or age) limits.
Table 2. Concepts and kaitiakitanga (environmental guardianship) strategies used by Ngāi Tūhoe, Ngāi Tahu, Rakiura and Hauraki to safeguard bird (Kererū,
Tītī and Oi) and clam (Toheroa) populations.
Kaitiakitanga strategy
Respect for species and its habitat
Teachings and directorship of harvest should come from kaumātua
(respected elders).
Kererū, Tītī, Oi
You do not prepare or eat your food where you catch it.
Kererū, Toheroa Oi
Reducing the demographic impact
Vital life history stages (for example, adults) are not harvested.
Toheroa, Tītī, Oi
Harvest at the appropriate development stages. To protect your future
breeding population do not harvest well-developed chicks.
Timing of harvest important to minimize disturbance interference and
desertion of adults.
Toheroa, Oi
Rāhui (temporary access ban) and tapu (sacred rulings) used to protect
specific times of breeding cycle.
Kererū, Tītī
Use the appropriate harvest techniques to avoid capture of non-target life
Toheroa, Tītī
Harvest only occurs during a designated period.
Rotation or resting of islands harvested each season.
Tohu (environmental indicators) are used to determine whether harvest
should proceed or not.
Use of the appropriate harvest techniques to avoid excess capture.
Tītī, Toheroa
Access to populations controlled or limited to specific iwi or individuals
within an iwi.
Kererū, Tītī, Oi
Digging should be minimized to avoid damage to breeding habitat.
Toheroa, Tītī, Oi
Cutting of live trees for firewood is prohibited.
Tohu (signs) are used to show ownership of harvesting grounds.
The splitting of burrows can maximize and create breeding space which is
advantageous to bird population.
Tītī, Oi
Burying seaweed in sand to promote Toheroa numbers and growth.
Tapu (sacred rules) used to restrict access or harvest to specific areas or
Tītī, Oi
Establishment of populations in new unharvested areas.
Do not harvest more of the resource than you can process effectively.
Kererū, Toheroa, Tītī, Oi
Allowing for escapement
Protection of habitat
Enhancement of habitat
Provision of refugia
Minimisation of waste
26 Metzger (2007) records some of the traditional teachings about Toheroa harvesting.
Traditional Ecological Knowledge for Improved Sustainability: Customary Wildlife Harvests by Maori in New Zealand
Traditional Knowledge
Timing of harvest to minimize disturbance and maximize availability
The timing of the harvest was also found to be important for Kererū, Tītī and Oi. Kererū are only harvested while feeding on Toromiro fruit because this is when the bird’s flavor and condition are best and there is a mix of adult and juvenile birds in the population. At other times of the year they are protected. Hauraki believed that if Oi chicks are removed
from the burrow too early, before the adult bird has finished providing for them, those adults would comprehend their
loss and relocate to another breeding colony. Strict adherence to the appropriate harvest times in early November is,
therefore, critical. For Rakiura, there are strict prohibitions or rāhui (access ban) to visiting the breeding islands before
15 March (the late chick rearing stage), and harvest itself must not begin until 1 April. The harvesters must leave the
islands again by the end of May. These prohibitions are designed to reduce disturbance to habitats and breeding habitats.
Toheroa are harvested all year round, but careful attention to moon and tide is necessary to access the lowest stretches of
the intertidal zone where most of the animals are concentrated.
Desecration of food gathering areas
Both Ngāi Tūhoe and Hauraki interviewees reported that leaving remains (feathers, viscera or expelled proventricular
oils) of dead birds on the harvesting grounds in view of other birds deters them from using those areas; it is deemed
a show of disrespect to which the birds would respond by making themselves unavailable (Table 2). They explained
that these protocols are also commonly applied to other shellfish resources such as Pipi (Paphies australis) and Greenlipped mussel (Perna canaliculus). Shellfish are never opened or eaten by harvesters still working in the inter-tidal zone.
Similarly, Toheroa harvesters were adamant that the
Toheroa should never be opened on the intertidal area
where they are gathered, even though some harvesters
consider them a delicacy when eaten raw. One Hauraki
interviewee stated “You don’t eat kai [food] in the cupboard,” while a Toheroa informant said “You don’t live
in a graveyard.” The prediction that the target species
would not offer itself to be harvested or would move
away if disrespected are examples of how Māori personify plants and animals and some inanimate entities (for
example, mountains and rivers) in their environment.
This whakapapa (genealogy) linking humans to plants,
animals and ‘the environment’ (a western cultural construct in itself ) has considerable potential to engender
environmental care over and above what specific rules
or knowledge specify as appropriate. These metaphysical
Figure 6. Relationship between Tītī density and harvest rate during the
rama (the second phase of the seasonal harvesting). Each point is for a
aspects of TEK are as real to their holders as are biophysidifferent manu (family birding territory). See McKechnie et al. (in press)
cal mechanisms to ecologists.
for detailed methods for this research.
27 Lyver and Moller (in press) emphasize the alternative reality of some of the indigenous customary users of the resource and the way these metaphysical connections build social-ecological resilience
of resource management. They are generally ignored by scientists that admit only biophysical and ecological explanations and mechanisms for observed patterns.
Indigenous Peoples and Conservation: From Rights to Resource Management
Traditional Knowledge
Habitat protection
Birders from the Rakiura and Hauraki iwi have several perspectives about digging up the breeding burrows to gain
access to the chicks. Some Hauraki interviewees expressed the opinion that digging is a transgression that should be
avoided at all costs because mending the burrow in the friable substrates of the Ruamaahua Islands is extremely difficult,
and opening the burrow deters the adult birds from returning and using it the following season (Table 2). The alternative view was to not try to mend the hole in the burrow roof, but to remodel it as the entrance to the back section.
This essentially creates two burrows and increases the breeding space available to the birds. For the majority of Rakiura,
it was acceptable to dig in breeding burrows, however tikanga stated that holes must be resealed so that no water can
enter the burrow. Even so, some birders indicated that they only reseal the holes once burrows around the manu (birding ground) have been shortened. Like Hauraki, some Rakiura shorten and split burrows to allow Tītī to maximize the
space available to breed.
Rakiura also use habitat protection rules to govern actions on the islands. Birders are discouraged from cutting down
live trees, as their root systems secure the substrate and protect the burrows beneath28. Only dead wood is used for fires.
Over the last 30–40 years, this has become less of an issue as improved transportation methods have allowed birders to
take coal and gas to the islands. The cutting of tracks is also necessary to access the manu, transport harvested chicks,
aid navigation, and demarcate manu boundaries. Birders only clear enough vegetation to allow safe passage and use old
established tracks rather than cutting new routes. Using tracks keeps much of the walking traffic confined to narrow
strips and avoids the unnecessary trampling of breeding burrows. The practice of clearing fallen wood and debris around
the manu is done to assist the movement of adults to their burrows, and chicks to the edges of the islands when they
The traditional method of harvesting Toheroa in the Ngāi Tahu region is to walk backwards near the water edge
at low tide to spot the feeding holes. The harvester then places a foot over the hole and gently agitates it, while the
flow of water erodes the sand from around the foot and Toheroa. The shellfish is then grabbed before it has a chance
to dig itself down into the sand. As Toheroa feeding activity is erratic, and it is impossible to detect a high proportion
of the population at any one time by this method, a degree of escapement is naturally built into this harvesting technique. This method of capture avoids the use of a spade, and eliminates habitat disruption and the risk of damaging the
shells of undersized individuals (which die and desecrate the breeding colony) and waste (damaged individuals are difficult to process and normally discarded). Ngāi Tahu kaitiaki vehemently opposed government regulations that initially
allowed the use of spades to harvest Toheroa. Some also oppose scientists who dig quadrats to estimate Toheroa density
every 3–4 years.29
Minimizing wildlife disturbance
All the iwi control access to the resource to avoid disturbance to breeding birds and damage to habitat and over-harvesting (Table 2). Within the tribal region of Ngāi Tūhoe, family groups hold specific groves of Toromiro for harvesting kereru. Transgressing these boundaries often meets with retribution from the kaitiaki. Rakiura and Hauraki use a similar
strategy to control access to the birding islands. By law, only persons of Rakiura and Hauraki descent (beneficial owners) can access the islands and harvest Tītī or Oi. But even within the Rakiura islands there are territorial systems. These
range from an “open manu” system, which allows any beneficial owner with rights to that particular island to harvest
28 Kitson and Moller (2009) and Moller et al. (2009c).
29 Futter and Moller (2009) and Moller et al. (in press b).
Traditional Ecological Knowledge for Improved Sustainability: Customary Wildlife Harvests by Maori in New Zealand
Traditional Knowledge
anywhere, to “closed manu” system where individual families manage the ground and harvest within set boundaries. The
Hauraki use a strategy of temporarily suspending the harvest until the Oi population recovers (Table 2). In the past, they
have also rotated and rested islands from harvest, ensuring that adult Oi from each colony were left undisturbed in some
years to breed and to give the chicks the opportunity to fledge.
Under Ngāi Tūhoe lore, absolute protection of the Kererū breeding phase is based on the belief that the Kererū nest
is tapu (sacred) and that inadvertently finding a nest is a bad omen. The Kererū is referred to as “the hidden bird” of
Tane Mahuta (God of the Forest); so to disturb a Kererū nest is deemed a violation against the forest deity, which would
bring repercussions. It is also the food of rangatira (high ranking male persons), so it was considered a societal offence to
disturb the species outside the harvest period. Tapu is also used by Rakiura to protect physically and culturally sensitive
areas of the islands (for example, fragile ground; burial sites) by preventing access. Birders respect tapu and do not enter
these areas to harvest or collect firewood.
Seeding new populations
A Ngāi Tahu man who was appointed as Honorary Fisheries Officer at Te Waewae Bay attempted to establish at least
seven new populations of Toheroa in the 1950s and 1960s. Another informant presumed that active moving of the
Toheroa is a traditional practice because all sorts of other foods and materials were moved around in traditional times.30
Whether recent or traditional, the transfers are undertaken to spread the harvest opportunity for people (and presumably
lessen harvest pressure on existing populations) and to build demographic resilience into the metapopulation. The transfers are coupled with supplementary “feeding” of the Toheroa, where an unknown material is added to the sand. This is
done in the strictest secrecy to allow new populations to grow strong before being noticed by harvesters. The basic principles of these translocations are those used by wildlife managers for threatened species today, including concepts such as
“soft release” to support founder populations when they are small and vulnerable31.
Minimizing waste
Both Rakiura and Hauraki birders minimize waste when harvesting Tītī and Oi. Harvesting more chicks than can be processed, or allowing birds to spoil and become inedible are considered serious transgressions, as is the use of non-selective
methods to harvest chicks (Table 2). Some islands have banned clubbing as a means to kill Tītī fledglings because of the
risk it poses to adult birds or small chicks.32
All 17 Toheroa informants were shocked by the evident waste from open-day events, citing examples of having found
unopened and discarded shellfish in nearby ditches and rubbish dumps. The consistent teaching is never to take more
than is needed for your own family meal or to share with extended family or friends.
30 McAllum (2006) used a combination of provenance and ecological sampling models to demonstrate this for harakeke (flax) in the North Island, and Williams (2004) makes a more general case for
translocation as part of vigorous and active management of the environment in South Island.
31 Transferred animals are given shelter and supplementary foods in the new release site and held in captivity, then semi-captivity, to allow a period of acclimatization (Brown and Day 2002). A similar
soft release strategy was employed by Māori to translocate Pāua (abalone) — the animals were placed inside kelp bags called pōhā at the receiving site (Bird et al. 2009).
32 Unless a bird is handled it is sometimes difficult to identify whether it is an adult (many chicks look like adults by this stage) or a small chick not of appropriate harvest condition or size.
Indigenous Peoples and Conservation: From Rights to Resource Management
Traditional Knowledge
Discussion: Opportunities Lost and Gained
Building ecological resilience from a TEK and science partnership
Our informants did not frame TEK and their management customs in terms of sustainability, or use the words and
typologies common to western wildlife managers to describe their strategies for sustainable harvesting. Nevertheless,
we were able to categorize most of the elements of lore into sustainable harvesting strategies recognized by ecologists
(Table 2): habitat protection; guaranteed escapement; the establishment of refugia; the minimization of disturbance to
breeders; the harvesting of ages or life cycle stages that have the least impact on the next generation; and the minimization of waste so as to reduce required harvest pressure. Equally, our experience was that customary harvesters readily
understand ecological science principles in terms of TEK when presented simply and without jargon; and that scientists
could understand the constructs of TEK in terms of science if explained in English and non-metaphorical terms. Kaitiaki
and scientists use different words and methods to order and test knowledge; however, both groups often agree on what
is happening and what can be done to change it. Mutually beneficial peer
review of each others’ knowledge systems has been particularly evident
As Traditional Ecological Knowledge
throughout the 14-year Tītī research partnership between Rakiura and
the University of Otago.
and science are increasingly
Some anthropologists hold that wildlife management practices of
combined to confront conservation
indigenous people cannot be categorized as true conservation strategies
issues, the common ground will
if they have not been designed specifically for conservation.34 We believe
that this is a circular and semantic argument that undermines collabora- enhance the effectiveness and
tion and partnership from pooling knowledge and action for improved
resilience of conservation actions.
environmental outcomes. People’s customs are naturally determined by
several factors, a quest for sustainable livelihoods being just one of them.
In many cases, the issues remain of who sets policy, who determines the state of a resource, and who ultimately
decides the appropriate management action. Current wildlife management systems in countries with colonial histories
(for example, New Zealand, Australia, and Canada) are largely based around Eurocentric scientific principles, making
it difficult for ecologists to accept and include spiritual-based explanations of patterns observed in wildlife populations
without hypothesis testing or plausible ecological mechanisms based on biophysical processes. So far, the common practice has been for scientists or environmental resource managers to select aspects of traditional knowledge that fit with
scientific concepts and data requirements and procedures.35 As TEK and science are increasingly combined to confront
conservation issues, the common ground will enhance the effectiveness and resilience of conservation actions. Trust is
needed to ensure that both knowledge systems are given equal opportunity to deliver what are considered by scientists
and Māori to be the most appropriate strategies and management goals. History shows us that misinterpretation and/
or disregard for TEK will occur unless indigenous communities have autonomy guaranteed under co-management
One of the greatest strengths of TEK is its fine-grain tuning of management to local ecological conditions. The
knowledge shared with us by the kaitiaki was often intricate, detailed and subtle — a product of decades of experience
33 The development of mechanisms for adequate peer review of each others’ knowledge is outlined in detail by Moller et al. (2009d, in press).
34 See Smith and Wishne (2000).
35 See Ellis (2005) and Stevenson (2006). Our point is that these constructs are not necessarily wrong — indeed they allow a measure of meeting of knowledge systems — but just that they are an
incomplete description of the multiple dimensions of TEK.
Traditional Ecological Knowledge for Improved Sustainability: Customary Wildlife Harvests by Maori in New Zealand
Traditional Knowledge
in one place (diachronic knowledge). Our scientific efforts to support the sustainability of harvesting have been relatively short-term but gain power from systematic investigation into many different places and many life cycle or seasonal
stages not confronted by the harvesters (synchronic knowledge). Having both TEK and science available puts kaitiaki
in a strengthened position to respond to changes in wildlife populations and the environment, and adapt harvest practices and/or management strategies appropriately. This in itself adds to the resilience of the “Social-Ecological System”.36
Ecological resilience can also be developed through adaptive co-management that easily incorporates knowledge from
both systems.37 In this way, indigenous cultures can continue to harvest, maintain their cultural and TEK links with the
environment, and monitor and predict the well-being of wildlife populations. Rakiura and Hauraki will use the knowledge that has emerged from their concomitant studies to predict trends in their seabird populations and harvests well
into the future.
Building cultural resilience for sustainability
The continuation of harvesting is crucial for maintaining knowledge, identity and sense of place. These are fundamental
to the commitment and confidence that a group needs to exercise sustainable environmental management. Sustainability,
in turn, delivers cultural and individual well-being. Māori express this as ahi kā roa — keeping the fires burning for a
long time. Severing customary use allows the fire to go out. Our informants also expressed their need to nourish others
in their community as well as visitors (Manaakitanga). Providing food is proof of commitment to the community and
competency as local environmental guardians. It is considered by many Māori to be whakamā (shameful) to receive visitors and not serve them food from the local area.38 This practice is fundamental in defining the iwi and/or individual as
a kaitiaki for the resource. Provisioning builds cultural cohesion and reciprocity within and between social groups that
in turn helps ensure better collaboration for wise environmental management and protection.
Indeed, a recurring theme in the conversations with the kaitiaki was that managing mahinga kai (food gathering
areas) used to be much more of a communal activity that bound groups together. Several interviewees lamented the loss
of the detailed traditional knowledge that came with harvest prohibitions and contemporary lifestyles. In the western
world, people have become distanced from the acquisition of food, and desensitized. Most have little comprehension of
where their food comes from or their connection and responsibilities to the land.
Our studies are just some of many around New Zealand over the past decade that are dedicated to finding and
recording TEK from key practitioners before they pass on. Much knowledge has been lost over a century as TEK has
been acculturated by science; however, systematic efforts have emerged to rebuild this traditional management and
knowledge. Equitable and respectful partnerships of TEK and science are one tool to build co-management and better
meet global and local threats.
Joining indigenous communities together: a new challenge
Indigenous communities are undoubtedly important local sites for improving cultural-ecological resilience and natural resource management. There is fierce defense of local governance and identity, and the application of TEK to
36 Social-Ecological Resilience thinking provides a new way of managing for sustainability that resonates particularly strongly with TEK and Indigenous People’s world views — see Berkes et al. (2003)
for several indigenous and local community case studies.
37 Adaptive co-management principles emphasize ‘learning by doing’ and learning from resource depletion as the basis of TEK developed by indigenous communities over centuries (Berkes and Turner
2006; Turner and Berkes 2006). We see learning from science partnerships as just one further step in the evolution of new tools for indigenous people to manage their natural resources, just as dialogue
with TEK adapts and strengthens scientific research and science-based management for social-ecological resilience.
38 See Moller (1996), Lyver et al. (2008a, 2000b).
Indigenous Peoples and Conservation: From Rights to Resource Management
Traditional Knowledge
strengthen the groups’ commitment and effectiveness in restoring and protecting resources. Isolation, small size, and lack
of resources, however, make local indigenous communities vulnerable to fragmentation and domination by centralized
resource management agencies of the western government which seek to apply western models and research. The application of a ‘one size fits all’ approach to legislation and resource allocation further weakens cultural-ecological resilience,
particularly when funds for local and indigenous management are severely limited.
Te Tiaki Mahinga Kai is a group of kaitiaki and scientists seeking to restore and protect customary fishing along
New Zealand’s coasts and rivers by creating a network for information-sharing and coordination of research and training. Building a cohesive and national network requires important rules of thumb: (i) never undercut local sovereignty,
(ii) promote clearly transparent systems for guiding research partnerships between TEK and science research teams to
ensure cultural safety 39, (iii) ensure bottom-up, “grass roots” power sharing to guide national level advocacy of TEK and
Māori-led research, (iv) assert a long-term vision and find the patience and strength to not waiver from it, and (v) plan
to invest much more time and resources in communication and participatory processes than you at first might think as
being adequate.
Building cultural-ecological resilience through new networks also requires considerable risks and brings antagonism
from existing power structures within indigenous communities, national fisheries and environmental agencies, research
circles, politicians and other parties with vested interests. Courage and vision is therefore required to redesign traditional
and contemporary resource management institutions that build on national and local strengths.
We predict that readers of this volume of conservation stories from around the world will be more struck by the
similarities than differences between the struggles of our respective communities and their enthusiasm to apply TEK
for improved environmental and cultural well-being. Conservation International is one of several organizations giving
strength to local communities by linking them internationally. This is one example of globalization that can be truly
good for the environment.
The authors thank the interviewees who participated in the four studies, and the Rakiura Tītī Islands Administering
Body, Ruamaahua Islands Trust, and Tūhoe Tuawhenua Trust for their directorship. We are grateful to Moehau Kutia,
June Tihi, Te Motoi Taputu, Bettina Yockney and Damien Waitai for translating and transcribing the interviews, and
Ellen Cieraad for designing Figure 5. The Ngāi Tūhoe and Hauraki studies were funded by Ngā Pae o te Māramatanga
(RF-14-04) and the Foundation for Research, Science and Technology (FRST – C09X0509; C09X0308) grants. The
main Kia Mau Te Tītī Mo Ake Tōnu Atu (Keep the Tītī forever) research program was funded by successive grants from
FRST, and most latterly by a Te Hononga o Ngā Ao (Linking the worlds) FRST contract (UOOX0609). Network building
for Te Tiaki Mahinga Kai (Looking after food resources) is also funded by FRST (UOOX0608) and Te Rūnanga o Ngāi
Tahu. Toheroa research was funded by a New Zealand Ministry of Fisheries customary fisheries grant (CUS2007-06).
39 See Moller et al. (2009d, in press) for some examples of partnership mechanisms that keep both local communities and the scientific teams safe and able to trust and respect one another.
Traditional Ecological Knowledge for Improved Sustainability: Customary Wildlife Harvests by Maori in New Zealand
Traditional Knowledge
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Indigenous Peoples and Conservation: From Rights to Resource Management
Traditional Knowledge
Using Traditional
Knowledge to Address
Climate Change:
The Fiji Scenario
Joeli Veitayaki and Loraini Sivo
Quick Facts
Country: Fiji
Geographic Focus: Gau Island, one of over 300 Fijian
Indigenous Peoples: Indigenous Fijians
Author Information
Joeli Veitayaki is an Associate Professor at the Division of Marine
Studies, School of Islands and Oceans, Faculty of Science, Technology
and Environment at the University of the South Pacific (USP). Joeli
is also the Director of the International Ocean Institute-Pacific Islands.
He is from Fiji.
E-mail: [email protected]
Loraini Sivo is Coordinator of the MMA study for Conservation
International. She is from Fiji and has worked in many of the study
E-mail: [email protected]
The effects of global climate change and sea level rise are already being
felt. Worldwide, however, preparation is stalled by the high numbers
of people involved, the scarce and limited resources, the lack of proven
approaches, and the uncertainty about the nature of the threat in the
face of other more pressing issues. In the small island states and territories in the Pacific, the scenario is bleak because these islands will
be the first, and amongst the worst, victims of climate change even
though they have done little to cause the problem and can do little to
address it. However, Pacific Islanders have extensive traditional knowledge and experience in living in their small islands and can offer worthwhile lessons on how to prepare for climate change and sea level rise.
Because of this, and in spite of their weak economic conditions and
the disruptive and widespread changes, the Small Island Developing
States (SIDS) such as Fiji are expected to fare better in addressing climate change if they take advantage of the traditional knowledge they
still have and use. This traditional knowledge and wisdom has been
tried and tested by people who have lived in these small and harsh
island environments for thousands of years, and can help prepare their
contemporary societies to mitigate and adapt to climate change and
the associated sea level rise.
In this paper, we examine how some of the Fijian traditional
knowledge and practices can be used to address climate change and
sea level rise in the Pacific Islands and around the world. By addressing the issues of climate change and sea level rise in Fiji we see that
appropriate solutions can be found in the country itself. Changes can
be easily implemented in the development of appropriate coastal protection, in the adoption of mitigation measures and adaptive land
use and living practices, and the promotion of sustainable living and
environmental management that integrates corresponding traditional
knowledge and practices.
Traditional Knowledge
Background: Climate Change and Sea Level Rise Issues
The recently released Fourth Assessment report of the IPCC (Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change) outlines
what is to be expected as a result of climate change by 2100; the only uncertainty being the timing and magnitude of
the changes, not their occurrence (IPCC 2007). In Fiji and other Pacific Islands, these changes are already evident in the
form of coastal flooding, erosion, saltwater intrusion, increased storms and associated damage. In addition, these countries are under pressure from their rapidly increasing populations. It is critical that small islands devote more concerted
effort to address these eventualities.
Fiji and other Pacific Islands will be required to commit resources they do not even have to address climate change
and sea level rise because they are likely to be the worst affected. Unfortunately, many people today pursue the short-term
goals of attaining economic benefits from their exploitation of environmental resources without concern for long-term
costs and benefits for the sustainability of life in the islands (Nunn 2007). The climate change situation presents serious
difficulties that demand a different approach. In 2007, for instance, the European Union provided US$20 million to
improve the disaster risk management plans for eight Pacific Islands (Anon. 2007). Such assistance can be better used if
traditional knowledge and practices prepare people for climate change. This is why it is logical that these countries incorporate the knowledge and practices of those who have lived in these small islands for generations and have traditional
wisdom that can be the basis of policies, strategies and actions to address climate change and sea level rise (Veitayaki
2002; Veitayaki et al. 2005a, 2005b).
Small Island Developing States (SIDS) are vulnerable to the effects of climate change, sea level rise, extreme natural events, and disasters, and are already facing many of the challenges that others in the world just talk about. Given
their small size, short-term susceptibility to the effects of climate change and natural disasters, and their limited adaptive
environmental capacity, small islands are critical indicators of the changes that will affect life in coastal communities in
the future. Many coral atolls and coastal areas in the Pacific Islands are less than 5 m above sea level and will be rapidly
inundated due to changes in rainfall patterns, prevailing winds and short-term variations in sea levels and wave patterns.
Moreover, saltwater intrusion will affect agriculture, water supply and life in these islands long before they are inundated.
Coral bleaching caused by warming seawater temperatures is expected to intensify and increase in regularity, damaging
the health of the coral reefs, as well as the health and distribution of mangroves and sea grass beds, which will also change
drastically given their interrelationship with coral reefs. For these reasons, small coastal nations such as Fiji must address
climate change at both local and national levels.
Increasing human populations and coastal development contribute to serious problems that now threaten many
coastal villages. Infrastructure development, farms and settlements have resulted in erosion and increased sedimentation
that directly and indirectly affect island ecosystems. The blasting and dredging of coral reefs and mining of coral aggregate are causing serious harm to coral reefs and coastal areas and must be reduced. Likewise, the loss of wetlands and the
exploitation of marine fisheries must be reduced in order to enhance the effects of the mitigation and adaptation efforts.
The lessons of the past must be taken seriously. For example, the advice of a colonial administrator that mangroves in
the village fronts in Moturiki be cleared to ensure fresher air (Nunn et al. 1999), when acted upon, resulted in serious
coastal erosion. Coastal development must take into account the need to ensure that when climate and sea level change
the small islands can support the increasing populations that result.
The pressures on coastal environments have worsened in urban areas; their primary effects being manifested in the
overexploitation of marine resources. In addition, ports such as Suva, Lautoka, Labasa and Savusavu have had their
coral reefs, mangrove forests and sea grass beds destroyed from the construction of coastal infrastructure, land and
marine-based pollution, fishing and other uses, natural disasters and poor development planning. This worrisome scenario, where environmental conditions deteriorate as development proceeds, suggests the need for a better development
Indigenous Peoples and Conservation: From Rights to Resource Management
Traditional Knowledge
Figure 1. Fiji and Gau Island including the villages where the people are using traditional knowledge to address climate change and sea level rise.
Using Traditional Knowledge to Address Climate Change: The Fiji Scenario
Traditional Knowledge
strategy, one that will avoid such problems as well as mitigate and adapt to the effects of climate and sea level changes.
A new strategy emphasizes the involvement of local communities in the care of their environmental resources using their
traditional knowledge and practices.
The people of Fiji have lived for centuries in their island world and must now use their traditional knowledge and
practices learned from prior experience to ensure their survival in the future. This adaptation will not be financially
demanding and will guarantee survival. People must respect their environment and not act as if they are independent of
it. Many mistakes have been committed in the past because developers failed to consider or consult the local resource
owners. Food production, for example, can continue to be guaranteed with the use of traditional methods and schedules.
They must not be abandoned in favor of contemporary methods which need to be adequately tested. Social relations and
institutions must be strengthened to enhance their contribution and discourage their abuse for short-term personal gain.
Traditional resource management practices must be recognized and used to maintain the healthy natural environments
needed for the ecological services they provide. Indigenous Fijians are familiar with their traditional knowledge and practices and are unlikely to use contemporary and little understood legislation and policies.
Background: Traditional Knowledge
Traditional knowledge and practice are practical and learned through experience. They are appropriate for local surroundings, and incorporate knowledge of the area accumulated through the generations. Renowned anthropologist
Vishvajit Pandya in a conference presentation on Traditional Knowledge in Cairns in 2007, explained that indigenous
knowledge is embedded within the worldview of these groups that react to extreme events according to the people’s
empirical observations of change in their environment. Unfortunately, traditional knowledge has been eroded amongst
indigenous peoples, particularly as a result of the younger generations living outside their communities, or due to
those whose western education has taken them away from their local areas and their elders who are the sources of this
Traditional knowledge is a critical part of life in subsistence communities such as those in the Pacific Islands where
the people are self-sufficient and independent in times of disasters. Nunn (2007) highlighted how the great vulnerability
in these islands was matched by the equally high resilience that allowed people to quickly recover from disasters. People
relied on their own resources to recover from calamities and only partially depended on the external assistance that is
increasingly available today. The experience of the Ongees of Little Andaman Island during the 2005 tsunami demonstrates how these poor and illiterate indigenous settlers
used their own beliefs to accurately interpret the signs in
Traditional knowledge is a critical part of life
their environment and survive the calamity (Pandya 2009).
in subsistence communities such as those
These people knew that the exceptionally low tide early
that day was a sign that the water would return with equal
in the Pacific Islands where the people are
or greater force and that they needed to head for higher
self-sufficient and independent in times of
grounds immediately. The Ongees retreated to the hills and
did not lose a single life despite the catastrophe around
them. Similarly in Fiji, Cyclone Daman on 8 December
2007, brought widespread destruction to Cikobia Island but there was no loss of life during the storm nor during the
subsequent three days before outside relief finally arrived on the island (Rina 2007). The knowledge and independence
of these communities which allowed the people to survive should be used by the SIDS to be better prepared for climate
change. This would be better than having the people depend solely on the modern and costly systems borrowed from
Indigenous Peoples and Conservation: From Rights to Resource Management
Traditional Knowledge
developed countries. Traditional knowledge of food sources, agricultural systems, medicine, social relations and resource
management provide relief in times of disasters and allow people to overcome the effects of climate change and sea level
rise. Much of this knowledge is still used in rural areas and amongst indigenous Fijians and can be the basis of mitigation
measures and adaptive approaches associated with changing climate conditions.
Food sources
In rural communities food is predominantly found and cultivated locally, and the people need to protect this traditional
source which is supplemented by imported food from stores and supermarkets. Food exchanges and arrangements practiced in coastal and island communities offer welcome sources of relief when required. People periodically rely on the collection of native, wild food sources, which they supplement with subsistence crops. Fruit such as breadfruit is the staple
diet when in season. These hardy and salt tolerant trees also provide shelter in the villages as well as timber for buildings
and logs for dugout canoes.
Empirical Fijian knowledge of the environment is illustrated by the people’s wide range of ingenious fishing and
hunting techniques (Veitayaki 1995). Different fishing methods using different materials allow people to catch different
species of fish. They can interpret signs in their environment that offer useful hints for planning. When bees nest close
to the ground rather than high up on the tree branches, and turtles nest inland rather than on the beaches, for example,
these are widely known signs of impending storms.
The traditional calendar lists conditions and available sources of food at different times, and guides people’s farming and fishing activities throughout the year. The calendar can be used to monitor change associated with climate
change and sea level rise. January is when spinefoot (Siganus) and Vermiculated rabbitfish (nuqa) Siganus vermiculatus,
shellfish and bivalves (kaikoso) (arcid cockles Anadara cornea) and trochus snails (vivili) (Marine topshell Trochus niloticus) mature. This is also the time when land crabs (lairo) (Brown land crab Cardisoma carnifex) spawn in the sea, and
Breadfruit (Schizaea dichotoma) trees bear fruit. In February, the yam (Winged yam Dioscorea alata) gardens mature and
offerings of first produce (sevu) are made to the church, landowners and chiefs. In March, mud crabs (qari) (Scylla paramamosain) mature and breed, while the harvesting of yam commences in the gardens. In April, the native reeds (gasau)
(Pacific Island silvergrass Miscanthus floridulus) flower, breadfruits ripen, and Bigeye scad (tugadra) (Selar crumenophthalmus) are plentiful. In May, yams mature and are harvested, while at sea there is an abundance of Chub mackerel (salala)
(Rastrellinger kanagurta). In June, the clearing of the new yam gardens begins on land, while the Silver biddy (matu)
(Kuhlia marginata) and Goldspot herring (daniva) (Herklotsichthys quadrimaculatus) are bountiful. July and August are
associated with abundant octopus (kuita) (Octopus sp.), Rock cod (kerakera) (Epinephelus microdon), and the continuation of work on the yam gardens. This is also the period for the Little priest (vaya) (a sardine Thryssa encrasicholoides
[also called Thrissina baelama]) fishery. In September, yams sprout and the sticks are put in place to support the plant
off the ground. This is when the Rock cod (kawakawa) (Anyperadon leucogrammicus) spawns and mango trees flower.
In October, breadfruit matures and the local sea-worm delicacy (balolo) (Eunice viridis) can be collected. The fishing of
balolo continues into November, which is also when crabs mature and there is an abundance of Spanish mackerel (walu)
(Scomberomorus commerson). Many local fruits mature at this time. In December, the cycle rounds off with the spawning
of spinefoot, rabbitfish (nuqa) and Giant trevally (saqa) (Caranx ignobilis).
Wild food sources prevent starvation in times of disasters and famine, and offer immediate relief in times of need,
but their use requires skills and knowledge. People need to know what to look for and where, how to harvest these foods,
as well as how to prepare them. In many cases, people in hurricane and famine ravaged areas are able to consume the
normally poisonous giant taro species (Alocasia, Araceae) and know how to look for wild yams (Dioscorea nummularia)
in bushlands (Thaman and Clarke 1987). During drought, people resort to known but unused freshwater sources, while
Using Traditional Knowledge to Address Climate Change: The Fiji Scenario
Traditional Knowledge
fruits of vines (Entada phaseoloides [Fabaceae], walai), sugar cane (Saccharum officinarum) and coconut (Cocos nucifera)
provide back up supply. People also produce syrup from certain plants as a replacement for sugar.
People are cautious of potential food shortages and practice different ways to conserve food surpluses. Breadfruit and
cassava are buried in specially prepared holes to save them for when supplementary supply is required (Aalbersberg 1988).
Yams are stored in specially built houses providing supply for up to a year. Fish and other protein sources are smoked to
preserve and store. Fijians also have social networks that tie people together; people freely borrow and share supplies with
their relations who are, in due course, obliged to reciprocate.
The agricultural systems are appropriate and suitable for the local environment. With the crude tools that people use,
land clearing through slash-and-burn is restricted, limiting people’s impact on their environment. Shifting cultivation
gives the land time to replenish naturally, a practice that renders unnecessary the use of fertilizers that are an integral part
of contemporary farming and a threat to the water and coral reefs.
Multi-cropping ensures that a variety of crops are simultaneously grown at any one time to allow continuous food
availability. Different crops have different requirements, mature at different times and are affected differently by given
climatic conditions. The fires, hurricanes, floods and droughts that are part of the island conditions affect crops such as
yams and sweet potatoes (kumala) (Ipomoea batatas) differently. Moreover, coconut, plantain (Musa balbisiana), banana
(Musa nana), breadfruit, and mango (Mangifera indica) trees in the old garden sites provide additional food to the owners
while intensive and semi-permanent systems of irrigated taro (Colocasia esculenta) and Giant swamp taro (Cyrtosperma
chamissonis) ensure continuous supplies of food that are less affected by drought and are easier to keep free of weeds. This
practice of relying on a variety of food sources reduces vulnerability and improves the chances of having food available
at all times.
Medicinal plants in indigenous communities provide health relief in times of need. The roots, bark, leaves, and shoots
of certain plants are used to cure or alleviate numerous ailments. For example, cuts and sores are treated with Mikania
micrantha (Asteraceae) (wa bosucu), Centella asiatica (Apiaceae) (totodro) and coconut (Weiner 1976; Wainimate 1997).
Traditional medicine is easily available and is used until the people can get to a medical center, which is often far away.
Traditional medicine curbs the increasing cost of medical service and ensures that people are not helpless even though
they are far from medical posts and hospitals.
Social relations
Indigenous Fijians live in villages in well-defined social units that are the basis of all social grouping and activity. The village economy is characterized by “subsistence affluence” rather than the abject poverty that is prevalent in many other
developing countries (Fisk 1970; Knapman 1987). People are self-sufficient and have intricate exchange arrangements,
which ensure that the resources are efficiently used and that people look after one another in times of need. Hoarding
is neither practical nor necessary because people’s basic requirements are supplied through their kin-based networks
(Narayan 1984). Kerekere, “a system of gaining things by begging for them from a member of one’s own group” (Capell
1991), ensures that surpluses are shared, thereby preventing the accumulation of wealth (Nayacakalou 1978), which in
any case may not work. Property is communally owned while people use goods such as sperm whale teeth (tabua), mats,
other artifacts and food to obtain and return favors (Nayacakalou 1978). This social kinship system is the safety net that
enables local people to meet their needs in their small island environment.
Indigenous Peoples and Conservation: From Rights to Resource Management
Traditional Knowledge
People throughout the country are “related” in an intricate web of social networks. Relations of mataqali (respectful relation among the people from Kubuna Confederacy), tovata (respectful relation among people from the Tovata
Confederacy), tau (jovial and close ties between people who are closely related because of their traditional gods), naita
(close relation between people from the Confederacies of Kubuna and Burebasaga), takolavo (relation between two districts in Viti Levu) and dreu (close relations between people from Tovata Confederacy and those from some parts of Viti
Levu) guarantee that people assist each other and provide a social safety net to look out for each others’ interests in times
of need.
The inspiration to work in an indigenous Fijian community is based on the principle of reciprocity rather than monetary reward. It is related to the knowledge that one day one will require the assistance of others. Public opinion is therefore a powerful sanction for culturally acceptable practices. There is keen competition between groups that all use the
exchange system and reciprocity to establish their social standing.
People in these communities put in unlimited hours when a situation demands it. At such time, there is no “clock-in”,
and the reward is not gauged by the length of time put in by the individuals, but rather by the effort made to complete
the tasks. Production is fundamentally an act of social service, not an economic one in exchange for one’s labor, land or
equipment. This is the way people, led by their traditional leaders, mobilize to recover from disasters and times of need.
People in authority in the communities are thus respected and obeyed because of their greater knowledge and experience
of the local context (Nayacakalou 1978).
Resource management
The main feature of resource management among traditional Fijian societies is the communal ownership of the land and
its resources, extending to the outer reef slope and to some outlying submerged reefs. Social groups (such as yavusa and
vanua) own the resources and regulate their use. People seeking to use customary grounds belonging to others must get
permission from the owners. The social groups periodically declare a portion of their areas out of bounds to preserve the
resources for an intended purpose (Ravuvu 1983).
The social structure and close-knit units demand that people follow protocol and respect each other. The traditional
system of retribution is an effective deterrent in the community (Siwatibau 1984). Sacred grounds are prominent in
Fijian societies. At such sites, fishing is conducted only when the special conditions and requirements are met. These
sanctuaries where resource use is greatly reduced are exploited only when good catches are needed.
The association of people with the supernatural ensures that natural resources are respected and protected at all
times — not only when enforcement officers are watching. Retribution by the ever-vigilant gods is a continuous reminder
to the people of the need to treat their resources properly. In these societies, the environment is “an integral part of one’s
self, providing the physical manifestation of the vital link between the living and the dead” (Siwatibau 1984).
Climate Change Mitigation and Adaptation: the Gau Island experience
The community-based resource management strategy being tried in Gau Island (Fig. 2) offers an alternative to the
resource-strapped SIDS, and may even place them in a better position than most developed nations in mitigating and
adapting to the effects of climate change and sea level rise. The initiative in Gau Island, called Lomani Gau, which means
“caring for the place, its resources and inhabitants”, is important for people’s livelihoods. It promotes the management of
local natural resources and services based on traditional knowledge, practices and uses, in order to move towards sustainable development for the villagers and their children (Veitayaki 2002, 2006; Veitayaki et al. 2005a, 2005b). The people
Using Traditional Knowledge to Address Climate Change: The Fiji Scenario
Traditional Knowledge
are working together and are using their social systems to organize their activities. Existing village institutions such as the
chiefdom, kinship and religious beliefs are used to start their community-based resource management activities.
Preliminary results indicate that the villagers are satisfying their basic needs of food, clean air and water, are achieving
protection from the damaging effects of extreme events, and are managing the sustainable management of their natural
resources, and their developmental aspirations. Through regular workshops, training and follow-up activities organized
by the development partners, these communities understand that their basic needs, as well as protection from climate
change and associated sea level rise, can be supported only by a healthy environment.
The villages in Gau Island are periodically vulnerable to extreme natural events such as cyclones, tsunami and flooding that are prominent features of their natural environment. The villages are strategically located on the banks of river
mouths where excess water is quickly discharged during flooding and sprawl on to adjoining hills that provide refuge
when needed. In addition, the villages have access to the best farming areas along the rivers. Two villages on the eastern side of the island, Malawai and Lamiti, illustrate the factors that were taken into account when people chose their
village’s location. Malawai is exposed to southerly winds and is sheltered from the northerlies, while the exact opposite
occurs in Lamiti only around 400 m away (Fig. 3). Both
the villages are on the mouth of rivers, and they back
up to adjoining hills. The villages of Vanuaso, Lekanai,
Vione, Qarani and Navukailagi on the same side are
located in the mangrove belt that shelter them from the
sea and provide them with the best fishing areas of the
island (Fig. 4).
Community-based resource management initiatives
undertaken on Gau Island include a number of measures: the declaration of locally managed marine areas in
every village based on the people’s traditional practices;
the rehabilitation of stone walls, mangrove forests and
coastal vegetation; the promotion of sustainable fisheries;
prevention of deforestation and wild fires; the protection
of clean water supplies; the promotion of good drainage and the proper disposal of domestic waste; the treatment of waste water; the fencing of domesticated animals to allow for the cultivation of nearby lowland areas;
and the protection of the island’s Cloud Mountain forest.
These activities have been accomplished using the traditional methods of mobilizing people, which have made
the local communities realize that many of their environmental problems can be resolved locally and without
resources from outside their communities. Judging by
the project feedback and the support received, the expeFigure 2. Inside a traditional bure in Naovuka settlement in Lamiti Village.
Indigenous Fijians live in villages in well-defined social units. People are
rience is considered fulfilling and enriching.
self-sufficient and have intricate exchange arrangements, which ensure
In many of the villages, the resource management
that the resources are efficiently used and that people look after one
another in times of need. Property is communally owned while people
activities focus on the long-term welfare of the people.
use goods such as whale teeth (tabua), mats, other artifacts and food to
In Naovuka and Lamiti, for example, the villagers built
obtain and return favors. Photo © Takeshi Murai.
Indigenous Peoples and Conservation: From Rights to Resource Management
Traditional Knowledge
stone walls that now protect their beach front. The villages, which are periodically flooded by storm waves are
now better protected by the breakwater and stone wall
and the trees the people have planted to consolidate their
widening coastline.
Mangrove forests and seagrass beds are now protected and have been replanted in Lamiti, Malawai,
Nacavanadi, Navukailagi, Nawaikama and Lovu because
the villagers now understand that mangroves are important, not only as feeding and nursery areas for fish stocks,
but also as a line of defense to safeguard their villages
from erosion and salt water spray. Community regulations now protect mangrove forests, while new manFigure 3. Lekanai Village with a mixture of modern and traditional houses
grove plantations have been established in some of the
protected by mangrove forests. The villages on Gau Island are periodically vulnerable to extreme natural events such as cyclones, tsunami and
villages. In Lekanai, Vanuaso, Malawai and Lamiti vilfloods that are prominent features of their natural environment. Villages
in Fiji are strategically located on the banks of river mouths (where excess
lages, the managed areas extend from the beaches and
water is quickly discharged during flooding) and sprawl on to adjoining
mangroves to the rocky and sandy shores, sea grass beds
hills (where people can take refuge when necessary). The best farming
areas are also along the rivers. Photo © Takeshi Murai.
and out to the coral reefs.
Damaging practices such as tree-felling, burning off
vegetation on slopes, and setting bush fires that threaten coastal vegetation and coral reefs have now been addressed specifically to protect the natural conditions, to prevent erosion and for the protection of their wild food sources. Many of
the villages now observe a protocol to control fires, which has improved bush lands on the island. Quick-growing and
some native hardwood trees are planted in some of the villages to reduce soil erosion and promote the re-establishment
of the natural vegetation that has been lost over the years. The villagers are encouraged to use smokeless stoves to reduce
the cutting of coastal vegetation and make the burning of firewood more efficient. These stoves reduce the inhalation of
smoke, which is healthier for the cooks (mostly women). Some villagers have even invested in plantation forests that they
expect to be a source of income in the future.
Environmental damage associated with the villages comes from domesticated animals and wastewater. The care of
pigs and cattle has been discussed at the island level and continues to be a challenge in spite of the campaign underway
to address it. Some of the villagers have received external assistance to care for their domesticated animals while some
have constructed traditional structures, pens and barns, which are strategically located. It is hoped that the other villagers will follow their example. Pigs roaming near the villages are preventing the villagers from farming nearby lowland
areas. Likewise, the villagers’ cows continue to graze in and degrade good farming areas along the rivers that are used by
the villagers for bathing and washing. A number of the villages have established proper cattle farms, and their example is
being shared with the rest of the villagers on the island who are working on ways to raise their domesticated animals to
allow them to farm in nearby areas.
Wastewater and sewage is now an issue because of the use of village taps and flush and water-sealed toilets. The use
of flush toilets, which is desired by people and subsidized by the government, has concentrated the release of wastewater and causes nutrient-enriched water to pollute the coasts. This stimulates algal growth that is overwhelming the coral
reefs near some of the villages. Composting toilets are promoted in the villages particularly where there are water shortages or where the water table is high. It is hoped that the composting toilet will be adopted by the villagers because of its
ecological attraction, suitability, and its lower costs and maintenance requirements.
Using Traditional Knowledge to Address Climate Change: The Fiji Scenario
Traditional Knowledge
The villagers are managing their environmental resources using their traditional system of governance; social pressure ensures compliance and decisions
are made at the community level and taken to district
meetings. Monitoring results and feedback from the
people reinforce the resource management activities,
and the ideas and practice are spreading to areas outside the villages, to other districts and islands (Veitayaki
2006;Veitayaki et al. 2005a, 2005b).
Lessons from Gau Island
The people of Gau Island are using their traditional
knowledge and practices to look after their environment
to ensure that it continues to provide ecological services
even with the impending changes associated with climate change and sea level rise. Their possession of traditional knowledge, skills and practices provide local people with cheap alternatives that can be used in times of
disasters or in preparing for climate change effects. Fijians and other Pacific Islanders lack the money and facilities available to those in developed and urbanized areas, but they have learned to survive and live in harsh environments. These
people realize that if they look after their natural resources, which they own and depend on, they can enjoy the spoils of
Westernization and yet be self-sufficient so as to be independent when the need arises.
Traditional knowledge, wisdom and experience are valuable, appropriate and relevant for people in developing
countries, and must be incorporated into sustainable development planning, contemporary development strategies, and
resource management arrangements set up to mitigate and adapt to the effects of climate change and sea level rise. The
recognition that they can do so much on their own to assist in their development will boost their self-esteem. This is significant because traditional small island communities often lack the personnel, finance, and political will to meet their
international obligations. The approach adopted in Gau demonstrates the great deal that can be achieved by local communities with a little assistance and motivation. The Lomani Gau initiative is engaging local people in a meaningful
partnership to use their tradition to better manage their environmental resources, and the feedback is encouraging. The
villagers are committed to the initiatives and are engaged in mapping their own course of action for sustainable development. They are encouraged to determine their environmental management actions, use relevant traditional practices, and
adopt flexible management skills and actions. The support from the villagers is indicative of the relevance of the project’s
activities, which are being incorporated into the village work schedules.
The promotion and use of traditional knowledge and practices has provided the people with the confidence and trust
to take control of their resource management activities and has contributed strongly to successful collaboration with the
partners. The people realized that they are in control of their well-being in spite of the changes that are now part of their
lives. Regular follow-up visits by Lomani Gau help keep the focus on the project’s activities, while training workshops
provide new ideas that are the basis for iterative decision-making. Again, tradition has been influential in this attempt to
address the challenges in engineering and maintaining social change within local communities. The costs of regular follow-up activities are high but are critical to keeping the focus. The engagement has to be sustainable to ensure that the
Figure 4. River and rehabilitated mangrove in Malawai village (looking
down from a hill behind the village). The Lamiti village is on the mouth of
the next river, the mouth of which can be seen in the top end of the picture. In both the villages, community members are replanting mangrove
forests and seagrass beds. These habitats are important feeding and nursery areas for fish and also as a line of defense to safeguard their villages
from erosion and salt water sprays. Photo © Takeshi Murai.
Indigenous Peoples and Conservation: From Rights to Resource Management
Traditional Knowledge
messages and practices that demonstrate the benefits of resource management are adopted and established. Experience
has shown that people best embrace social change when this comes in actions that are linked to existing community
strengths and builds towards their goals. This process requires leadership, enforcement, reinforcement and finance.
Leadership, enforcement and reinforcement are based on the traditional system, which is more effective than contemporary methods that are financially supported. Villagers now appreciate the environmental costs of their decisions
and are aware of the financial demands of attaining their overall goals. The future is bright if the small steps that have
been taken in these rural communities can be adopted in other areas; once that momentum is attained, the social transformation can be widespread. The Gau Island villagers are convinced that a healthy environment is the best way of
embracing modernity. Given what has been achieved in Gau over the last few years with limited financial resources, we
can hope that similar initiatives and measures will be possible at regional and national levels that will engage community
groups in a sustainable development based on the immense and rich traditional understanding of the natural world that
has served Fijians well for thousands of years, and which they now need more than ever to face the impending changes
from global warming and climate change.
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Indigenous Peoples and Conservation: From Rights to Resource Management
Traditional Knowledge
Indigenous Wildlife Monitoring
in Canada’s North:
A Community-Based Initiative
on the Beverly-Qamanirjuaq
Barren-Ground Caribou Range
Anne Kendrick and Micheline Manseau
Quick Facts
Country: Canada
Geographic Focus: Beverly Qamanirjuaq caribou ranges in
Canada’s northern territories, located between Great Slave
Lake in the Northwest Territories and the western shores of
Hudson Bay in Nunavut, extending more than 1,000 km
from north to south and more than 500 km from east to
Indigenous Peoples: The Dene, Inuit, Métis and Cree
peoples live on the Beverly and Qamanirjuaq ranges. Population estimates state that approximately 21,000 people,
mostly of indigenous heritages, live on or near the Beverly
Qamanirjuaq caribou ranges.
Author Information
Anne Kendrick Ph.D. is an independent consultant with more than
15 years experience working with arctic and subarctic indigenous
communities on collaborative research efforts and in management
settings. Dr. Kendrick has worked periodically with the Beverly and
Qamanirjuaq Caribou Management Board over the course of her
career in a number of roles, including acting as the Board’s community liaison in the early stages of the development of a communitybased caribou monitoring program.
E-mail: [email protected]
Micheline Manseau Ph.D. is Associate Professor at the Natural
Resources Institute of the University of Manitoba, and Ecosystem
Scientist with the Western and Northern Service Centre of Parks
Canada. Dr. Manseau has more than 20 years experience in conducting research of northern ecosystems with a focus on Conservation
Ecology, Animal and Landscape Ecology and Community-Based
Resources Management.
E-mail: [email protected]
Barren-Ground Caribou: A Conservation Challenge
The Barren-ground caribou (Rangifer tarandus groenlandicus) is the most
abundant large mammal in the North American subarctic and arctic
zones. While many populations are experiencing declines, the combined size estimates for the two herds (the Beverly and Qamanirjuaq)
that we focus on in this essay were believed to be as high as three-quarters
of a million animals as recently as 14 years ago (BQCMB 2008).
The caribou is of special significance in the traditional economies
of the indigenous peoples of the North. Through their frequent interaction with caribou, the Dene, Inuit, Métis and Cree peoples of the
Beverly and Qamanirjuaq ranges are able to recognize changes in caribou behavior; their movements, distribution and physiology. This
places these indigenous communities in a favorable position to determine whether population changes are related to natural variation or to
the effects of industrial and other human activities.
The knowledge of the subarctic and arctic indigenous peoples is
traditionally communicated orally, but is gaining credence in wildlife
management circles as it is documented by indigenous and non-indigenous researchers. The expense and logistical challenges of collecting the necessary information for caribou management in the remote
and vast geography of their ranges cannot be underestimated. The
two herds discussed in this essay range over an area of 918,330 km2,
more than twice the size of Poland. Individual animals can migrate as
far as 2,000 km a year (Wakelyn 1999) and most of the Beverly and
Qamanirjuaq (BQ) ranges are currently inaccessible by road.
The knowledge and the perspectives of these indigenous peoples
have great potential to enrich the store of information that is vital
if we are to meet caribou conservation challenges. This is especially
important at a time when industrial activity on the BQ caribou ranges
is increasing exponentially. This includes mining exploration, established mining, roads, transmission lines and hydroelectric generation
Traditional Knowledge
facilities. Active prospecting and mining claims exist on the calving grounds of both caribou ranges. The cumulative effects of these industrial activities are worrisome to indigenous communities, caribou management bodies and
conservation groups.1
Human-caribou relationships
The relationships between caribou and the Dene, Inuit, Métis and Cree peoples that live on the Beverly-Qamanirjuaq
barren-ground caribou herd ranges are at least hundreds and more often thousands of years old. Archaeologists estimate that the Dene and their ancestors have co-existed with barren-ground caribou herds since before the time of
Christ (Gordon 1996). The Caribou-Inuit relationship, characterized by heavy dependence on the caribou, is estimated
to have existed for hundreds of years (McGhee 1996).
Traditionally the Etthen-eldeli-dene (Dene, translates as
The meat harvested from the Beverly and
the “Caribou-Eaters”) followed the migratory movements
of the barren-ground caribou year-round, as did the five
Qamanirjuaq herds is estimated to provide the
independent groups of Inuit, referred to as the “Caribou
equivalent of over $20 million CDN of food a
Inuit,” who live on the range of the Qamanirjuaq herd.
year for the indigenous communities.
A human-caribou figure is at the centre of ancient stories
that Dene elders say are thousands of years old; these continue to be told by Denesoline [Chipewyan] elders in Canada’s Northwest Territories, as well as in the provinces of
Alberta, Saskatchewan and Manitoba. This human-caribou entity taught the Denesoline how to respect caribou (incidently the Saami of Eurasia have stories about a similar figure, MjanDash, or Reindeer Man, that teaches the Saami how
to respect, hunt and care for reindeer).
Approximately 21,000 people, most of indigenous heritage, live on or near the Beverly-Qamanirjuaq caribou ranges
(Fig. 1). These numbers represent more than one-fifth of the total population of Canada’s three northern territories
(Statistics Canada 2007). The meat harvested from the Beverly and Qamanirjuaq herds is estimated to provide the
equivalent of over $20 million CDN of food a year for the indigenous communities that harvest them (BQCMB 2008).
Three-quarters of this sum represents the value of the indigenous domestic harvest of caribou meat (cost of replacing caribou meat with store-bought beef ). The remaining amount represents the value of the commercial revenue from outfitting ventures and sale of caribou meat.
Community Monitoring: Messenger and Agent of Change on the Caribou Ranges
This essay outlines an initiative to develop community-based indicators of change on two barren-ground caribou ranges
in Canada’s North. In a broader context, the initiative is part of the goals of northern indigenous communities to ensure
that their traditional knowledge of one of the world’s most wide-ranging terrestrial wildlife species is included in a complicated multi-jurisdictional management setting. Moreover, the indigenous communities living on the caribou ranges
have experienced a long history of colonialist policies toward indigenous peoples linked to wildlife management policies. In northern Canada, wildlife management regulations based on little, and sometimes no, scientific evidence led
to significant hunting restrictions of barren-ground caribou herds by indigenous peoples in the late 1800s and early
1 See < for maps of land use activities on the caribou ranges>.
Indigenous Peoples and Conservation: From Rights to Resource Management
Traditional Knowledge
20th century (Sandlos 2007). There were also other incidents of Canadian authorities administering control over indigenous communities. In the post Second World War era, indigenous communities were relocated from seasonal camps
into sedentary communities (Usher 2004). Given this history, indigenous communities have a long-standing and vital
stake in ensuring that their knowledge, values and ways of thinking are incorporated into the management of barrenground caribou herds.
Indigenous-led caribou management board
The Beverly and Qamanirjuaq Caribou Management Board (BQCMB) is a 27-year-old indigenous-led co-management
organization. The Board was formed as an answer to an impasse between Canadian wildlife management authorities and
traditional caribou-hunting communities in the late 1970s. At that time, government wildlife managers, biologists and
indigenous hunters were divided over the existence and possible causes of a “crisis” in barren-ground caribou population
sizes. In order to resolve the impasse, government authorities and representatives from indigenous communities on the
Beverly and Qamanirjuaq caribou ranges agreed to establish a caribou co-management board with majority representation from indigenous communities in 1982. This arrangement was, and still is, relatively rare in Canada. Exceptions
include the Porcupine Caribou Management Board and wildlife co-management organizations established as a result of
land claim negotiations, although claims-based comanagement institutions do not often have multijurisdictional mandates, nor do they represent
multiple indigenous groups as does the BQCMB.
The Board’s primary mandate is to ensure the
conservation of the herds while maintaining a subsistence hunt by the indigenous communities who
have traditionally hunted them. The BQCMB
is made up of representatives from 21 remote
Dene, Inuit and Métis communities in Canada’s
North; all located on the ranges of the Beverly and
Qamanirjuaq herds. The Board also has government representatives from two provinces, two territories and the federal department of Indian and
Northern Affairs. The ranges of the Beverly and
Qamanirjuaq herds lie between Great Slave Lake
in the Northwest Territories and the western shores
of Hudson Bay, extending more than 1,000 km
from north to south and more than 500 km from
Figure 1. The caribou ranges of the Beverly and Qamanirijuaq herds cover an area
of 918,330 km². Map courtesy of Jennifer Keeney and Sones Keobouasone.
east to west (Fig. 1).
Beverly and Qamanirjuaq Caribou Management Board — Monitoring Program
In 2000, the BQCMB initiated the development and implementation of a system to monitor the Beverly and Qamanirjuaq
caribou herds, their ranges, and human use of caribou. This monitoring system was to integrate scientific, local and traditional knowledge. In order to include local and traditional knowledge in a more in-depth and regularized manner,
the BQCMB sponsored pilot projects (2001–2002) in two Inuit communities that documented the observations of
barren-ground caribou hunters. These projects were modeled on the experiences of the Arctic Borderlands Ecological
Indigenous Wildlife Monitoring in Canada’s North: A Community-Based Initiative on the Beverly-Qamanirjuaq Barren-Ground Caribou Range
Traditional Knowledge
Knowledge Coop Society in the Yukon (Kofinas et al. 2002). Their goal was to design community-based ecological monitoring projects that collected and interpreted the observations of aboriginal caribou hunters by community hunters and
In 2004–2005, research efforts were expanded into other caribou range communities. Community workshops
designed to define monitoring indicators were held in several range communities. The challenge of these workshops was
to understand the different aspirations and information needs of all those involved and to develop common indicators
to monitor change on the caribou ranges.
Why develop community-derived indicators?
If caribou populations are to be co-managed by government wildlife management agencies in conjunction with the
communities that have traditionally harvested them, then it makes sense to develop community-derived indicators
of change. Such indicators increase the general pool of knowledge about the changes occurring in caribou populations and their ranges and the scope of knowledge available at different scales (in time and space). The indigenous
communities that are situated on the caribou ranges express and understand caribou population dynamics and the
connections between people and caribou in different ways. It is important that, at a minimum, their knowledge
and their ways of tracking changes over time be used in decisionmaking, to create or co-produce knowledge (Kofinas et al. 2002;
In all four communities, there is a rich
Huntington et al. 2002). The monitoring of community-derived
indicators would also track knowledge of where, when and how
understanding of variation in caribou
communities interact with caribou and the caribou ranges.
body condition that experienced
Discussions during the 2004 community workshops revealed a
hunters and elders are anxious to
number of potential indicators, or signs of ecological change, that
could feasibly be reported over time (Fig. 1). In the Nunavut com- see incorporated into the design
munities of Baker Lake and Arviat much of the discussion focused
of monitoring programs. Elders are
on individual caribou body condition (mostly body fat levels), while
changing weather patterns and temperature extremes were also dis- emphatic that this knowledge must be
cussed as a major factor affecting body condition, movements and dis- simultaneously transmitted to youth.
tribution, and range conditions. The communities of Lac Brochet (in
northern Manitoba) and Fond-du-Lac (in northern Saskatchewan)
focused their discussions on changing winter range conditions (availability of food) as major factors affecting movements
and distribution, and on the effects of fire on the forage available to caribou in the winter months, and the subsequent
changes in the distribution of caribou populations.
In all four communities, there is a rich understanding of variation in caribou body condition that experienced
hunters and elders are anxious to see incorporated into the design of monitoring programs. Elders are emphatic that
this knowledge must be simultaneously transmitted to youth. Finally, the connection between the elders’ knowledge
of past migratory routes and the influence of human activity on the use of these routes was discussed.
Documenting community observations of change in caribou and their ranges will only help with management
decisions if managers acknowledge that the ways indigenous hunters and elders observe and interpret change in caribou populations and their ranges are different but complementary to the data collected through conventional scientific
Indigenous Peoples and Conservation: From Rights to Resource Management
Traditional Knowledge
The Challenges of Scale and Politics
Several major challenges face the development of community-based monitoring of barren-ground caribou populations.
The development of a program that gives a big picture view of change over the vast landscape of the caribou ranges without masking local ways of collecting and interpreting knowledge is not a simple task. Community efforts may be seen to
compete with the resources available to scientific monitoring programs rather than as a potential complement to existing work. The creation of a community-based monitoring program that does not become a time and financial burden on
communities or wildlife management agencies is vital to the sustainability of any such program. Community members
who participate in such programs will need assurance that their participation will not disrupt their traditional harvesting activities or stretch to the breaking point the resources and capacity of communities already facing great social and
political challenges.
Among Dene communities with outstanding treaty entitlement issues, knowledge of barren-ground caribou is tied
to proprietary research documenting past and present land use to be used in political negotiations. Consequently, this
research is often not publicly available. Both the communities and the biologists involved in creating and maintaining
community-based monitoring programs are entering foreign territory. The documentation and monitoring of community knowledge is unrelated to traditional ways of learning and knowing for both Dene and Inuit hunters. At the same
time, biologists are often unfamiliar with traditional knowledge systems.
Expanding community-based caribou monitoring across the ranges
The BQCMB’s community-based caribou monitoring project took shape over several years. The communities involved
in the pilot phase of the project (Arviat and Baker Lake) provided positive feedback and recommended changes to secure
the project’s viability in the future. Community workshops in 2004 revealed that the communities (Arviat, Baker Lake,
Fond-du-Lac and Lac Brochet) would like to see the project adopted in other jurisdictions and that they appreciated the
potential of the project in allowing a greater exchange of knowledge between communities and managers. Communities
expressed their willingness to put resources (time, fund-raising efforts) into making community-based monitoring work.
They emphasized the need to link community-based monitoring activities to youth.
The monitoring program should not only bring community knowledge of the caribou range to the Beverly and
Qamanirjuaq Board, but also create opportunities for caribou hunters and managers to learn from each other and create new knowledge about the range. Community and scientific indicators of environmental change should be linked
through decentralized planning that acknowledges the role of elders in interpreting local observations.
Elders involved in the 2004 indicator workshops commented on the power of sharing their knowledge and the need
for a big picture view of the caribou ranges that can only be achieved through exchanges between the communities living on the ranges:
I wanted to know […] what is the information in communities where they are close by, they have
more information on the impacts on caribou, because of roads, and pipelines and different activities that’s happening. The impact it has on calving grounds and feeding, the activities. I know
and hear about it, but I don’t really know about the kind of information that’s coming out, about
the after-effects. What’s being done. More and more of this will be happening in the future. It’s
happening now. And when that happens, will we be able to see caribou again in our area? I don’t
know, I do not know the impact of the activities. Even the water, the environment, we have clean
water right now, but maybe in the future because of industries and mining the water will not
remain the same. Even that has an impact on our way of life and the caribou. My concern is with
Indigenous Wildlife Monitoring in Canada’s North: A Community-Based Initiative on the Beverly-Qamanirjuaq Barren-Ground Caribou Range
Traditional Knowledge
all these obstacles, with the North opening up, it will not be the same soon. But yet, information
being shared should be coming to the communities. Right now the elders here are making comments that are for the future generations to utilize and they have to have the knowledge given to
them too. (Pierre Denechezhe, Lac Brochet, 2004)
If you a see caribou you feel good, and you feel happy. Even though you don’t see them, sometimes, like nowadays, we have better communication than we had before. When we hear somebody saying that there’s caribou in a certain area, it even lifts up our spirits, saying that we’ve got
caribou in a certain area. (Marcel Tssessaze, Lac Brochet, 2004)
In order for the program to succeed, communities must maintain ownership of the collected information so that it
is interpreted in conjunction with them. Community researchers are in the best position to maintain links between the
observations collected from active hunters and the traditional knowledge of the community. Traditional knowledge is
not just a “baseline” of knowledge, but a means of interpreting past and current observations and connecting societal values to environmental observations and management decisions. There are difficult challenges involved not only in translating between languages, but in translating between the different ecological concepts used in scientific and traditional
knowledge systems.
Community-derived indicators are “new” tools for thinking about change on the caribou ranges. By considering
the differences between community and scientific indicators and their notions of cause and effect, new understandings
of environmental change can emerge. The monitoring and selection of indicators must be a participatory process (i.e.,
knowledge collected by local people, controlled by local people and interpreted and acted upon with local people). Elders
emphasize that any land use research or planning must also be connected with local educational opportunities for youth.
Completing the Circle: Elders’ Challenge to Involve Youth
So for the elders […] to talk about caribou monitoring is kind of ridiculous for them […] but
I noticed that for other people like the young people it might be beneficial, what they’re saying,
because a lot of people want to use this information for their work. (Pierre Denechezhe, Lac
Elders in all the communities we spoke with emphasized that traditional knowledge research and community-based
monitoring programs are meaningless without youth participation. Elders acknowledged the differences in the life experiences, knowledge base and knowledge needs of older people and youth and the evolving relationship of indigenous
peoples to the caribou. The ultimate challenge of community-based monitoring programs will be their success at feeding into a “community cycle of knowledge” where information about caribou is observed, documented, interpreted and
shared within and among indigenous caribou-hunting communities (Fig. 2).
Current monitoring activities — involving youth
The caribou-monitoring program described in this essay has not continued in its original form. The BQCMB relied on
one-time financial contributions from universities, the federal department of Indian and Northern Affairs, and a mining
company to fund efforts to-date. Ongoing and long-term funding support remains elusive. Nonetheless, there are localized
Indigenous Peoples and Conservation: From Rights to Resource Management
Traditional Knowledge
efforts to collect and share community knowledge of caribou conditions and movements. The BQCMB has taken
the measure of specifically setting aside annual funds for
each caribou range jurisdiction focused on projects for
school-aged children. Almost two dozen Lac Brochet
hunters (a community in northern Manitoba) were interviewed by school children about their knowledge of caribou and the weather. A northern Saskatchewan community (Wollaston Lake) was awarded funding that allowed
students to participate in community hunts and later to
collect harvest data as well as hunters’ observations of caribou body condition. Similar initiatives in other communities are slated for the coming years (BQCMB 2008). Cree
communities in Manitoba also harvest caribou from the
Qamanirjuaq herd and are anxious to participate in the
Beverly and Qamanirjuaq Caribou Management Board’s
activities, especially its youth programs (R. Thompson
pers. comm. 24 June 2009).
Continuing the
Knowledge Cycle
Community Land Use
Planning Organization
Active Caribou Hunters
Community Researchers
Information Verification
and Dissemination
Active Caribou Hunters
Community Researchers
Figure 2. The community cycle of knowledge where information about
caribou is observed, documented, interpreted and shared within and
among indigenous caribou-hunting communities. (Adapted from Denesoline Cycle of Knowledge (Page 11 in Traditional Knowledge in the
Kache Tué Study Region, phase III, Towards a Comprehensive Environmental Monitoring Program in the Kakinëne Region, May 2002 accessed
May 22, 2005 at <
From Data to Intergenerational Wisdom
Even though we have got together like this, to pass this information to the younger generation,
to the youth, and find out that all this development is disturbing the animals. […] What are the
young people going to do? In the past, the Dene people used to follow the caribou, wherever they
go, to the tree-line, to the tundra, it depends […] on the caribou. Now we don’t know what’s
going to happen to the caribou. With all this other development that is going to be going on in
the territories [Northwest Territories]. What should we do? What kind of information are we
going to give the young people to keep on going? Can we find more resources to keep this program going, what we’re doing here today? In the last couple of days, we’re passing on information
so the young people have knowledge of what the elders are trying to do for them so that they can
continue the program that we started for them. Everything that we do nowadays, it’s only for the
future generation. And this can be passed on from generation to generation. If we can keep the
program going. (Pierre Denechezhe, Lac Brochet)
This essay described the challenges, successes and legacies of caribou monitoring initiatives in the diverse cultural
and ecological settings that make up the Beverly and Qamanirjuaq caribou ranges. The BQCMB has heeded the elders’
requests that monitoring efforts be tied to educational opportunities for youth. Current efforts are focused on giving
youth opportunities to collect traditional knowledge from hunters and elders and to document observations of individual caribou body condition while participating in hunting activities.
Hunters and elders recognize that youth are facing exceptional challenges in their ability to maintain contact with
caribou in the face of unprecedented mineral exploration. As of October 2007, over 600 mineral claims and prospecting
Indigenous Wildlife Monitoring in Canada’s North: A Community-Based Initiative on the Beverly-Qamanirjuaq Barren-Ground Caribou Range
Traditional Knowledge
permits are in place on the calving grounds of the Beverly and Qamanirjuaq ranges (BQCMB 2008). The indigenous
community representatives to the BQCMB recently asked that the board make the protection of the calving grounds of
the Beverly and Qamanirjuaq herds their primary mandate (BQCMB 2008).
Indigenous communities located on the caribou ranges have harvested caribou for hundreds — and more often
thousands — of years. These communities are the “eyes and ears,” providing early warnings of change on the ranges.
The establishment of community-based monitoring
programs builds increased community involvement
in regional wildlife management. However, the local
observations and traditional knowledge of these communities must be documented in a way that recognizes
that such knowledge is dynamic and living; connected
to people. In addition, communities have a great desire
to contribute their knowledge to management discussions, but they must be able to see that their knowledge
is actively employed in management decisions. They
are willing to explore means to document their knowledge in ways other than in oral traditions so that it
can be shared within their communities, but also with
other indigenous communities, as well as with the
Figure 3. Barren-ground caribou wintering near Lutsel K'e, Northwest
scientific community (Legat 2007). As expressed by
Territories in 2001. Photo © Anne Kendrick.
Jerome Denechezhe, a former Chair of the BQCMB,
“Over the past 25 years, one of the most important
things that the Board members have done is try to see
how other people see things. […] We have learned to
cooperate and work together.” (Mr. Denechezhe is a
Dene board member from Lac Brochet, Manitoba;
BQCMB 2008).
Indigenous communities repeatedly emphasize their
wish for sound management decisions that ensure the
protection of their subsistence activities and the caribou
herds. With the recent and steep decline in the numbers of the Beverly herd2, traditional and communitybased knowledge of the caribou herds will be increasingly important for the assessment of the state of the
herds. It is these indigenous communities that have the
most at stake when management decisions are based on
Figure 4. Caribou hides hung to “bleach” in the wind and sun in
Qamanit’uaq (Baker Lake, Nunavut). Photo © Anne Kendrick.
inadequate knowledge.
2 See for the Beverly Qamanirjuaq Caribou Management Board’s draft action plan to aid in the recovery of the Beverly herd. Recent
reconnaissance surveys indicate this herd is experiencing a major decline in numbers.
Indigenous Peoples and Conservation: From Rights to Resource Management
Traditional Knowledge
Our thanks to the staff of the Arviat Hunters and Trappers Organization (HTO), the Baker Lake HTO, the Fond-duLac Band Office and the Northlands (Lac Brochet) North of 60 Office for their aid in the facilitation of the community workshops this material is based on. Special thanks to the many elders and hunters of each of the aforementioned
communities for sharing their perspectives and knowledge. Financial and in-kind support for this work came from the
Canadian Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council, the Beverly Qamanirjuaq Caribou Management Board, the
Canadian Department of Indian and Northern Affairs’ Environmental Capacity Development Initiative, the Nunavut
Wildlife Management Board and the University of Manitoba.
Literature Cited
BQCMB. 2008. Beverly Qamanirjuaq Caribou Management Board. Website: <>.
Accessed: 3 March, 2008.
Denechezhe, P. 2004. Elder, Lac Brochet, Manitoba. Comments recorded during a workshop, transcripts and videorecordings in the possession of the North of 60 office, Lac Brochet, MB. and Anne Kendrick, post-doctoral research
Gordon, B. 1996. People of Sunlight People of Starlight: Barrenland Archaeology in the Northwest Territories of Canada.
Mercury Series, Paper 154, 332pp. Archaeological Survey of Canada, Canadian Museum of Civilization, Hull, Québec.
Huntington, H.P., Brown-Schwalenberg, P.K., Frost, K.J., Fernandez-Giménez, M.E., Norton, D.W. and Rosenberg,
D.H. 2002. Observations on the Workshop as a Means of Improving Communication between Holders of
Traditional and Scientific Knowledge. Environmental Management 30(6):778–792.
Kofinas, G.P. with the communities of Aklavik, Arctic Village, Old Crow, and Fort McPherson. 2002. Community contributions to ecological monitoring: knowledge co-production in the U.S.-Canada Arctic Borderlands. In: The Earth
is Faster Now: Indigenous Observations of Arctic Environmental Change, I. Krupnik and D. Jolly (eds.), pp.54–91.
Arctic Research Consortium of the United States, Fairbanks, Alaska.
Legat, A. 2007. Walking the Land, Feeding the Fire: A TLICHO Ethnography on Becoming Knowledgeable. PhD thesis, University of Aberdeen, Aberdeen, Scotland.
McGhee, R. 1996. Ancient People of the Arctic. University of British Columbia Press, Vancouver.
Sandlos, J. 2007. Hunters at the Margin: Native People and Wildlife Conservation in the Northwest Territories. University
of British Columbia Press, Vancouver.
Statistics Canada. 2007. The Daily, Wednesday, 19 December 2007. Website: <
Thompson, R. 2009. Secretary-Treasurer, Beverly-Qamanirjuaq Caribou Management Board. Website: <http://www.>.
Usher, P.J. 2004. Caribou crisis or administrative crisis? Wildlife and aboriginal policies on the Barren Grounds of
Canada, 1947–60. In: Cultivating Arctic Landscapes: Knowing and Managing Animals in the Circumpolar North, D.G.
Anderson and M. Nuttall (eds.), pp.172–199. Berghahn Books, New York.
Tssessaze, M. 2004. Dene Elder, Lac Brochet, Manitoba. Comments recorded during a workshop, transcripts and videorecordings in the possession of the North of 60 office, Lac Brochet, MB. and Anne Kendrick, post-doctoral research
Wakelyn, L. 1999. The Beverly Caribou Herd – Continental Wilderness Travelers. Website: <> Accessed: 27 July, 2009.
Indigenous Wildlife Monitoring in Canada’s North: A Community-Based Initiative on the Beverly-Qamanirjuaq Barren-Ground Caribou Range
Approaches Innovative Approaches
t first glance, case studies in this chapter may seem unrelated: a butterfly farm project in Tanzania
(Morgan-Brown), and ecotourism enterprises in Suriname (Tjon Sie Fat et al.) and Bolivia (Pastor) have
little in common besides the most tenuous of conservation threads. In fact, many of the projects in this chapter are not new ideas per se — the tie that binds them all together is the strong human component, and how
conservationists work in true partnerships with the communities to develop successful livelihoods that value
their traditional way of life, while helping provide for benefits in terms of schools and clinics and access to
goods available only through cash economies.
The key to the success of each of these case studies is the recognition of the need for governments, conservation and development organizations and companies to respect, understand and learn from the social
and cultural traditions of the partner community. Moving away from earlier models that simply protected
large tracts of land has freed us to recognize and act on the fact that ecosystems are inextricably linked to
the peoples that have lived there for generations. There are numerous case studies that show the correlation
between high biodiversity and high cultural diversity. Projects such as the Forest Stewards Program in Papua
New Guinea (Thomas), in which indigenous languages hold the key to traditional knowledge about local
flora and fauna and are given the same regard as western science, demonstrate the innovative approaches
that are possible when we recognize that for many indigenous communities, nature and people are one
and the same.
Working within local power structures, taking the time to gain acceptance from the community, and
ensuring true community buy-in, such as the cases of the ecotourism projects in Bolivia (Saavedra) and
Suriname (Tjon Sie Fat et al.) and most especially of the Bonobo Peace Forest in the DRC (Almquist et
al.), are examples of how learning about and respecting social norms and traditions improve conservation
It is generally assumed that conservation projects are more likely to succeed when development and
economic goals are integrated, but as one of the case studies in this chapter points out, it is necessary to
deal with issues of poverty and development before conservation action can truly happen (Almquist et al.).
This does not imply that one automatically follows the other. As in the ecotourism projects mentioned above,
and in the case of the butterfly farm in Tanzania and the payment for ecosystem services model in Ecuador
(Mora et al.), the link between conservation and economic benefits must be clear and measurable. In the
case of Tanzania (Morgan-Brown), the farmers not only sell a forest by-product (the butterflies), they also
Innovative Approaches
depend upon forest resources such as native plants for their nectar and wild butterflies for new genes. In
Ecuador, communities receive direct monetary payments for conserving their forests which translate directly
into community employment and well-being (Mora et al.). In the case of Bolivia and Suriname, entire ecosystems as well as the traditional knowledge held by the community about them are vital for the development of economically viable projects. In the Democratic Republic of Congo conservation accords have been
signed with local communities covering more than 50,000 km² of rainforest and in particular, in the case of
the Bonobo Conservation Initiative, they have focused efforts to support local ideas and practices, and the
use of local social capital to achieve conservation and sustainable development (Almquist et al.).
The innovation in these projects comes not from a new project idea, but from recognizing that indigenous communities have as much knowledge to share as western science has, that the link between human
well-being and nature must be clear, and that true partnerships are based on mutual respect, common goals,
and shared learning.
Innovative Approaches
Chalalan — The Process and
Impacts of an Indigenous
Ecotourism Enterprise
Cándido Pastor Saavedra
Quick Facts
Country: Bolivia
Geographic Focus: Madidi National Park, Department of
La Paz
Indigenous Peoples: Community of San Jose de Uchupiamonas has a population of 630, with Quechua and Tacana
Chalalan Ecolodge is an indigenous ecotourism enterprise created
in 1999 by a visionary group of villagers of the rainforest community of San José de Uchupiamonas. It is an ecolodge that is entirely
community-owned and managed. It was born of a dream to create a
true model of ecotourism; one that provides employment opportunities through nature-based tourism for people and preserves a critical reservoir of biodiversity in the lowland rain forests of Bolivia, the
Madidi National Park and Integrated Management Natural Area.
Madidi National Park and Madidi Integrated
Management Natural Area
Author Information
Cándido Pastor Saavedra has worked for Conservation
International – Bolivia since 1999. He served as Coordinator of the
Sustainable Development and Ecotourism Project (Chalalan) and is
currently Program Manager.
E-mail: [email protected]
Established in September 19951, the Madidi Protected Area (PA) is
1,895,750 ha; 1,271,500 ha constituting the Madidi National Park,
and 624,250 ha the Integrated Management Natural Area (IMNA).
The altitude in the park ranges from 180 to 5,760 m above sea level,
and the diversity of vegetation types and ecosystems is consequently
enormous. Associated with this is a highly diverse fauna and flora. It
is in the Tropical Andes hotspot, one of the most biologically diverse
regions of the world and under considerable pressure from economic
development (Mast et al. 1999; Rodríguez-Mahecha et al. 2004). The
Madidi National Park is part of the Madidi-Apolo region that has
been identified as a center for plant diversity and endemism, with
the highest documented plant diversity in Bolivia, believed to be
more than 5,000 species (Killeen 1997). According to Madidi´s
Management Plan, vegetation types there include humid forest, with
different communities on montane slopes, piedmont and river margins; cloud forest; dry forest and savanna in intermontane valleys; and
1 Supreme Decree 24123, September, 1995.
Innovative Approaches
humid savanna and marshes on
alluvial plains in the north-east. To
date, 1,875 plant species have been
identified in the Madidi Protected
Area (with another 2,900 plant species expected to be discovered) and
near 1,000 bird species have been
Madidi is part of the
Vilcabamba-Amboró Conservation
Corridor (CCVA), which extends
from the Vilcabamba Cordillera
in Peru southeast to the Amboró
Protected Area in Santa Cruz
(Fig. 1).
The Madidi PA overlaps
Figure 1. Madidi National Park and Integrated Management Natural Area is part of the VilcabambaAmboró Conservation Corridor. Rich in wildlife, 27% of the plant species in Bolivia can be found
three Native Community Lands
there, 31 of them found only in the park. Map © Conservation International.
(known in Spanish for its acronym
as “TCO”), collectively owned by
indigenous communities: the TCO
Tacana, TCO Lecos Apolo, and
TCO Uchupiamonas.2 About 3,714 people live in the Madidi PA, mostly indigenous peoples and settlers. The population is distributed among 31 communities of Tacana, Leco, Quechua, Aymara, and Araona origins. Health services and
provisions for education and communication are rudimentary or nonexistent.
Because of the overlap between national park and indigenous land, it is necessary for the indigenous peoples to integrate their activities with the protected area, to include indigenous thinking and needs as such into the protected area
management. This is particularly challenging as the protected areas themselves are facing threats that include the building of unplanned roads, unregulated forest exploitation, and oil prospection. All of this results in an overlap of land-use
rights, promoting disorder and conflicts among the different local actors.
In this context, the ecotourism project Chalalan in the TCO Uchupiamonas is seen as a way to combine biodiversity conservation with the interests and knowledge of the indigenous peoples in the area. The initiative has become an
example to other indigenous ecotourism initiatives due to its successful self-administration and full community ownership, and in the economic benefits provided not just for the community but for the region and the country.
The Native Community of San Jose de Uchupiamonas
The Native Community Land (TCO) of San Jose de Uchupiamonas has a population Quechua-Tacana of about
630 (100 families). In pre-colonial times there was commercial exchange between the Inca Empire and this lowland
2 In Bolivia, a TCO (Tierras Comunitarias de Origen) does not imply ownership of underground resources.
Indigenous Peoples and Conservation: From Rights to Resource Management
Innovative Approaches
Figure 2. The community of San Jose de Uchupiamonas overlaps with
the Madidi Protected Area. The community has a population of about
630. Its proximity to the national park made it ideal for an ecotourism
business, which began with a pilot project in 1995. Map © Conservation International.
community, as well as terrible wars. Jesuit registers
tell us that the Concepción de Apolobamba Mission
was established in 1690, with 600 indigenous peoples
from the region (70% Quechuas and the rest Tacanas,
Leco, Chama and Uchupiamona). In 1713, following repeated incursions by the Franciscan missionaries
into Tacana territory, another mission — the Mission
of Tumupasa (“white stone” in Tacana) — was founded
by Fray Domingo de Valdez, with 137 families of both
Sipiramona and Uchupiamona heritage. Three years later,
following serious conflicts between these two Tacana
groups, the Uchupiamonas abandoned the Mission and
returned to their old territory on the banks of the Río
Tuichi. Fray Domingo de Valdez followed them and
founded the Mission of San Jose de Uchupiamonas in
1716, in a place known as Tullullani (“site with bones” in
Quechua). Some years later, San Jose de Uchupiamonas
suffered a new displacement and the people reestablished
themselves in an area known as “Kuara” (“mother” in
Tacana), where the current mission is located.
The principal activities of the people are ecotourism,
agriculture and hunting. As the community generates
no significant production surpluses, marketing is practically nonexistent. In May 2004, the TCO of San Jose
de Uchupiamonas received its official title with 210,000
Sustainable Development and Ecotourism Program in San Jose de Uchupiamonas
The community of San Jose de Uchupiamonas first began looking for funding in 1993. In 1995, the Multilateral
Investment Fund (MIF) (Fondo Multilateral de Inversiones – FOMIN) of the Inter-American Development Bank
(IDB) provided US$1.25 million to finance the “Sustainable Development and Ecotourism Program in San Jose de
Uchupiamonas and the establishment of a protected zone in the proposed Madidi Park (ATN/ME-4757-BO)”. As a
counterpart, Conservation International (CI) contributed US$200,000 to the project and provided technical assistance.
The aim of the project, which ran from March 1995 to June 2001, was to establish the Chalalan Ecolodge and offer
financial resources and technical expertise to the people and organizations at San Jose and nearby communities, in order
to establish and operate small, private, self-sustaining ecotourism companies, and to strengthen other areas of the local
economy such as agriculture and handicrafts.
3 The TCO of San Jose de Uchupiamonas is the only indigenous organization in Latin America that financed the process of registering its land title with its own economic resources.
Chalalan — The Process and Impacts of an Indigenous Ecotourism Enterprise
Innovative Approaches
The program’s specific objectives were as follows:
1) to improve the socioeconomic conditions of the San
Jose community by setting up conservation-based enterprises; 2) to increase the local capacity for sustainable
development with the integration of local institutions;
and 3) to replicate positive aspects of the project in other
communities adjoining the park.
Initially, the idea was to set up a number of small
conservation-based businesses associated with tourism,
such as transportation, food provision, tour-guiding, restaurants, but after a series of discussions the team of consultants and community leaders decided to form just one
Figure 3. Madidi National Park and its Integrated Management Natural
company that combined all the direct services needed
Area overlaps three Native Community Lands which are facing threats
such as deforestation and oil prospection. The indigenous people must
for the Chalalan Ecolodge into a single administrative
develop the means to integrate into the protected area system, and to
unit. They also decided not to develop formal productive
include indigenous thinking and needs into protected area management.
Photo © Haroldo Castro, Conservation International.
units in the community (e.g., artisans or food providers),
because the transport cost from and to the community
was extremely high, making any other small community
initiatives independent of Chalalan unfeasible.
With regard to the second objective — increase the local capacity for sustainable development with the integration of
local institutions — the project was unable to establish an institutional strengthening plan. However, the leaders of San
Jose de Uchupiamonas showed a strong aptitude for management and a solid understanding of what they were trying to
achieve. These skills were encouraged and developed through meetings, workshop, seminars, fairs and other events that
sought to build strong relationships and management capabilities among local leaders.
In replicating the positive aspects of the project in other communities adjoining the park, the most impressive
result was the identification, design and implementation of the “San Miguel del Bala” ecotourism project that was based
on research by the program’s technical team and incorporated the lessons learned at Chalalan. By August 2009, both
ecolodge projects were proving successful in providing ecotourism services. The lessons learned from the Chalalan initiative have generated a movement towards ecotourism in Bolivia as a whole, with interested donors, private community
businesses, private non-community businesses, nongovernmental organizations, municipalities and others. Currently
there are 65 ecotourism projects in Bolivia and all acknowledge Chalalan as the pioneer in this area.
Chalalan — a Community Company
The Chalalan business is a joint stock company, with shares divided as follows: 50% for the 74 families4 of the community and the remaining 50% for the Territorial Base Organization (Organización Territorial de Base – known as OTB
for its acronym in Spanish).5 Each year, the company presents its financial statements to its members; if earnings are
4 To date (August 2009), there are 100 families.
5 The Territorial Base Organization represents the set of community institutions and members, and is acknowledge by the State through its legal representation, within the framework of the
1551 Popular Participation Law.
Indigenous Peoples and Conservation: From Rights to Resource Management
Innovative Approaches
reported, these are distributed among the shareholders.
As a member of the company, the OTB reinvests its earnings into community needs.
The company offers a variety of services to tourists
who want to visit the Madidi PA: lodging with 30 beds,
local bilingual guides specialized in the interpretation of
the Madidi National Park, transportation and food. It
began its activities in 1997 as a pilot program. Project
staff organized visits of test groups brought together
by tourist agencies and others, to familiarize Josesanos
with the final client. That same year, an operation office
opened in Rurrenabaque. In 1998, Chalalan received
Figure 4. The Chalalan Ecolodge is a now a sustainable, community-run
186 tourists. Until then, the project had financed part
business that has improved the socioeconomic conditions of the community members, increased local capacity for sustainable development, and
of the operation costs. Although this decision promoted
served as a model for other community ecotourism projects in Bolivia.
visits to the lodge, it was a necessary but hard subsidy to
Photo © Haroldo Castro, Conservation International.
Chalalan operated as a project until December 1999,
when it became a joint stock company. Community
leaders and project technicians initiated a design for a
company model that incorporated the community’s organizational structures. This structure included the following elements: a member assembly, a board of directors composed of local institutions, a person in charge, and an operations
team. A lawyer was consulted to identify the Bolivian legal framework of incorporation that most closely matched this
organizational structure. Unfortunately, the legal framework in Bolivia fails to provide for the characteristics of indigenous communities in general, and San Jose de Uchupiamonas in particular.
Given this situation, the community was registered as a corporation, given that this business model involves a partners’ assembly for decision-making and a directory of representatives for strategic monitoring, in this case the community assembly and group leaders of the community. So far, however, this corporation business-model has proved to be
not wholly satisfactory in meeting with the organizational characteristics of the community.
Restructuring the Ecotourism Project into an Independent Company
After the company was formed, Chalalan took complete charge of its direction and management, which included measures to ensure that Chalalan would become self-financing, and autonomous in, such as, a) price increases, b) improvements in the operative infrastructure, c) marketing, d) the transfer of assets and responsibility, e) full internal control, and
f) the development of a business plan.
Increase in prices
During the pilot phase (1997–1999), the price of lodging in Chalalan averaged US$38 per night. The community
managers realized that this amount did not cover operation costs. During this stage, with project support, it was
believed that Chalalan was a healthy company, but it was in fact in trouble. After evaluating costs, community leaders and CI’s technical team decided to raise the price to an average of US$90 per night. This adjustment was not
welcomed by the tourism agencies, which had to lower their profit margin and transfer a part of it to the Chalalan
Chalalan — The Process and Impacts of an Indigenous Ecotourism Enterprise
Innovative Approaches
company. However, even though this measure was taken in the high season of 2000, the travel agents have maintained
their commercial relations with Chalalan, even to the present. Without this price increase the Chalalan management
would have failed.
Improvement of the Ecolodge
By the end of 1999, the Ecolodge offered 14 beds, no private toilets, a wastewater disposal system in collapse, very
poor lodging conditions for employees, and a small dining room with a leaky roof. By the end of 2000, the company
had built huts for 10 additional beds and a comfortable lodge for employees with the same quality as those for tourists. Currently, the employee facilities are used when the
number of tourists exceeds the lodge’s capacity. The dining room and bar were also built. Today this is the enter- The company invests its profits in San Jose, and
tainment center for the tourists.
has brought other benefits to the communities.
Community members also installed a new wastewaSan Jose now has a regular water supply thanks
ter sanitation system for both solid and liquid waste. The
to Chalalan which has also contributed to a health
old system had collapsed because the technology used
was not appropriate for tropical regions and it was too
clinic, provided health loans, and facilitated the
small for the growing company. The project also invested
construction of a school.
in improving transportation services with the purchase
of three canoes with outboard motors to transport tourists. These investments for an improved infrastructure
added financial resources to the community and also generated a feeling of ownership to the company, and compensated
for the community’s contribution. During this time, the community created the motto “Everything with sweat, nothing
with money,” which reflected their contribution to the company.
The company defined the tourism agencies as their main clients; the tourism operators who attract foreign visitors or
tourists from the city of La Paz. Chalalan began with two principal agencies: America Tours and GAP Adventures. The
first worked as a representative in the city of La Paz, and the second organized pre-established annual groups. Early on,
the Chalalan Company decided to extend the market to other intermediaries in the city of La Paz, but America Tours
continues as the main vendor.
The project and the company made great efforts to promote their tourist services internationally. They received a
special boost from the 2000 March edition of the National Geographic magazine, which showed the Madidi Park on the
cover; giving it a worldwide exposure that exceeded the sum of all previous promotion activities. Also in 2002, National
Geographic Traveler placed Chalalan as one of the 20 most important tourist destinations in the world. The inclusion of
Chalalan in the travel book Lonely Planet also provided a strong boost in marketing Chalalan’s tourism services.
Responsibility and the transfer of the assets
Early in the project, consultants managed operations and decisions for Chalalan. The positive aspect of this was a wellestablished operational system, but it generated a dependency of the staff on the project consultants. This was overcome
by delegating decisions to a local General Manager, and by creating an administrative system to support the process,
including such as an operating manual, a flowchart, and a staff salary structure.
Indigenous Peoples and Conservation: From Rights to Resource Management
Innovative Approaches
When Chalalan became a company, the assets generated by project investments were transferred to the company to
become part of its capital. This generated real, fixed costs and reduced apparent earnings. Staff salaries originally paid
by the project were also transferred to the company costs, but based on a gradual arrangement that did not put it at risk.
The last position transferred was that of General Manager.
In September 1999, 64% of adult women and men in the community had still not visited Chalalan in person, this
was at least in part because San Jose de Uchupiamonas is three hours upstream by boat from Chalalan. Besides those
who were involved in the various construction projects, community members were encouraged to see Chalalan through
visits organized by the project.
Internal control
During the initial phase, the company worked with a manual accounting system that did not allow for sufficient monitoring and control of purchases, shipments, acquisitions and other minor operations; this resulted in unnecessary company expenses. To resolve this, the project hired an accountant who installed an internal control system and trained
community members in its use and in handling purchasing processes. It has been quite successful, and the company took
over the costs of the system when the project terminated. However, although it was able to identify areas of weakness in
the company’s administration, it was not enough to overcome issues such as debts from brokers.
Business plan development
The Chalalan company worked without a busi- …the Chalalan Company of the community of San
ness plan until January 2001. CI subsequently
Jose de Uchupiamonas was able to continue operating
provided a specialist technician, who worked
under self-management by members of the community,
with leaders and community members to create a business plan, resulting in a strategy docu- generating employment, promoting conservation of
ment that was understood and used by the San
the Madidi Protected Area, and strengthening the
Jose de Uchupiamonas people.
management capabilities of the community.
With these measures in place, the Chalalan
Company of the community of San Jose de
Uchupiamonas was able to continue operating under self-management by members of the community, generating
employment, promoting conservation of the Madidi Protected Area, and strengthening the management capabilities of
the community.
A study (“El efecto Chalalán: Un ejercicio de valoración económica para una empresa comunitaria”) was conducted that
demonstrated the impacts of the company as follows (Harb Mallky et al. 2007).
• The Chalalan Company passed a cost-benefit test and stimulates other economic activities in San Jose
and Rurrenabaque. Company dividends, employee salaries and the local purchase of supplies and services all have a positive effect on the economy of the region. The company pays taxes to the Bolivian
Treasury and brings business to travel agencies and airlines.
• The company invests its profits in San Jose, and has brought other benefits to the communities. San
Jose now has a regular water supply thanks to Chalalan, which has also contributed to a health clinic,
provided health loans, facilitated the construction of the school, encouraged training in English, and
catalyzed partnerships with a number of outside organizations. Chalalan’s social orientation has engendered a perception among the local population that the business has improved their living conditions.
Chalalan — The Process and Impacts of an Indigenous Ecotourism Enterprise
Innovative Approaches
As a result, many families that had migrated to other towns in the 1980s have returned to San Jose in
recent years.
Chalalan plays an important role in the conservation of natural resources and the environment. Right
at the beginning, the company took into account a comprehensive range of measures that would minimize the effect on the landscape and natural features of the lodge site; they included environmentally
sound systems for water and solid waste management and energy supply.
The analysis conducted suggests that the economic success of Chalalan is due to three key factors. The
first was the availability of capital, which enabled the company to survive the project development
period, to build local management capacity, and to establish itself in the tourism market. The second is
the social integrity of San Jose, which allowed the community to create a shared a vision of a business
without losing its local identity. The third is the extraordinary natural setting of Madidi National Park,
upon which the entire business depends.
Threats and Challenges
The challenges currently faced by the Uchupiamonas TCO include the consolidation and natural resource management
of the TCO and the maintenance of their traditions, culture and beliefs. One important issue that the San Jose communities in particular will eventually have to deal with is the fact that petroleum exploration concessions have been
granted in the TCO Uchupiamonas.
This will require an understanding of
The dangers of being too dependant on revenues from a single
their rights as well as strong negotiasource such as from ecotourism are evident … ecotourism alone
tion skills. The Chalalan initiative has
cannot be the solution for the livelihoods of all members of
developed solid management skills
in the community’s local leaders, but
the community. Even with supply and support enterprises, it
future generations have the challenge
can generate only limited numbers of jobs, and the allocation
of learning from the mistakes of their
predecessors, and continually mod- of revenues to community benefits such as schools and health
clinics does not solve all of the community’s needs. Diversified
ernizing and improving the operations
of the company, while not losing the
and complementary projects, such as farming (diversified and
culture and traditions. Biodiversity
sustainable crops and farming practices), and handicrafts should
conservation is and always will be an
important premise for the develop- also be given priority.
ment of the Uchupiamonas TCO, if
only because the livelihoods of the communities depend on the desire of tourists to see and experience the wildlife and
landscapes of the Madidi. Chalalan has shown that an indigenous community can efficiently manage a high-demand
business such as top of the market tourism, as long as there is a constant investment training and innovation to maintain high business standards.
A major challenge for Chalalan of course is that tourism is a competitive and volatile business. Market changes, competence, tourist opinions and trends, and other issues all can fluctuate so quickly that business and market management
require a specialized support that some communities have yet to reach. In addition, social and political instability in the
country can generate trip cancellations, which requires even more agility when generating products for local public and
other potential markets. The dangers of being too dependant on revenues from a single source such as from ecotourism
Indigenous Peoples and Conservation: From Rights to Resource Management
Innovative Approaches
are evident, and besides, ecotourism alone cannot be the solution for the livelihoods of all members of the community.
Even with supply and support enterprises, it can generate only limited numbers of jobs, and the allocation of revenues to
community benefits such as schools and health clinics does not solve all of the community’s needs. Diversified and complementary projects, such as farming (diversified and sustainable crops and farming practices), and handicrafts should
also be given priority.
Biodiversity conservation can be achieved with community participation if alternative mechanisms for generating revenues, such as tourism, meet the basic needs of the community. Tourism creates awareness within a community about the
importance of the conservation of the wildlife and natural landscapes of Madidi; a valorization that would go beyond
their immediate traditional use of the natural resources. The Chalalan community has set out a specific area for tourists
and tourism activities and is conscious of the need to maintain an abundance and visibility of the wildlife in the forest
and rivers to secure its reputation as a top tourism venue for an “Amazon experience.” Regular wildlife surveys and monitoring will be necessary.
The introduction of a tourism industry is an intervention that involves sociocultural changes towards modernity,
while at the same time allowing the people to maintain their rich cultures as a fundamental public asset. The changes
arising from the constant invasion and contact with other cultures needs to be assimilated gradually in a way which does
not damage their integrity and culture.
For ecotourism to flourish as an enterprise in these communities, the technical team must always know the reality of
the country, the regions and the communities. Business skills and criteria alone will not make for a successful company:
social and cultural criteria must also be considered; taking into account power relations within a community is vital to
prevent social conflicts. Just as in national or municipal governments, local communities also have economic and political interests. Power relations may create personal or group interests. Although obvious, these types of relationships must
be understood and well-managed to achieve development and conservation which of necessity creates change and modernizes, but results in benefits and maintains traditions and harmony rather than damage.
Literature Cited
Beck, S.G., García, E. and Zenteno, F. 2003. Plan de Manejo Parque Nacional y Área Natural de Manejo Integrado
Madidi: Documento Botánica. In: Madidi de Bolivia, Mágico, Único y Nuestro. CARE – Bolivia (ed.), 63pp. CD Rom.
CARE – Bolivia. La Paz.
Bolivia, SERNAP 2006. Parque Nacional y Área Natural de Manejo Integrado Madidi: Plan de Manejo. Servicio Nacional
de Areas Protegidas (SERNAP), Wildlife Conservation Society (WCS), La Paz, Bolivia.
Harb Mallky, A., Pastor, M., Saavedra, C.P., Navia, A.L., Capiona, G.M., Navia, Z.L. and Fleck, L.C. 2007. El Efecto
Chalalan: Un Ejercico de Valoración Economica para una Empresa Comunitaria. Conservation Strategy Fund (CSF),
Serie Técnica (13): 69pp. Website: <>. Accessed: 18 July 2009.
Killeen, T.J. 1997. (Tropical) Andes: CPD Site SA36: Madidi-Apolo Region Bolivia. In: Centres of Plant Diversity:
A Guide and Strategy for their Conservation. Volume 3. The Americas, S.D. Davis, V.H. Heywood, O. HerreraMacBryde, J. Villa-Lobos and A.C. Hamilton (eds.), pp.486–489. The World Wide Fund for Nature (WWF) and
IUCN – The World Conservation Union, Gland, Switzerland.
Chalalan — The Process and Impacts of an Indigenous Ecotourism Enterprise
Innovative Approaches
Mamani, G., Limaco, Z. and Limaco, A. 2006. Viaje al Centro de un Sueño: Una Experiencia Exitosa de Ecoturismo
Comunitario en la Amazonía Boliviana. Fundación Praia, Corporación Andina de Fomento, Fondo Internacional de
Desarrollo Agrícola, La Paz, Bolivia.
Stronza, A. 2006. Madidi a través de nuestros ojos: la historia del Ecoalbergue Chalalan de Bolivia. Unpublished, San
Jose de Uchupiamonas and Conservación Internacional – Bolivia, La Paz, Bolivia.
Indigenous Peoples and Conservation: From Rights to Resource Management
Innovative Approaches
The Forest Stewards:
Conserving Cultural and Biological
Conserving Cultural and
Diversity in the Heart of New Guinea
Biological Diversity in the
William Thomas
Quick Facts
Country: Papua New Guinea
Geographic Focus: New Guinea's Great Rivers Heartland
straddles the international boundary of Papua New Guinea
(PNG) and the Indonesian province of West Papua , cutting
through the heart of the island.
Indigenous Peoples: The Hewa people live in the Southern Highlands province of Papua New Guinea and number
fewer than 2,000. They speak Hewa and Neo-Melanesian
Pidgin. In all, 1,200 distinct languages are spoken on the
island of New Guinea.
Author Information
William (Bill) Thomas has worked with Hewa community in Papua
New Guinea since 1988. He earned his Ph.D. in Anthropology from
Arizona State University in 1999 and serves as the Director of the
New Jersey School of Conservation at Montclair State University. In
addition, Bill directs the Forest Stewards Program for the Indo-Pacific
Conservation Alliance.
E-mail: [email protected]
The challenges presented by globalization and the increasing demands
of a growing human population make it more important than ever
that we develop innovative programs to conserve large tracts of wilderness. I have spent the last twenty years exploring the largest and
most important wilderness in Melanesia — New Guinea’s Great
Rivers Heartland. My guides on this journey have been from one of
the cultures that have shaped this landscape, the Hewa people of the
headwaters of the Strickland River. The Hewa have helped me travel
here, explained how their actions shape this landscape and convinced
me that they should be partners in its conservation. Armed with this
knowledge, I approached my friend and colleague Bruce Beehler
with a plan to conserve the Hewa territory. With Bruce’s guidance,
my Hewa friends and I have developed a program called “The Forest
Stewards” that we believe will help to conserve both the biological and
cultural diversity of New Guinea’s wilderness core.
New Guinea is a land of superlatives. It is the world’s largest tropical island and is one of the world’s most significant centers of biodiversity (Myers et al. 2000). Of the three great tropical forest wildernesses
on earth — the Amazon, the Congo and New Guinea — New Guinea
is the least explored. The island of New Guinea is home to over 700 species of birds, the world’s largest and smallest parrots, the largest pigeons
and Queen Alexandra’s Birdwing butterfly, again the world’s largest.
Although logging has ravaged most tropical forests, New Guinea is
still covered with 75% of its original vegetation. These forests contain an estimated 9,000 species of plants, including 1,500 species of
trees and 2,700 species of orchids. More importantly, this incredible
biological diversity is matched by the island’s cultural diversity, with
1,200 distinct languages spoken on the island. In short, with both its
biological and cultural diversity intact, New Guinea remains a global
“Good News Area” (Myers et al. 2000).
Innovative Approaches
The Great Rivers Heartland straddles the international boundary of the independent nation of Papua
New Guinea (PNG) and the Indonesian province of
West Papua. Cutting through the heart of the island
(Fig. 1), this region encompasses the headwaters of New
Guinea’s four great rivers: the Digul, the Fly, the Sepik,
and the Idenburg. All originate in the central uplands
of this borderland. This vast natural area stretches for
nearly 300 km and is virtually unexplored. Recent analyses have identified this rainy upland zone as the richest
in biodiversity on the island, and it is home to some of
Guinea’s most remote societies (Beehler 1993). The
Figure 1. The Great Rivers Heartland (green hatching), which stretches
conservation of the Great Rivers Heartland is vital not
for about 300 km, contains some of the richest biodiversity in Papua New
Guinea. Its biological impact is felt all the way to the coasts and reefs of
only to these societies but also to the continued viability
the island, making its conservation a vital priority. It is also home to great
cultural diversity and communities who have rich heritages and intimate
of New Guinea’s coastal ecosystems and reefs — unique
knowledge about the land and its species.
marine ecosystems that rely on the pristine waters the
Heartland delivers.
In 1993, a team of scientists conducted a national “Conservation Needs Assessment” for Papua New Guinea. They
declared this region a “major terrestrial unknown” and a national conservation priority (Swartzendruber 1993). The cultures there represent a treasure house of knowledge, and are potential partners in the conservation of a globally significant wilderness. We know that a conservation project of this magnitude can only succeed with the cooperation of the
local people. Rather than squander this opportunity by creating a “paper park” (i.e., a park that exists on national maps
but has no local support), we have chosen to pursue a more dynamic strategy by creating partnerships with the local
people to conserve both the biological diversity of this region and the cultural diversity that has shaped it. In the case of
the Great Rivers Heartland, we are implementing an innovative approach to conservation known as the Forest Stewards.
The most valuable assets of any traditional community are its lands and its culture. The aim of the Forest Stewards initiative is to build environmental and cultural stewardship in traditional forest societies by marketing these assets. To this
end, we are assisting interested communities in conserving their traditional culture, language, and rainforest environment in the heartland of New Guinea. The Forest Stewards model envisions a strong, focused, customary rural society
that builds its future on the knowledge of its traditional past — its language, customs, and its relationship with the natural environment. Rather than chasing the western dream of extractive and import-driven materialism, participants in
the Forest Stewards program are being helped to “market” their traditional assets and knowledge through special relationships with nonprofit research institutions. These “buyers” of indigenous knowledge would be natural history museums, universities and conservation organizations. Communities who participate in the Forest Stewards program agree
to become partners with these institutions, who will then assist them in managing their traditional knowledge by making the community’s shared collections available to “buyers.” Ranging from the general public to researchers, these buyers will, in turn, pay for the opportunity to study the collections that the Forest Stewards communities are willing to
make available. The buyers will not actually “own” anything; instead they will market and manage their collection for
Indigenous Peoples and Conservation: From Rights to Resource Management
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the benefit of the partnership — the institution and the local community. The intellectual property will belong to the
community in perpetuity and, with the Forest Stewards approval, will be available for study by bona fide researchers.
The Forest Stewards program will employ knowledge teams — local experts on traditional environmental knowledge,
language, local history, traditional medicine, and arts — as liaisons and co-workers with partner museums and universities. This exchange will provide for a financial basis for development in the community that is culturally appropriate, sustainable, and conservation-oriented. NGOs developing community-based conservation programs in New Guinea have
been most successful when their programs are built by committed individuals within the community. It is for this reason
that we have launched the Forest Stewards program with the Hewa people living at the headwaters of the Strickland River.
In 2005, the first stage of the Forest Stewards initiative began with the Hewa people in the Southern Highlands province
of Papua New Guinea. The Hewa number fewer than 2,000, yet they are the only inhabitants of about 65,000 ha of hilly
and submontane forest in the uppermost Strickland River, a region on the eastern verges of the Great Rivers Heartland.
This area is extremely rugged. There are no roads, few airstrips, and none of the fertile valleys that are found in New
Guinea’s highlands. Although the Hewa come into contact with their more affluent highland neighbors, they have no
Figure 2. The Forest Stewards Program is based on partnerships between locals who share their expert knowledge in language, culture, and biodiversity
with research institutions.
The Forest Stewards: An Innovative Approach to Conserving Cultural and Biological Diversity in the Heart of New Guinea
Innovative Approaches
economic opportunities in their homeland, and remain semi-nomadic subsistence farmers. They see the Forest Stewards
program as an opportunity to develop a school, an aid post and some small businesses that will make life better for all
without sacrificing their land to logging or mining interests.
As the sole speakers of their language, the Hewa are the gatekeepers to millennia of observations about the natural
world embedded in their language and culture. The biggest difficulty in working with a population that speaks a unique
language is obviously communication. In this case, the problem of cross-cultural communication was complicated by our
desire to establish a common understanding between Hewa and western naturalists concerning the relationship between
tradition and biodiversity that would become the basis for a local conservation plan. Ultimately, the Hewa understanding of birds has provided us with a way to use traditional knowledge to facilitate cross-cultural communication. Birds
are an established indicator of biological diversity (Schodde 1973; Coates 1985; Beehler et al. 1986). By recording traditional knowledge of birds and the impact of human activity on them, we have established a common ground on which
to build a conservation program for these forests. Since these techniques have been recognized by UNESCO as a “Best
Practice” (, they have given both the Hewa and the program more credibility with
funding agencies (Thomas 2002). The Hewa Forest Stewards project was launched in the following sequence.
1. Develop a team of mentors
Before we could market the traditional knowledge of the Hewa, it was necessary to assemble a team
of local experts. These would be the first Hewa to work with our partner institutions. Over the years
of working with the Hewa, I have developed a reputation as a willing student who paid for the most
knowledgeable mentors. This reputation made it easy to attract the finest Hewa teachers once we were
ready to launch the Forest Stewards project.
In this initial stage of the project, there were many more applicants for the Forest Stewards positions
than we could accommodate. For the current Hewa project at Wanakipa station, I interviewed over
40 potential applicants for mentor positions with the Forest Stewards project. Fifteen — one from each
of the clans that occupy the mountains around the confluence of the Strickland and the Laigaip — were
chosen to participate in the natural history portion of the Forest Stewards. Positions are filled through
competitive examinations. Although we are currently concentrating on the traditional ecological
knowledge, we are committed to conserving all aspects of this culture, and I have already identified
Knowledge Conservators for traditional songs and myths who are anxious to participate in the project.
2. Create “Living Classrooms”
The most interesting outcome of this program to date has been the decision by the participants to create “Living Classrooms” along the streams and valleys that are the forest drainages and the local clan
territorial boundaries. These natural boundaries act as wildlife corridors and have been dubbed “Roads
of the Cassowary.” Each will be allowed to return to primary forest and used by the Forest Stewards
as classrooms to instruct the next generation. No gardens will be cut there. They will in effect become
game corridors that will extend from the river’s edge to the mountaintop (500–1500 m). These corridors will thread between the scattered gardens and stages of successional forest to link cassowary habitat across the valleys. Southern Cassowaries (Casuarius casuarius), the largest birds in New Guinea, will
be protected in these areas. The cassowary is the most charismatic species of the local fauna and an
excellent indicator of ecosystem diversity. Although they are plentiful above 800 m, my Hewa mentors
understand that the habitat simplification that comes with gardening and the establishment of a station
Indigenous Peoples and Conservation: From Rights to Resource Management
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at Wanakipa have created habitat that cassowaries avoid. By allowing the drainages to return to climax
forest, future Hewa generations should experience cassowaries at all elevations.
For other game hunting, only traditional hunting with bows will be allowed along these boundaries.
The Forest Stewards will monitor these areas using digital cameras, making monthly patrols for which
they will receive a monthly compensation of US$30. Each patrol should take approximately four days
per month or 48 days per year per mentor.
3. Choose the apprentice Forest Stewards
Along with their role as guardians of these “Living Classrooms,” Forest Steward mentors will each be
assigned an apprentice who will accompany them in their work on the monthly surveys of the corridors.
Each apprentice will be tested on a yearly basis by the Advisory Committee to ascertain their progress as
a student of traditional environmental knowledge. After successfully completing each of the five stages
of the examination process, I anticipate that each apprentice will eventually inherit their mentor’s work.
Current Status and Next Steps
We estimate that it will take 10 years for each Forest Stewards project to
become self-sustaining. Our initial Forest Stewards project with the Hewa
is off to a good start. We are helping the Hewa to capture their traditions
and have created a “business” based upon their environment, culture and
knowledge that is unique to that site. To date, the project has attracted
researchers from the Smithsonian Institution, Washington, DC, Harvard
Museum, Massachusetts, and Montclair State University, New Jersey,
Figure 3. Aislan, a young Hewa boy, imitates his
as well as creating partnerships with the Bishop Museum in Honolulu,
father and practices his hunting skills by stalking
Hawai‘i, and the Indo-Pacific Conservation Alliance (IPCA) based there.
butterflies. With the Forest Stewards program now
in place in the Hewa community, traditional knowlWe have begun working with scientists from these institutions to build
edge about the environment and Hewa language
the collections of plants and creatures (the “product”), that will become
and culture has become a valuable commodity that
can be marketed to researchers through partner inthe foundation of our income generating/business activities.
stitutions. Photograph ©William Thomas 1989.
Meanwhile, other interested communities in the Great Rivers Heartland
have expressed an interest in establishing a Forest Stewards program in their communities. During the next three years,
I anticipate continuing the program with the Hewa, and beginning another Forest Stewards program with other societies in the Strickland drainage — the Sisimen on the north side of the Om River and the Ipili, Paiella and Kandep people at
Mt. Kajende, the headwaters of the Laigaip River. If funding allows, the same process of conserving biodiversity and tradition will begin in the Asmat basin and the Star Mountains on the Indonesian side of New Guinea.
While the Forest Stewards project is gaining momentum, there is much to do. We will need to spend much of the
next decade creating the infrastructure that will allow the Forest Stewards project to be self-sustaining. Specifically, we
will need to develop the knowledge collection and the knowledge-based enterprise projects and, with this, create a community endowment.
1. Develop the knowledge collection
A more comprehensive biodiversity survey will need to be developed in order to document the local
names of all the biota and to record the traditional uses of all local wildlife, plants, and the like. This
The Forest Stewards: An Innovative Approach to Conserving Cultural and Biological Diversity in the Heart of New Guinea
Innovative Approaches
will comprise the core of the local knowledge library. Local collectors will be trained to digitally photograph and preserve voucher specimens of all flora and fauna. These will be linked to information on
local name, local use, and local lore. The community naturalists will contribute their knowledge of local
species (behavior, ecology, etc.), all of which will go into a locally held library of knowledge managed
by local experts and organized by key subjects. This will be, in essence, an ethnological/environmental/
linguistic field study center, where the information given by the elders will also be housed.
So that the Hewa will have a copy of everything, we plan to create books of the myths, lore, language, etc. that will be housed at Wanakipa station. These books will be written in both English
and the local language, and will also serve the pre-literate community through the use of pictures
and symbols. I am in the process of developing a local language guide on birds based on traditional
Hewan knowledge to be housed in our local library of knowledge. At the same time, partner institutions will serve as a permanent repository for all voucher material, and, in return, will cover the cost
of the salaries for the local stewards to make and document these collections. For their efforts, the
partner institution will receive a priceless and comprehensive collection of the flora/fauna/material
culture of a unique New Guinea society, and the community will begin to see the value of its cultural
and biological inheritance.
2. Develop knowledge-based enterprise projects
It is our intent that self-sustaining activities will be established with funding support from the partner institutions. Therefore, the aforementioned knowledge library will also double as a field station for
research. As the community completes its knowledge library, and as residents become more steeped in
this knowledge, the library will attract more researchers and students, much the same way scientists
are attracted to long-standing field stations. There, powerful and cutting-edge research can be conducted in partnership with a savvy, well-trained, and very knowledgeable local community. It is this that
will bring economic opportunity. For example, an ornithologist going to this community to conduct
bird surveys will find young field assistants who know the names, habits, and vocalizations of all the
birds — a boon to the research. Visiting linguists can expect a welcome reception from the array of local
language historians who have worked together to document the richness of the customary language. An
ethnologist who works there will benefit from a widespread interest in all aspects of the society’s customs and traditional lifestyle. It is likely that partner institutions may want to establish their own field
stations on the site and arrange for annual field scientist visits. This will provide employment opportunities for members of the Hewa community.
Although the Hewa speak a smattering of Pidgin, the aim of the Forest Stewards is to conserve as
much as possible of this unique culture in their own language, so that less will be lost in translation.
So that knowledge team members can communicate with their research partners, an adult literacy program will be introduced in the participating community. The Hewa Forest Stewards program received
commitments from partners to begin an adult literacy program in 2009. Some community participants must also learn English to make their knowledge more accessible to researchers and to ensure
long-term employment opportunities for the community. At the same time, local knowledge schools
will be created wherein the elders will convey their knowledge of language, nature, community history,
stories/myths, skills, products/crafts, etc. to the next generation of knowledge stewards and researchers.
This will establish the first steps toward capturing and conserving local knowledge.
Indigenous Peoples and Conservation: From Rights to Resource Management
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These knowledge-based enterprise projects will provide the community with an income stream and reduce the chances that someone will be granted extractive rights to the community’s lands.
Currently, there are no women engaged in the program. However
as the program evolves, I anticipate that our partner institutions
will see the untapped potential of women’s knowledge and we will
add female stewards to our program.
3. Create a community endowment
It is my hope that this project will attract enough partners
and funding to set up an endowment. This endowment would
Figure 4. The Southern Cassowary (Casuarius casuhave two objectives. First, it should enable the community to
arius) is one of the most charismatic species of the
local fauna and an excellent indicator of ecosystem
meet the yearly expenses of the mentors (ensuring, for example,
diversity in New Guinea’s Great Rivers Heartland. The
island of New Guinea is home to over 700 species of
that Hewa get paid throughout the year to look after the corbirds. The Forest Stewards Program hopes to conridor areas) without touching the fund’s principle. Second, the
serve New Guinea’s wilderness core and the cultures
that have shaped it. Photo © Bruce Beehler.
endowment should fund non-profit activities like community
health care and literacy. At present, the community seems to be
focused on enhancing the educational materials available at the
school and supplying the aid post. We have six trained Hewan health workers (courtesy of the Lutheran
hospital in Enga) currently living at Wanakipa station. Eventually, as the endowment grows and access
fees replenish the principal, the Forest Stewards will be assured of long-term sustainability.
This is why partners with a long-term stake in New Guinea, such as the Bishop Museum, are so important. Both the institution and the scientists that it links with the Forest Stewards can profit professionally from working with the knowledge library as well as working in person with the Forest Stewards.
These scientists are accustomed to paying for the privilege, and the partner institution is willing to provide a conduit for the Hewa and other groups to receive these funds. By establishing an endowment and
affordable pay rates for the participants in New Guinea, this project aims to provide a predictable level
of income for the participants and avoid the pitfalls associated with inconsistent funding.
In the long-term, the Forest Stewards model envisions:
• developing traditional rural societies throughout the Great Rivers Heartland of the island
of New Guinea that will build their future upon the conservation of their cultural and
ecological resources;
• creating a local sustainable knowledge-based economy through a conservation program
that is supported by working partnerships with international, cultural and natural history institutions; and
• expanding the current model based on traditional environmental knowledge to include
the conservation and transmission of elements of local culture such as myths, language
and traditional medicine.
The Forest Stewards: An Innovative Approach to Conserving Cultural and Biological Diversity in the Heart of New Guinea
Innovative Approaches
The Forest Stewards project represents a paradigm shift for conservation in the 21st century. Through local empowerment
and capacity building, this approach offers an isolated forest society a pathway toward economic development that also fosters nature conservation. We believe the most valuable resources to be found in the Great Rivers Heartland are its people
and remarkable biodiversity. This project turns culture, language and land rights — normally seen as barriers to development and conservation — into assets by placing a monetary value on them. Typically, traditional languages are jettisoned
by smaller societies, because they pose a barrier to assimilation and the creation of wealth in the modern world. For the
Forest Stewards partners, language will be an asset — the key to empowerment and income. These native languages hold
the key to unlocking the natural world that Forest Stewards communities have managed for centuries. By fostering intergenerational and cross-cultural communication, the Forest Stewards program allows communities to use their traditions to
participate more fully in decisions about resource conservation. In remote areas with no other source of income, I believe
that this will be sufficient incentive for people who are already proud of their heritage to steward their language, tradition
and forests into the next generation.
The Forest Stewards concept offers the possibility to meet the aspirations of developing societies while conserving globally significant forests. We understand that the Forest Stewards program will influence the development trajectory of the
Hewa community. However, because we have established a link between the biodiversity found in these forests and traditions as well as between the product and payment, we believe that we can avoid the development of a “cargo cult” mentality,
wherein communities expect that foreigners will give the community goods and services unconditionally. We also understand that the Hewa will develop regardless of the program’s efforts, and that, given the PNG context of resource exploitation, the options bestowed by the program provide irrefutably more benefit than detriment. All involved understand that
without the forests to keep their traditional environmental knowledge alive, there can be no Forest Stewards program. In
the long run, the Forest Stewards concept presents the possibility of conserving cultural and ecological resources for future
generations who, given the opportunity to understand the value of these resources, will take measures to protect them. By
working with organizations such as Conservation International that have invested in some of the largest conservation programs in New Guinea and mobilized individuals who are dedicated to empowering other members of their community, we
are confident that we will conserve Melanesia’s most important wilderness and the cultures that have shaped it.
Literature Cited
Beehler, B. (ed.). 1993. A Biodiversity Analysis for Papua New Guinea — With an Assessment for Conservation Needs. Vol. 2,
Papua New Guinea Conservation Needs Assessment. Biodiversity Support Program, Washington, DC. 434pp.
Beehler, B., Pratt, T. and Zimmerman, D. 1986. Birds of New Guinea. Princeton University Press, Princeton, NJ.
Coates, B. 1985. The Birds of Papua New Guinea. Vol. 1. Dove Publications, Alderley, Queensland, Australia.
Myers, N., Mittermeier, R. A., Mittermeier, C. G., Fonseca, G. A. B. da and Kent, J. 2000. Biodiversity hotspots for
conservation priorities. Nature, London 403: 853–858.
Schodde, R. 1973. General problems of faunal conservation in relation to the conservation of vegetation in New Guinea.
In: Nature Conservation in the Pacific, A. B. Costin and R. Groves (eds.), pp.123–144. Australia National University
Press, Canberra.
Swartzendruber, J. F. 1993. Conservation Needs Assessment. United States Agency for International Development (USAID),
Biodiversity Support Program, Washington, DC.
Thomas, W. H. 2002. Best Practices in the Use of Indigenous Knowledge. UNESCO, Management of Social Transformations
(MOST) Programme, Paris.
Indigenous Peoples and Conservation: From Rights to Resource Management
Innovative Approaches
The Amani Butterfly Project:
Butterfly Farming and Forest
Conservation in the East
Usambara Mountains, Tanzania
Theron Morgan-Brown
Quick Facts
Country: Tanzania
Geographic Focus: East Usambara Mountains
Indigenous Peoples: Six local communities with a population of 2,500 comprising a mixture of different ethnic
groups. The Sambaa ethnic group has been predominant
among them since the 18th century.
Author Information
Theron Morgan-Brown is the founder and technical advisor of the
Amani Butterfly Project. He first started researching the idea of butterfly farming in Tanzania as a Fulbright Fellow in 2001. He is currently completing his PhD in Interdisciplinary Ecology at the University
of Florida and helping the project to expand by developing new products and markets.
E-mail: [email protected]
Reconciling rural economic development and conservation is one of
the key challenges in conservation science. Some scientists believe this
is a fool’s errand, and that conservation and development are fundamentally incompatible. The lack of success among many early integrated conservation and development projects would seem to support
this conclusion. However, there is also a small but growing number
of success stories that counter this narrative. The Amani Butterfly
Project in Tanzania is one of them, and illustrates that, when properly
organized, economic incentives can be strong drivers for conservation.
Begun in 2002 by the Tanzania Forest Conservation Group
(TFCG), the Amani Butterfly Project is the first butterfly farming initiative in Tanzania. The project helps communities adjacent to forests farm native butterflies and market butterfly pupae for butterfly
exhibits in the US and Europe. The project’s goals are to reduce poverty in the East Usambara Mountains and create economic incentives
for forest conservation. Butterfly farmers in the project depend on
local forests to provide host plants for the butterflies and genetic diversity for their butterfly farms. While similar to the Kipepeo Butterfly
Project in Kenya, the Amani Butterfly Project has some key differences. Most importantly, the project has trained the local community
not only how to produce butterfly pupae, but also how to play a significant role in managing the project.
The East Usambara Mountains
The Amani Butterfly Project is based in the East Usambara Mountains
of Tanzania, which are part of the world-recognized Eastern Arc
Mountains Biodiversity Hotspot (Myers et al. 2000). The Eastern
Arc Mountains are known as the Galapagos of Africa because each
mountain is an island of forest isolated from other wet forests in the
Innovative Approaches
region. The Eastern Arc Mountains are the sole home for 96 vertebrate species, 68 trees, and at least 43 butterflies, and
a large number of other invertebrates (Burgess et al. 2007). In the past century, clearing for small-scale agriculture, tea
estates, and logging has taken its toll on these forests: today more than 76% of the Eastern Arc Mountain forests have
been lost (Newmark 2002).
Within the Eastern Arc Mountains, scientists consider the East Usambara Mountains home to 35 endemic vertebrates and 40 endemic trees, a priority area for conservation (Burgess et al. 2007). The East Usambara Mountains have
about 263 km² of closed canopy forest, ranging in elevation from 300 to 1,500 m (Mbilinyi and Kashaigili 2005). The
forests are broken into many fragments, the largest of which are in national forest reserves. In recognition of the forest’s fragile nature and importance for biodiversity protection, the Tanzania government banned logging in the East
Usambara Mountains in 1989 and created the 8,000 ha Amani Nature Reserve, the countries first, in 1998 (Newmark
2002). More recently, international donors have helped the government purchase another 1,000 ha from local communities to create the Derema Forest Reserve, which will serve as a biological corridor linking the Amani Nature Reserve
to other forest reserves.
The Sambaa have been the predominant ethnic group in the area since the 18th century (Hamilton and BenstedSmith 1989), but many other groups moved into the mountains in the 20th century to take advantage of the high rainfall or to work in tea estates. Most people living in the East Usambara Mountains are farmers; growing corn, cassava,
banana, beans, sugar cane, cardamom, cloves, cinnamon, black pepper, and small-holder tea (Reyes et al. 2005). Some
households keep chickens, cows, and goats. About 20% of the households from six communities with a total population
of 10,000 people also earn income from farming butterflies.
According to income data collected by the Amani Butterfly Project in 2004, the average household of five in the project area makes about US$340 a year in cash income, mostly from the sale of cash crops or tea estate labor. Future agriculture earnings will likely be limited; the fertility of cultivated soils in the area is declining and there is little forest left outside of reserves to clear for new land (Reyes et al. 2005).
The government’s efforts to protect forests in the
East Usambara Mountains have had both negative and
positive effects for local communities. The logging ban
in particular caused a substantial loss of income for a
few communities. Also, some communities feel that they
were not properly compensated for land that was incorporated into forest reserves (Jambiya and Sosovele 2002).
On the other hand, conservation actions have protected
valuable resources for the communities, including drinking water, and firewood and medicinal plants, which villagers are still allowed to collect.
Although any other uses of forest reserves are illegal, the forest is threatened by agricultural encroachment,
illegal cutting, fire, and charcoal production (Newmark
2002). The Division of Forestry and Beekeeping,
responsible for enforcing forest regulations, has limited resources. So the government has made an effort
to ask village environmental committees for their help
Figure 1. Tanzania, showing the East Usambara Mountains, Amani Nain enforcing forest regulations and maintaining forest
ture Reserve and the six villages with butterfly projects.
Indigenous Peoples and Conservation: From Rights to Resource Management
Innovative Approaches
boundaries (Vihemäki 2005). Still, some observers say that the overall incentive for villages to participate in these programs is low since they are generally treated as “beneficiaries” rather than as full partners (Woodcock 2002).
The Beginning
The Amani Butterfly Project grew out of a 2002 feasibility study of butterfly farming in the Usambara Mountains
funded by the US Fulbright Fellowship program. Based on the report, local district and forest officers agreed to allow
the Tanzania Forest Conservation Group (TFCG) to pilot the project in four villages. However, forest officials, concerned about possible negative environmental impacts, directed the project away from the Amani Nature Reserve, which
they had declared a “non-extractive” area. As a compromise, four villages around the proposed Derema Forest Reserve
were invited to participate. Conservation officials had mistakenly cut the crops marking the boundary of the new forest
reserve, only to realize that the government could not afford to compensate farmers for these crops due to a change in
compensation laws. The affected communities were understandably upset and were thus offered the opportunity to be
the first participants in the Amani Butterfly Project.1
The Tanzania Forest Conservation Group then presented the idea to the governments of the four pilot villages. After
the villages agreed to participate, the TFCG asked each village to elect three representatives to serve as the initial executive committee for the project. These members were then asked to recruit participants and help form groups of 10 to
20 farmers. In total, the committee recruited about 270 farmers.
Butterfly farming training began immediately in the fall of 2002. However, recruits were initially skeptical, based
on their past experiences with development projects, and were reluctant to invest a lot of time. The project sought to
reassure farmers by providing some free equipment and equipment on loan that would only be paid back from the
sale of pupae. The TFCG also arranged for the 12 members of the executive committee to visit East Africa’s only other
butterfly farming initiative, the Kipepeo project, in Kenya, so that they could share their findings with other community members.
Pupae sales began in December of 2003 after the project received permission from the Division of Wildlife to export
them. Sales for the first year were limited by production: participants had been encouraged to farm in groups of 10 or
more people since there was a shortage of capital for equipment. This proved unrealistic, and lack of cooperation within
groups severely hindered production for the first part of 2004. However, as communities developed more faith in the
project, more farmers took equipment loans to farm as individuals, and production rapidly increased. Total sales for
2004 were just under US$20,000.
Butterfly Farming and the Forest Advantage
Butterfly farmers in the Amani Butterfly Project use a semi-domesticated approach to butterfly farming. Captive butterfly
populations are held in netted enclosures to protect their developing larvae from predators and reduce the risk of disease
and parasitism. Farmers save pupae from each generation to continue their captive populations without relying on wild
populations. This system allows them to produce large, predictable quantities of butterfly pupae of a known age, which
is essential for the live butterfly exhibit market.
1 The initial working capital for the project was provided by the Global Environment Facility’s Small Grants Program, which awarded the project US$28,000 in the fall of 2003.
The Amani Butterfly Project: Butterfly Farming and Forest Conservation in the East Usambara Mountains, Tanzania
Innovative Approaches
Natural forests also play an important role in the Amani
Butterfly Project, however, as farmers periodically capture wild male butterflies to provide genetic diversity, as
captive populations usually originate from only one or
two females. Farmers also grow host plants from seeds or
seedlings gathered on the forest edge to feed their larvae.
These can only be obtained from mature trees in the forest. Furthermore, each species of butterfly uses a different host plant. Members of the Amani Butterfly Project
farm more than 30 species of butterfly and consequently
use more than 30 native trees, shrubs, herbs, and liana
species in their operations. Some entrepreneurial community members have even started businesses germinating and potting host plants to sell to butterfly farmers.
In other countries, butterfly farmers are less reliant
on natural forests and farm in almost fully domesticated
conditions. However, this kind of farming requires a large
capital investment in netting, nursery supplies, seeds, and
watering equipment that members of the Amani Butterfly
Project could not afford. With the advantages of forest
access, the typical farmer in the Amani Butterfly Project
was able to start farming with about $10 in loan equipment, an amount that was easily repayable after just one
month of pupae sales. The importance of forests for butterfly farming in Amani was demonstrated in the 2006
survey of the project. Seventy-six percent of butterfly
farmers said that living near the forest made butterfly
farming easier, and 82% said that butterfly farming
would be impossible without access to forests.
Butterfly farming is ecologically sustainable. The
high reproductive rate of butterflies lowers the risk of
overharvesting from the wild and reduces the need for
wild harvesting, since a few butterflies can rapidly produce very large captive populations. One female butterfly can lay 200 to 500 eggs in captivity. Furthermore,
since butterfly pupae are widely dispersed and cryptic
in the wild, it is easier to farm pupae than harvest them.
A study of butterfly farming in Kenya found no negative effects on wild butterfly populations (Gordon and
Figure 2. A typical butterfly farming enclosure. Butterfly farmers in the
Amani Butterfly Project use a semi-domesticated approach to butterfly
farming. Captive butterfly populations are held in netted enclosures to
protect their developing larvae from predators and reduce the risk of
disease and parasitism. Farmers save pupae from each generation to continue their captive populations without relying on wild populations. This
system allows them to produce large, predictable quantities of butterfly
pupae of a known age, which is essential for the live butterfly exhibit
Figure 3. Local women with flowers they collected from the roadside
to feed butterflies. Butterfly farmers in the project depend on local
forests to provide host plants for the butterflies and genetic diversity
for their butterfly farms. However, natural forests also play an important role in the Amani Butterfly Project, as farmers periodically capture
wild male butterflies because captive populations usually originate
from only one or two females. Participating households have increased
their annual income by more than 25% according to an income survey
and sales data.
Indigenous Peoples and Conservation: From Rights to Resource Management
Innovative Approaches
Ayiemba 2003). The impact of harvesting host plants is also minimal, since they are primarily removed from the forest
boundaries, which are frequently cleared as fire breaks.
The Market
The Amani Butterfly Project’s primary market is live butterfly houses in the US and Europe. It supplies pupae directly
to these exhibits and also to pupae distributors. Given the climate, high labor costs, and lack of proper host plants in
Europe and the US, butterfly houses rarely farm butterflies themselves. Additionally, tropical butterflies typically only
live for a few weeks, so live butterfly exhibits require a constant supply of butterfly pupae. Most of the project’s customers order new pupae every 2 to 3 weeks.
A typical shipment consists of 200 to 300 pupae at
$1 to $2.50 each depending on the species. Typically,
larger, more colorful and more active species fetch
higher prices. Pupae are collected from the farmers the
day before shipping and packed into boxes between layers of cotton. The boxes are airtight and insulated, but
the pupae continue to develop into adult butterflies.
The next morning, the pupae travel to Dar es Salaam
and leave that night with a courier service. Within 3 to
5 days, the butterfly pupae arrive at a butterfly house
where they are hung for a brief time before they emerge
and are released as butterflies into flying enclosures.
The live butterfly-exhibit market is seasonal with
many butterfly exhibits closing down during the winter
in the northern hemisphere. Therefore, the bulk of sales
Figure 4. The Tanzanian Diadem, Hypolimnas antevorta, is endemic to
occur between February and September each year. The
the East Usambara Mountains, and is one of the 30 species farmed by
project also ships dried specimens to dealers and collecmembers of the Amani Butterfly Project. The Amani Butterfly Project’s
primary market is live butterfly houses in the U.S. and Europe. It supplies
though sales currently contribute less than 2% of
pupae directly to these exhibits and also to pupae distributors.
total project sales.
The worldwide butterfly trade was estimated to be
US$100 million in the early 1990s and is most likely
much more now (Slone et al. 1997). Although the
majority of the worldwide butterfly market is for dried specimens, there is a substantial and growing market for butterfly pupae. The Amani Butterfly Project’s database of live butterfly exhibits, which is incomplete, includes more
than 200 exhibits, many of which spend more than $100,000 a year on pupae (Black et al. 2001).
Project Organization
Since the beginning of the project, the TFCG has sought to train the project’s participants to help manage the project. The goal was to create an organization that could evolve into something similar to a cooperative. However, the
TFCG recognized that the participants would need considerable initial training and guidance to perform their duties.
As described earlier, the project’s first executive committee was selected in village meetings. Now, butterfly farmers hold
The Amani Butterfly Project: Butterfly Farming and Forest Conservation in the East Usambara Mountains, Tanzania
Innovative Approaches
Figure 5. A group of butterfly farmers survey the boundary of a forest
to research a proposal for a new community forest reserve. The project
has measurably improved conservation in the East Usambara Mountains.
A survey conducted in 2006 found that butterfly farmers were more
supportive of local conservation efforts than people who did not farm
butterflies. More importantly, the survey also revealed that butterfly farmers were nearly twice as likely to participate in activities that help forest
conservation, including village environmental committees, tree planting,
discouraging illegal cutting in forest reserves, and preserving forest on
household land. Butterfly farmers have been the leading advocates in
their communities for establishing or expanding village forest reserves,
and have drawn attention to and stopped illegal cutting.
yearly elections for these posts. Farmers from each village
select three of their fellow butterfly farmers to represent
them on the committee. The project’s constitution stipulates that at least one of the three representatives from
each village must be a woman. The executive committee is unpaid except for a small per diem for committee
The committee meets about six times per year to set
the project’s membership policies, resolve internal conflicts, review the project’s month-to-month cash flow
statements, and distribute the project’s village development funds, which consist of 10% of each village’s total
earnings from butterfly farming. To obtain access to the
funds, villages must hold general meetings and decide
how best to spend the money. They then present their
plan to the executive committee for approval. Since 2004,
the villages have spent most of their development funds
on materials, such as iron roofing for school buildings.
Project participants also control membership in the
project. New members are only allowed to join if there
is a need for more production. For example, the farmers recently agreed to add two villages and expand the
number of farmers by 100. However, new farmers were
instructed to only produce species that were not produced in sufficient supply prior to the expansion.
Working with the project’s manager, the executive
committee sets pupae prices that will guarantee that the
project has enough money to operate, but with little or
no profit. This ensures that the individual farmers receive
the highest possible price for the pupae they sell. In general, butterfly farmers receive about 70% (less 10% for
the village development fund) of the project’s sales revenue, while the other 30% covers the project’s staff salaries
and operating costs. Since most of the project’s operating
costs are fixed, future sales increases should increase the
percentage of sales revenue paid to farmers.
The Amani Butterfly Project operates on a skeleton staff. Only five people (all Tanzanian) are employed
fulltime for the project by the TFCG — the manager,
a research assistant, an office assistant, and two office
guards. With the exception of the manager, who is university trained, the project staff were recruited locally.
Indigenous Peoples and Conservation: From Rights to Resource Management
Innovative Approaches
They are responsible for technical assistance on butterfly farming, marketing, collecting pupae, arranging sales, exporting
pupae, collecting customer debts, paying farmers, and promoting conservation efforts. The TFCG staff members provide financial oversight.
Today, the project is financially self-sufficient and has around 350 member farmers (55% women) from six communities in the East Usambara Mountains. Annual sales from the project have increased each year from US$20,000 in 2004
to more than US$92,000 in 2008. Although butterfly farming is not the primary income source for most of the participating households, participating households have increased their annual income by more than 25% according to an
income survey and sales data.
The project has also measurably improved conservation in the East Usambara Mountains. A survey conducted in
2006 found that butterfly farmers were more supportive of local conservation efforts than people who did not farm
butterflies. More importantly, the survey also revealed that butterfly farmers were nearly twice as likely to participate in
activities that help forest conservation, including village environmental committees, tree planting, discouraging illegal
cutting in forest reserves, and preserving forest on household land. Butterfly farmers have been the leading advocates in
their communities for establishing or expanding village forest reserves, and have drawn attention to and stopped illegal
cutting. The results of the survey also suggested, however, that not every butterfly farmer was equally likely to participate in conservation activities. Only households that reported butterfly farming as their largest or second-largest source
of cash income were significantly more active in conservation activities than households that did not farm butterflies.
This finding strongly suggests that butterfly farming has created an economic incentive for participation in conservation activities.
Major Lessons
Although a number of factors have contributed to the success of the Amani Butterfly Project, perhaps most important is
that staff were constantly striving to improve the project and willing to learn from mistakes. Here are the major lessons:
• Improvements in conservation as a result of integrated conservation and development projects are more
likely if the link between conservation and development is direct, as it is with butterfly farming and forest conservation. The 2006 project survey demonstrated that butterfly farmers see a strong connection
between their ability to farm butterflies and the conservation of local forests, and that this connection
has translated into measurable changes in conservation behavior.
• Marketing research conducted during the US Fulbright-funded feasibility study laid a strong foundation for the project, identifying potential customers and interest in the market. Before butterfly
farmer training began, the project already had nine butterfly exhibits waiting to purchase pupae, and a
database with nearly 200 other potential buyers.
• The project’s organizational structure and use of technology keep the administrative costs to a minimum, promote transparency, and ensure that farmers can capture the maximum value for the pupae
they produce. Prior to the establishment of the project, a few community members captured butterflies
and occasionally sold them to collectors. However, without the marketing infrastructure, expertise and
organization provided by the project, the full value of the butterflies in the area would not have been
The Amani Butterfly Project: Butterfly Farming and Forest Conservation in the East Usambara Mountains, Tanzania
Innovative Approaches
recognized. The project’s website and satellite internet connection allow the project’s single manager to
market to customers in any part of the world for a minimal cost.
The project has always valued democracy, but also recognized from the beginning that new institutions do not work overnight. Yearly elections helped to ensure that only the best representatives were
reelected to the executive committee. Furthermore, the project staff members attended all of the executive committee’s meetings to ensure that the committee operated in a democratic fashion and followed
the project’s guidelines and constitution. Committee members were given increased responsibility as
they became more skilled and committed.
Individual farming works better than group farming. We saw this at the beginning of the project, when,
due to limited resources, we encouraged farmers to share equipment and farm in groups of 10 to 20.
This greatly inhibited production: fairness was so important to many farmers that they decided to forgo
making any money from butterfly farming rather than share their earnings with someone who did not
put in an equal amount of work.
The project’s organizational structure has created a sense of ownership among its participants. Farmers
control membership, prices, and distribution of development funds. Rather than being passive participants, farmers have taken the initiative to research new butterfly species on their own, start new captive
populations, and trade pupae amongst themselves. Butterfly farmers led successful campaigns to establish two new village forest reserves and a village tree planting effort, without prompting or assistance
from the project staff members. As evidence of their feeling of empowerment, in the 2006 survey, butterfly farmers were significantly more likely than other community members to believe that they personally had the ability to positively affect conservation.
Excessive taxes and fees can undercut conservation and development projects. Earnings from butterfly
farming are high in part because members of the Amani Butterfly Project only pay 10% of their earnings into the village development fund, a tax rate comparable to the village tax rate for cash crops. This
pays off in conservation, as the 2006 survey showed that households that earn more money from butterfly farming participate in more forest conservation activities. However, governments often place special fees on nature-based products, even when produced on private or communal land, because they are
misperceived as public goods. The Amani Butterfly Project may shortly be required to pay a $0.10 fee to
the Division of Wildlife for every pupa it exports, doubling the tax rate of its member farmers. These tax
revenues are not necessarily spent on conservation or protecting the resource, so in the Amani Butterfly
Project, higher taxes may result in less participation in forest conservation activities.
The project benefited from existing institutions even though it also created its own initiatives. The
Tanzania Forest Conservation Group (TFCG) and the government created institutions such as the village environmental committees, built local capacity for managing tree nurseries, and built local capacity for managing community forests long before the creation of the butterfly project. Butterfly farming
gave these communities increased economic incentive to use their existing capacity for forest conservation activities.
The project has benefited from the extra efforts it made to involve women. More than half of the original recruits for the project were women. Butterfly farming requires small, consistent daily labor inputs
and can be done near the home, making it an ideal income generating activity for women in the project
area. Providing equipment as loans made it easier for women, who often lack cash income, to participate.
Insisting on female leadership in the executive committee also facilitated the participation of women
Indigenous Peoples and Conservation: From Rights to Resource Management
Innovative Approaches
since women in the project area are less likely to communicate their problems to men. Project staff
members provided extra assistance to uneducated women to ensure that they were fairly compensated,
and some of these women have become top farmers in the project. Women famers have also had a positive effect on education. In the 2006 survey, 30% of female butterfly farmers used their butterfly income
to pay for secondary school fees, whereas only 15% of male butterfly farmers reported doing the same.
While the project has successfully involved women, it has had less success involving the poorest members of the communities. Though all of the project’s participants are poor by national standards, the
2006 survey showed that butterfly farmers owned a little more land than the average member of the
communities. Butterfly farming does not require land and can be done in a backyard. However, land
probably provided some people in the community with a little more security and free labor. It was easier
for land owning households to take a risk on butterfly farming, knowing that if it did not pay off, they
could still sell their crops for cash. Conversely, land-poor households were more likely to work in tea
estates or as casual labors on other people’s farms, and therefore had less free labor to risk on butterfly
farming and no other sources of income to fall back on.
The Future
The relatively small size of the live butterfly exhibit industry is the primary constraint on project expansion. The project has increased sales each year from US$20,000 to US$92,000 in 2008. However, based on the experience of similar
projects, yearly pupae sales will probably top out at US$100,000. The project is, therefore, exploring the possibility of
expanding into other markets in order to boost demand for farmed butterflies.
The project is currently developing a new cooperative of women that will make framed butterfly souvenirs, butterfly wing artwork, and butterfly wing jewelry for the tourist and domestic souvenir market in Tanzania. In the long run,
the cooperative will also market these items to gift shops and fair trade crafts retailers. The Amani Butterfly Project also
plans to organize a domestic market for butterfly releases at weddings and other events.
Once again, women will play a key role. The TFCG hopes to create a separate women’s cooperative that will create
these products using butterflies from the Amani Butterfly Project. Before starting, however, the TFCG plans to conduct
extensive market research to ensure that this next venture will be as successful as the Amani Butterfly Project.
Black, S.H., Shepard, M. and Allen, M.M. 2001. Endangered invertebrates: the case for greater attention to invertebrate
conservation. Endangered Species Update 18: 41.
Burgess, N.D., Butynski, T.M., Cordeiro, N.J., Doggart, N.H., Fjeldsa, J., Howell, K.M., Kilahama, F.B., Loader, S.P.,
Lovett, J.C., Mbilinyi, B., Menegon, M., Moyer, D.C., Nashanda, E., Perkin, A., Rovero, F., Stanley, W.T. and
Stuart, S.N. 2007. The biological importance of the Eastern Arc Mountains of Tanzania and Kenya. Biological
Conservation 134: 209–231.
Gordon, I. and Ayiemba, W. 2003. Harnessing butterfly biodiversity for improving livelihoods and forest conservation:
The Kipepeo Project. Journal of Environment Development 12: 82–98.
Hamilton, A.C. and Bensted-Smith., R. (eds.). 1989. Forest Conservation in the East Usambara Mountains, Tanzania.
IUCN – The World Conservation Union, Gland, Switzerland and Cambridge, UK.
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Jambiya, G. and Sosovele, H. 2002. Conservation and Poverty: The Case of Amani Nature Reserve. Mkuki na Nyota
Publishers on behalf of Research on Poverty Alleviation, Dar es Salaam.
Mbilinyi, B. and Kashaigili, J. 2005. A Forest Area Baseline for the Eastern Arc Mountains. Technical Report –
Conservation and Management of the Eastern Arc Mountain Forests. Forestry and Beekeeping Division, Ministry
of Natural Resources and Tourism. Available from: <>.
Myers, N., Mittermeier, R.A., Mittermeier, C.G., Fonseca, G.A.B. da and Kent, J. 2000. Biodiversity hotspots for conservation priorities. Nature, London 403: 853–858.
Newmark, W.D. 2002. Conserving Biodiversity in East African Forests: A Study of the Eastern Arc Mountains. Springer,
Reyes, T., Quiroz, R. and Msikula, S. 2005. Socio-economic comparison between traditional and improved cultivation
methods in agroforestry systems, East Usambara Mountains, Tanzania. Environmental Management 36: 682–690.
Slone, T.H., Orsak, L.J. and Malver, O. 1997. A comparison of price, rarity and cost of butterfly specimens: implications
for the insect trade and for habitat conservation. Ecological Economics 21: 77–85.
Vihemäki, H. 2005. Politics of participatory forest conservation: cases from the East Usambara Mountains, Tanzania.
Journal of Transdisciplinary Environmental Studies 4: 1–16.
Woodcock, K. 2002. Changing Roles in Natural Forest Management: Stakeholder’s Roles in the Eastern Arc Mountains,
Tanzania. Ashgate, Burlington, USA.
Indigenous Peoples and Conservation: From Rights to Resource Management
Innovative Approaches
Establishing an
Indigenous-Run Ecolodge
and Protected Area in
Southern Suriname
Annette Tjon Sie Fat, Stanley Power and Krisna Gajapersad
Quick Facts
Country: Suriname
Geographic Focus: The tropical rain forests of the Guiana
Shield in southern Suriname
Indigenous Peoples: The Tareno people, a number of formerly nomadic indigenous tribes and sub-tribes that now
live together in the village of Kwamalasamutu in the south
and southwest of central Suriname.
Author Information
Annette Tjon Sie Fat is Executive Director of Conservation
International’s regional program in Suriname (CI–Suriname).
E-mail: [email protected]
Stanley Power was CI–Suriname’s project coordinator in south
Suriname. He led the first ecotourism project in Kwamalasamutu,
which resulted in the construction of the Iwaana Saamu lodge. In
December 2008, he left CI–Suriname and is now a private consultant for organizations that undertake community work in the interior.
Krisna Gajapersad is Ecosystem Services Coordinator at CI–Suriname.
He was responsible for the project that resulted in the creation of the
indigenous protected area of Werehpai, and has helped the community to develop a management plan there.
E-mail: [email protected]
Suriname is a former Dutch colony, which became independent in
1975. It is just north of Brazil on the northeastern shoulder of South
America. With just over half a million inhabitants in an area of about
164,000 km², the country is thinly populated. The majority of the
people live in a narrow strip of land along the coast. Inland, the country is still forested, and is home to tribal Maroons (descendants of
black slaves who escaped from plantations in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries) and Amerindians.
The country has a long-standing conservation tradition; its nature
protection act dates from 1954. Almost 15% of the country is currently under some form of protection. The largest protected area was
created in 1998, the 1.6 million-ha Central Suriname Nature Reserve.
In the past decade, Conservation International’s work in Suriname has
focused on consolidating the protected areas system — creating new
areas and improving the management of those already existing — and
helping develop ecotourism as an important source of income and a
strategy to protect biodiversity.
Since the early 1990s, the Regional Office of Conservation
International in Suriname (CI–Suriname) has been working with the
Tareno people, a number of formerly nomadic indigenous tribes and
sub-tribes, who now live together in the village of Kwamalasamutu
in the south of the country. The focus was research on medicinal
plants, an ethnobotany project of the International Cooperative
Biodiversity Groups Program (ICBG) funded by the United States
National Institutes of Health (USNIH), the National Cancer Institute
and United States Agency for International Development (USAID)
to search for new medicines and compounds from plants and to promote the documentation and maintenance of traditional knowledge
of medicinal plants within the community. The project was completed in September 2002. In 2000, CI also became involved in the
Innovative Approaches
development of a management plan for the Sipaliwini Nature Reserve nearby. We had built a good relationship with the
Tareno community, and it was of course necessary to consult them concerning zoning and the appropriate procedures
and management structures that we were developing. Stanley Malone, former Technical Director of CI–Suriname, had
advocated that they should be co-managers, and was trying to convince government and donor organizations to invest
in building their capacity to take on this role. The Tareno Paramount Chief, Ashongo Alalaparu, knew of this and, in
January 2004, sent a letter to CI, asking for assistance in developing sustainable economic activities in the Tareno living
area in south Suriname. The Chief wrote, using a metaphor, “you can give me a guitar, but if you don’t teach me how to
play it, I will not be able use it because you did not teach me how.”
On receiving the letter from the Chief, CI–Suriname recruited an anthropologist to initiate discussions with the
Tareno about how CI could provide further support. After many, many hours of consultations between CI–Suriname
and the Tareno leadership, experts, and community members, we set up a program consisting of two functionally interdependent projects. The first was the development of an indigenous protected area around the archeological site of
Werehpai. This would protect the archeological site and function as a game sanctuary and, eventually, a tourist attraction. The second was the development of an eco-tourism enterprise at Iwaana Saamu near the village of Kwamalasamutu,
which would generate income for community members and provide resources to maintain the protected area.
Naturally, during these discussions the indigenous participants required little or no assistance to identify their own
cultural assets, i.e., the facilities and resources which have a rich cultural value in terms of nature, history, art and science.
In fact, without indigenous knowledge, the development of key program components such as site selection, architectural design, knowledge of building materials, identification of product development assets, and so on, would not have
Figure 1. The Tareno people, a number of formerly nomadic indigenous tribes and sub-tribes, live in the village of Kwamalasamutu on the upper Sipaliwini
River, some 430 km from the capital, Paramaribo. Shown also are locations of the Sipaliwini Nature reserve on the Brazilian border, and the Werephai Indigenous protected area created by the Village Council of Kwamalasamutu.
Indigenous Peoples and Conservation: From Rights to Resource Management
Innovative Approaches
been feasible. Lengthy dialogues were required in developing the more ‘western’-oriented components, such as enterprise
structure and financial management, to ensure that community leadership and community members fully understood
the issues. The management of a tourism enterprise was even more complicated, and required more guidance from outside the community for a longer period of time for the enterprise to be sustainable and profitable.
Here we describe the participatory process through which CI–Suriname and the people of Kwamalasamutu developed a small tourism business — an ecolodge — together with a protected area in southern Suriname from December
2004 to December 2007. We also summarize progress up to August 2009 and review the lessons learned by CI–Suriname’s
staff throughout this endeavor. Working with tribal peoples in remote areas of Suriname is a long and winding road,
which requires the building of trust between the communities and outsiders, flexibility and long-term commitment,
and not only a willingness to learn about the community but also a willingness to learn with it, and apply the lessons
learned as the process of participation and mutual learning unfolds. It was evident early on that CI and the donor agencies needed to be willing to invest a lot of time, energy and money in training, and that it was necessary to understand
and deal with issues of general development, poverty eradication, and western-style management before addressing issues
related directly to the conservation of the region’s wildlife.
Socio-cultural context
Tareno is the collective name for a number of indigenous tribes and sub-tribes, who lived in small, nomadic families in
southern Suriname, but who moved to live together in the late 1950s and early 1960s in what is now known as the village
of Kwamalasamutu. The largest of the tribes is the Trio
and the contact language is the Trio language — hence
the people of Kwamalasamutu are often also called Trio.
The Tareno live in the south and southwest of central
Suriname. The village of Kwamalasamutu is a conglomerate with about 1,000 inhabitants from eight indigenous groups and sub-groups. The Sipaliwini Nature
Reserve of 100,000 ha is 100 km upstream from the village, at the headwaters of the Sipaliwini River along the
border with Brazil. The reserve consists for the most part
of savanna and forest islands. It is rich in wildlife, and
is home to a number of species endemic to the region,
most notably the blue poison arrow frog (Dendrobates
Kwamalasamutu was founded in the 1960s by
missionaries who brought together members of semiFigure 2. Making a motete or backpack out of camina liana, Kwamala,
nomadic bands that roamed southern Suriname.1 The
Suriname, April 2009. Photo © Cristina Mittermeier.
1 The Indigenous people moved down the Sipaliwini River in the 1960s as the number of people being brought together grew, thus needing a larger permanent settlement area. The village of Kwamalasamutu was established in 1975. The community ecolodge was set up in the previous settlement area of Kwamalasamutu (Iwaana Saamu).
Establishing an Indigenous-Run Ecolodge and Protected Area in Southern Suriname
Innovative Approaches
sustainable semi-nomadic lifestyle was abandoned in favor of a permanent settlement. This radical transition had many
advantages, including better healthcare, a substantial increase in life expectancy, and literacy and a western education.
There have also been disadvantages, however. The sedentary communities overtax their traditional rainforest resources,
and over the past 45 years the people have had to learn to participate in a cash economy, with social changes inherent
in the concept of working to earn an income to purchase food and goods. Some villagers worked in government or government-subsidized jobs, mainly in the education and health sectors, while village leaders receive a government stipend.
Early on, the wildlife trade became the most significant source of cash income as the community turned to their natural resources to earn money. In 1992, non-governmental organizations such as CI and the Amazon Conservation Team
(ACT) developed projects that directly created jobs for people with these organizations. Today, the village economy continues to rely on income from government sources, donor-funded projects and unsustainable activities, such as the wildlife trade and gold mining.
Anthropological aspects
In 2003, CI–Suriname contracted anthropologist Christopher Healy 2 to initiate discussions and prepare a program of
collaboration with the Tareno. He analyzed the community’s strengths and weaknesses, and found significant differences in the ability of the different community members to cope with the mixture of traditional and introduced cultural
Although, customary sharing and exchange, and traditional forms of education are prominent among the Tareno,
individual ownership is also very strongly developed in the traditional subsistence economy. For example, somebody who
clears a plot of land retains rights to the land even if they leave the village for years on end — upon return, the plot of
land can still be claimed. Customary law is still in effect to manage resources and land, and to settle disputes and maintain harmony in the community. Customary governance works well even in the current acculturated political context.
Western-style administrative structures and procedures have been introduced throughout the years to manage public
goods, such as utilities, education and health care, and to manage local governance. The introduction of the cash economy has also had a significant effect: individual ownership of equipment (outboard engines, chainsaws, and other material resources) is now an important dimension of social and economic life and status.
Community members possess a vast store of indigenous knowledge they use to exploit the rain forest for survival but
have a limited understanding of the workings of the western money economy. There is little understanding of western
political, legal, economic, and social systems. Religious teaching in the Trio language has left most community members
literate in Trio, few people can speak or read in the official Dutch language due to the low-level of primary school education in Dutch.
Early Unsuccessful Efforts at Economic Development
In the 1990s, CI and a consortium of partners implemented an ethnobotanical project to seek cures for widespread diseases, such as malaria, cancer and HIV/AIDS. The project was designed to comply with the Convention on Biological
Diversity, and much time was spent on achieving informed consent and an equitable royalty agreement for all stakeholders. The project ended after 10 years without achieving its aims, and without any visible economic development in
2 The anthropological aspects come primarily from Christopher Healy’s field notes, trip reports and formal reports (Healy 2004a, 2004b, 2005) when he was working as consultant for CI–Suriname
and responsible for developing the project with the Tareno.
Indigenous Peoples and Conservation: From Rights to Resource Management
Innovative Approaches
Kwamalasamutu. The associated Forest People Fund, set
up at the request of community members as a trust fund,
is still available to the community, but it can only finance
small initiatives, such as the acquisition of boat engines,
outboards and boats.
In the late 1990s, the UNDP Small Grants
Programme provided direct funding to the local Trio
organization, the Meu Foundation, to establish and
manage an ecolodge in the Sipaliwini Nature Reserve.
The project was unsuccessful since the local organization did not fully understand its concept and was unable
to meet project management requirements. When large
numbers of petroglyphs were discovered in the Werehpai
rock formation near Kwamalasamutu in 2000, the Meu
Foundation took the initiative to build three thatched
shelters there because they were convinced that large
numbers of tourists would visit the site. Naturally, tourists failed to materialize, because the mere construction
of huts is not ecotourism development.
These initiatives did not fail because of a lack of
financing or a lack of willingness or enthusiasm on the
part of local community members. They were ineffective
because financing does not generally accommodate the
funding of long-term processes, or because insufficient
Figure 3. Making a bead apron or kiweyu on a wooden frame, Kwamala,
Suriname, April 2009. Photo © Russell A. Mittermeier, Conservation
attention was paid to training, guidance and monitoring
for the local people who would implement the project.
They were unsuccessful because they did not take into
account that people who function well in their own customary setting do not automatically understand Western concepts of projects and project management. They were unproductive because the local people decided to embark on ecotourism as an income-generating activity without any idea of what to do — they had only heard of how much money
people could earn from tourism activities. Finally, the initiatives failed because donor organizations often fail to understand or appreciate the significance and force of traditional social structures in these communities or the time it takes to
actually get them up and running.
Developing the Program
To cope with the constraints described above, we designed a participatory process with the Trio to develop an ecotourism program and the associated Werehpai protected area (see Healy 2004a, 2004b, 2005). Our first task was to acquire
a good understanding of traditional governance, customary law, and economic and social life, and to share knowledge of
the western world with the Trio culture. We held lengthy dialogues with the village leadership and experts, which yielded
good understanding of the historical processes that have led to the current subsistence crisis and poverty in the indigenous communities of southern Suriname.
Establishing an Indigenous-Run Ecolodge and Protected Area in Southern Suriname
Innovative Approaches
Subsequently, we held meetings and consulted with a wider group of people in Kwamalasamutu, in order to understand the qualitative differences between introduced and traditional cultures, so that they could be accounted for in the
program. These insights were critical. It became clear that we could only develop projects to conserve biodiversity if we
understood the immediate limitations that prevented community members from leading the sustainable lifestyles their
ancestors had developed over thousands of years in the Amazon region, and only if we improved the quality of life of the
residents of Kwamalasamutu and reduced poverty.
The third phase of the process was to design the program. This was done with a core team of community members
and the village leaders, followed by a village meeting to present the program to get approval prior to seeking funding.
When the process started, we did not truly understand how the Tareno peoples interacted with one another, and we
certainly did not understand the power structures in the community. We learned that the structure of the village council had been introduced when the different (sub-)groups came to live together, but that important decisions were still
discussed and taken within the different tribal and family structures, from which we, as outsiders, were excluded. Thus,
while official decisions are the authority of the village council, successful implementation is more often decided by who
stands behind the idea, on his position and standing in his own tribe, and on whether or not he has informal authority
in the village itself.
Just one generation ago, people dealt with threats to their livelihoods (for example, the diminishing wildlife, depleted
agricultural plots, or crops being attacked by fire ants) by packing up and moving to another site. We learned that the
Tareno are still facing problems of adjusting to a sedentary life. Current challenges, for example, included how to ensure
sufficient protein for an increasing population without over-hunting and over-fishing, and how to rotate crops or introduce (semi-)permanent agriculture instead of cutting the forest for new plots every year.
As outsiders, we set out with the romanticized idea of the ‘noble savage,’ and we did not see or understand at first
that the Tareno were at a crossroads; while they wanted to retain the lifestyle they had grown up with, they also wanted
to earn enough money to ensure a good education and healthy life for their children, to be able to travel to the capital
city, and to live the life of the city in their own village.
Core Values of a Participatory Process
As a conservation organization, CI–Suriname needed to determine whether and how it could best help the Tareno
develop economic alternatives to mining and forestry — currently the livelihoods of choice in the more northern and
eastern Maroon living areas — in accordance with their vision for their future. We needed a participatory process that
would enable us to fully understand the Tareno’s concerns and would also allow us to teach them the principles of biodiversity conservation and basic management. We needed a process that would work through all stages of the project, from
decision-making, to training, to project description and implementation, to monitoring and evaluation. To do this, the
following values were central.
People-centered and holistic approach
Community members have to survive, first and foremost. The challenge was to develop sustainable livelihood strategies
and only then start any training or interventions for a more active role in biodiversity conservation. This approach recognized multiple influences on people, multiple actors, multiple livelihood strategies, and multiple livelihood outcomes.
The program design stressed the interrelationship of components: biodiversity conservation through the establishment
of indigenous protected areas; cultural preservation through the study and management of archeological sites; and the
development of sustainable livelihoods through eco-tourism. Western concepts such as the “environmental enterprise”
Indigenous Peoples and Conservation: From Rights to Resource Management
Innovative Approaches
were enlisted, but adapted to the local context. Every effort was made to discover and use as much indigenous terminology as possible.
Dynamic processes
Indigenous communities are not static, unchanging tribal societies but dynamic communities that adapt to ever-changing
circumstances and outside influences. Social change in Kwamalasamutu is influenced by developments in the capital,
Paramaribo, as increasing numbers of Tareno travel to the coast, settle in the city, and have children in schools there. The
interaction of the Tareno leadership with the community and the CI–Suriname staff is also dynamic, as people come and
go in the village, and as power relations within the community and with outsiders keep changing.
Sensitivity to ownership and land rights
Suriname law does not formally recognize traditional settlement areas of indigenous communities as communal or tribal
lands. CI had to take utmost care to avoid any concession being given on the part of the Tareno that in future might
jeopardize possible land rights claims. Special attention was also paid to the Tareno ownership customs and rules, and
as program development advanced, the ownership model of the ecolodge was refined to ensure that, in addition to individual ownership regimes, community benefits could ensue from the activities.
The Phases of Program Development
Phase 1: Reciprocal learning and cultural information exchanges
As previously noted, the program could not be developed until CI–Suriname staff and the external consultant sufficiently
understood the indigenous cultures of the Tareno of Kwamalasamutu. Conversely, the local community was not able to
discuss the formation of an environmental enterprise without understanding the different organizational options available to them once a business was established. A critical aspect of this phase was the process of finding indigenous words
and terms for key concepts. This phase was exploratory, as we learned about how CI staff approach projects versus how
the Tareno interpreted their vision for the future.
Key issues that emerged again and again were centered on the diverse alternatives for organizing and mobilizing
action. How are things done in an indigenous community and how are things done in the western world? When are the
different forms of organization used? What is a foundation, an enterprise, a cooperative? And in the indigenous communities, how is property held, how are resources managed and shared? What types of ownership are there, and who controls what, when and where? What are the advantages and disadvantages of the various systems?
Phase 2: Partnership building
During this phase, a context analysis and pre-feasibility study were developed. These included an economic analysis of
livelihood activities in the area, a description of the social context, and a policy analysis that mapped the interests of the
decision-makers, the natural and cultural assets and the strengths of the local institutions. The village leadership and the
community development organization (Meu Foundation) undertook the planning, together with the consultant anthropologist Christopher Healy. Discussions were kept to small groups, which are better suited for in-depth information
exchange. During planning sessions we discussed organizational options that would best suit the program and the community, and that would produce optimal management results. One of the major issues was how to ensure that community members employed in the ecolodge could still continue with their traditional lifestyle — they needed to hunt, fish
Establishing an Indigenous-Run Ecolodge and Protected Area in Southern Suriname
Innovative Approaches
and plant crops, which meant they would be away from the village and business activities for days on end throughout
the year. Much time was spent on this reality of village life, and eventually the community members proposed that one
position or function would be shared by several people, for example two or three site managers, who would organize
their work and divide the time among themselves. This meant that any project devised would have to train a number of
people for the same work.
Building trust was a key component during this phase — because of earlier projects and activities that had failed,
community members were wary of promises and tired of consultations. We wanted to be sure they themselves truly had
a good understanding of all underlying issues before developing and implementing any projects.
Phase 3: Village meeting
This phase was conducted by the Paramount Chief and not by the consultant or by CI–Suriname’s staff. The consultant
was an observer in the meeting. The results of the small planning sessions were presented to the community by the village leadership and the board of the Meu Foundation. The proposal to undertake tourism and to establish an ecolodge
outside the village of Kwamalasamutu on the site where the village had originally been located was discussed in detail.
There were two hours of explanations and exchanges, during which community members could intervene and ask questions; in the end, the idea and the site for the ecolodge were unanimously approved by the people present.
Community members needed to understand that the program being discussed and developed was something they
had to decide on among themselves and that the outcome of the discussions would not be a “CI project,” even if
CI undertook to seek funding for it. The community members therefore needed to be able to question, change or even
reject ideas that had been discussed by the village leadership and the Meu Foundation with CI–Suriname. And they had
to use their own system and structure for this.
Phase 4: Proposal design
The projects were eventually written as two separate documents and submitted to two different donors. The creation of
the indigenous protected area was submitted to the Global Conservation Fund (GCF), which approved the project in
2005. The development of a community ecolodge was submitted to the Japan Fund, administered by the Interamerican
Development Bank (IDB). In April 2005, a joint IDB and CI–Suriname special mission traveled to Kwamalasamutu to
review the proposal and discuss it with the village leadership. The donor approved the ecolodge project after more than
a year of discussion and negotiation.
Project Implementation
The indigenous protected area project was begun in 2005. The first field activity was a survey of the Werehpai caves, conducted by archeologists from the Suriname Museum and the Smithsonian Institution, and facilitated by CI–Suriname.
Archeological research was indispensable to establish the age of the site, and to record the petroglyphs before any tourism or other activities could be initiated. Three field trips were carried out for the archeologists to date the site, record all
petroglyphs, study shards collected from sample pits in and around the caves, hold a public presentation of their results3,
and make recommendations to protect the site if it were to be opened to tourists. All field trips included a local team of
3 In the May 2005 preliminary report of the archeological trip, Abelardo Sandoval of the Smithsonian Institution says that carbon dating of samples taken from the site show that Werehpai was occupied for at least 5000 years before the present (Sandoval 2005).
Indigenous Peoples and Conservation: From Rights to Resource Management
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Tareno people, and were carried out with full collaboration from the village leadership. Only one small earthenware pot
was recovered whole from the site. It was returned to the Paramount Chief in Kwamalasamutu immediately after the
archeologists had completed their studies in Paramaribo.
The two small areas — one around the Werehpai petroglyph cave and the other the Iwaana Saamu site of the
ecolodge — were identified and publicly announced by the Chief in the village as areas where no hunting, fishing and
plot clearing were permitted. Krisna Gajapersad set up camera traps to monitor larger species in the areas, and trained
a number of Tareno to handle the cameras and change films and batteries. A bird inventory was also done of this area,
and of the savanna area of the Sipaliwini Nature Reserve, in partnership with Yale University students and the Nature
Conservation Division of Suriname.
As the archeological and biological surveys in the area proceeded, and the first activities to construct the ecolodge
commenced, the village council decided to merge the two separate areas that had been decreed as areas where the
tribal members were not allowed to hunt, fish and clear for agricultural plots, into one large indigenous protected area
of around 18,000 ha, which they called the Werehpai protected area. The council appointed the Meu Foundation to
manage it. This project also resulted in conservation awareness materials in the Trio language, as well as a draft manTraining was a crucial component in all projects.
agement plan for the Werehpai protected area, with rules
and regulations for use, and a simple zoning and man- Practical, basic training needed to be provided
agement structure. A team of Tareno now carries out the
continuously and repeatedly: in the operation
camera trapping protocol, and in the coming months will
and maintenance of outboard engines, in the
be trained to analyze the photographs and input the data
effective use and maintenance of motor saws,
into a database being set up with the Meu Foundation in
in safe and environmentally responsible timber
Kwamalasamutu. CI–Suriname will continue to supervise
the data collection and monitor the data analysis.
cutting, and in basic accounting, organization
The Tareno Paramount Chief requested the Nature
and management.
Conservation Division of the Ministry of Physical Planning,
Land and Forest Management to train and appoint Tareno
park guards for both the Sipaliwini Nature Reserve, which is owned and managed by the Nature Conservation Division,
and the Werehpai protected area. The Tareno peoples’ level of formal education and their knowledge of Dutch, however,
are a serious impediment for any of them to participate in the existing Government park-guard training programs in
Paramaribo. The Amazon Conservation Team (ACT), which also works in Kwamalasamutu, meanwhile provided information on a park-guard training course for indigenous people organized in neighboring Brazil and was able to send some
Tareno men to train there. This might be the best option for the Tareno instead of the official Dutch-language training
offered by the government.
In 2006, the ecolodge project was finally approved by the IDB/Japan Fund, but due to serious flooding in the interior of Suriname, preparations for implementation could not start until the end of that year. It took another year for
construction and training to be completed, and the ecolodge was officially handed over to the community in April 2008.
It uses solar energy and has a water filtration system, along with environmentally friendly sanitation facilities. Product
development and marketing, as well as guide training were also crucial elements of this project, and were continued in
Establishing an Indigenous-Run Ecolodge and Protected Area in Southern Suriname
Innovative Approaches
a follow-up project between April 2008 and August 2009.4
Other aspects addressed during this time were site management skills, the production of interpretive materials
together with community members, and the improvement of forest trails.
Training was a crucial component in all projects.
Practical, basic training needed to be provided continuously and repeatedly: in the operation and maintenance of outboard engines, in the effective use and
maintenance of motor saws, in safe and environmentally responsible timber cutting, and in basic accounting,
organization and management. In addition, we needed
to provide basic training for a group of local guides,
cooks and cleaners, to be employed on an as-needs basis
by the Iwaana Saamu lodge, as well as basic management
training for St. Meu, the officially appointed manager of
the tourism site and protected area.
Lessons Learned
Figure 4. Tareno village of Kwamalasamutu, southwest Suriname. Photo
Lengthy dialogues were devoted to the problems of deal© Russell A. Mittermeier, Conservation International.
ing with introduced organizational patterns and systems,
particularly the issue of ownership. It was clear from the
beginning that some form of collective and individual
ownership would be needed to accommodate the tradition of sharing as well as introduced ideas about individual ownership prevalent in today’s cash economy. Care was taken to avoid a prescriptive approach. It became evident that the
sharing ideology was still strong, but that cash payment was expected with respect to introduced goods and services.
Individual ownership of an outboard motor or chainsaw was the rule, whereas the sharing of game and fish is still practiced. However, the sale of goods and services to non-family members, and certainly to outsiders, has become widespread.
The preparation phase of the program took into account the time necessary for the Trio to understand concepts and
participate in project design. However, the long interval between the village meeting that gave final approval for the project and the actual implementation of the project caused the people of Kwamalasamutu to start to lose faith. As a consequence, community input was next to nothing when construction started. To the Trio, approval implied that activities
should start immediately, and it was therefore difficult to get community members mobilized again.
Working with indigenous tribal communities is complicated and slow. CI–Suriname first needed to build trust and
to acquire a sufficient understanding of the indigenous cultures at Kwamalasamutu, the power structures among the village leadership, the local organizations, and the church and the community members. We needed to address all other
issues that the Trio consider important. They included archeological research because the site was sacred for them and
4 Field activities of the ‘Sustainable Tourism Development Project’ ATN ME-8977-SU, funded by the Multi-lateral Investment Fund through the Interamerican Development Bank and co-financed by
CI have ended, but the project itself has not yet officially been closed.
Indigenous Peoples and Conservation: From Rights to Resource Management
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they wanted to know more about it; the development of lists of local terminology, to show that we valued their language
as much as ours; and help in transporting the sick, help for the village leadership, and help in providing fuel for outboard
engines now used instead of paddles.
The Trio’s concept of time was a great challenge in project implementation, which had a strict timeline with specific
outputs. Even when we sat together to identify the best times of the year for work to commence, the best exact date for
a certain activity to start, none of the dates we had agreed upon seemed to fit the lifestyle of the villagers once project
implementation started. People who had promised to collect timber or roofing materials, or who would help to clear the
site and construct the lodge, had traveled to other villages or to Brazil when CI–Suriname staff arrived to work. Even
training was impacted by this, since the trainees often failed to appear.
The Trio came to view the program and the consultant who led the process as inextricably bound. The actual project
was coordinated by Stanley Power, a CI–Suriname staff member who had not been present during the project preparation phase. This caused a misunderstanding in that the community thought that the project was a different one from the
one they had prepared with the consultant and approved two years previously. Moreover, they thought the project coordinator could not know what had been decided in those meetings, since he had not been physically present at the time.
Western-style accounting and financial management are still difficult to grasp, in spite of constant training. Although
the Board of the Meu Foundation says it understands
how to keep a simple ledger, income and expenditures
are not all booked, and the board usually does not know
Capacity building of a tribal community such as
whether they are over-spent. The women’s organization
Naana, however, which followed the same training, man- the Tareno is an ongoing, long-term process, and
ages to keep a meticulous ledger. A third organization
the benefits and changes which result are often
that followed the training keeps impeccable accounts and
intangible or difficult to measure. It requires
tracks all income and expenditures, not in a ledger but all
an in-depth orientation of customs, systems,
in the head of the treasurer.
The concept of community input was misunderstood. traditions, relationships and culture, before any
The Trio input regarding the construction of the ecolodge
attempt can be made to intervene.
had been discussed in our initial interactions with the
village leadership, the Meu Foundation and community
members. Community members had agreed to build the
lodge, get paid for the work and become part owners in the process. However, once the project commenced, community
members refused to work without receiving immediate payment as laborers. Subsequently, the village leadership and the
Meu Foundation seemed withdraw their support for the concept of shareholders, or had failed to fully understand it in
the first place.
Capacity building of a tribal community such as the Tareno is an ongoing, long-term process, and the benefits and
changes which result are often intangible or difficult to measure. It requires an in-depth orientation of customs, systems, traditions, relationships and culture, before any attempt can be made to intervene. We believe that one of the most
important things we learned is that although it is difficult to monitor subtle changes in many aspects of the community’s
behaviors and competencies, these are often more important than one-time results from one-time training interventions.
Establishing an Indigenous-Run Ecolodge and Protected Area in Southern Suriname
Innovative Approaches
The Way Forward
The short-term projects that were executed by CI–Suriname with the Tareno have now all been concluded. The Iwaana
Saamu ecolodge was officially opened on 1 March 2008, but training, mentoring, guidance and monitoring are continuing. CI–Suriname is currently focusing on the business and operational management of the ecolodge and the Meu
Foundation, while helping to further develop tourist products and interpretive materials. Improved management practices in the community will benefit all parties. Mastering project management is an easy way to take responsibility and
account for resources received. More and more community members are learning to manage with increasing ease the use
of financial resources.
Gradually, the focus will shift to natural resource management, with a view to help the Tareno improve their management of the ecosystem services in their area. This may eventually lead to negotiations with the authorities and a system of payment for the ecosystem services they are helping to protect. The assumption behind this project has been that
the establishment of the ecolodge and the protection of an area of cultural and natural importance for the Tareno is of
value for the well-being of this once nomadic community, but issues concerning the conservation of the forest and its
wildlife — also of importance for the Tareno — including wildlife trade, hunting, clearing plots for agriculture, and the
introduction of alien species for consumption (for example, new agricultural crops and chicken farming) — have yet to
be addressed.
Literature Cited
Healy, C. 2004a. Ecotourism In Kwamalasamutu: A Context Analysis and Pre-Feasibility Study for an Conservation
Enterprise. Conservation International, Paramaribo.
Healy, C. 2004b. Indigenous Knowledge & Cultural Heritage as Instruments for Conserving Biodiversity and Reducing
Poverty in Southern Suriname. A Program Developed by the Iwana Samu Environmental Enterprise (Isee), the Meu
Foundation of Kwamalasamutu and CI. Conservation International, Paramaribo.
Healy, C. 2005. Southern-Suriname Program (SSP): Notes on the Participatory and Partnering Process Employed to
Develop the Program. Conservation International, Paramaribo.
Sandoval, A. 2005. Preliminary Report on Ancient Human Occupations at Werehpai, Southern Suriname. Smithsonian
Institution, Washington, DC.
Indigenous Peoples and Conservation: From Rights to Resource Management
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La Gran Reserva Chachi:
and Indigenous Community
Development in Ecuador
Indigenous Community
Margarita Mora, Aaron Bruner, Wilton Díaz, María Cristina
Félix, Free de Koning, Marina Kosmus, Tannya Lozada, Alonso
Moreno, Luis Suárez, Damian Villacrés and Patricia Zurita
Quick Facts
Country: Ecuador
Geographic Focus: The Great Chachi Reserve consists of
7,200 ha in the province of Esmeraldas in northwestern
Indigenous Peoples: The Chachi population numbers approximately 11,000 people, whose mother tongue is Chá
Author Information
Margarita Mora is a consultant for the Conservation Stewards
Program at Conservation International. E-mail: [email protected]
Aaron Bruner is a Director of the Economics and Planning Program
at Conservation International. E-mail: [email protected]
Wilton Díaz is the President of the Federation of Chachi Centers of
Esmeraldas, FECCHE. E-mail: [email protected]
María Cristina Félix is the Project Officer at Conservation
International–Ecuador. E-mail: [email protected]
Free de Koning is the Technical Director at Conservation International–
Ecuador. E-mail: [email protected]
Marina Kosmus ia an Advisor for the Division of Planning and
Development at GTZ. E-mail: [email protected]
Tannya Lozada is the Subsecretary of Natural Resources for the
Ecuadorian Ministry of the Environment. E-mail: [email protected]
Alonso Moreno is the Coordinator of ERC Environmental Financing at
GTZ/GESOREN–Ecuador. E-mail: [email protected]
Luis Suárez is the Executive Director at Conservation International–
Ecuador. E-mail: [email protected]
Conservation Agreements are an innovative tool for reconciling the
conservation of biodiversity with the development of local communities. They form a transparent, voluntary, and participatory alliance, in
which the owners or administrators of a resource agree to protect the
natural value of an area in exchange for direct, ongoing, and structured
economic incentives to offset the costs of conservation. In particular,
agreements specify a mutually agreed set of conservation actions, benefits, and criteria for monitoring to ensure transparent provision of benefits based on conservation performance (Conservation International
In 2005, the Chachi centers of El Encanto, Corriente Grande,
and Capulí, worked together with Conservation International (CI)
and the Deutsche Gesellschaft für Technische Zusammenarbeit
(GTZ) GmbH, to design and implement conservation agreements,
and establish a community conservation area of 7,200 ha. Located
in northwestern Ecuador, the conservation area — now known as the
Gran Reserva Chachi — is in one of the most biologically diverse and
threatened areas of the planet (Mittermeier et al. 2004). The conservation agreements ensure that the reserve also forms a key component of
local development strategies.
This paper presents a description of the creation of the Gran
Reserva Chachi, and includes information on the Chachi centers, biological aspects of the region, the establishment of conservation agreements, the impact of this project on forest conservation at a national
level, the lessons that were learned, and future challenges. In the final
section, we reflect on this experience and the current process of replication in other communities and at different levels.
Damián Villacrés is a Forest Advisor for GTZ/GESOREN-Ecuador.
E-mail: [email protected]
Patricia Zurita is Director of the Conservation Stewards Program (CSP)
at Conservation International. E-mail: [email protected]
Innovative Approaches
Description of the Chachi Centers
The Chachi people are spread across three different areas in the province1 of Esmeraldas. The current population is about
11,000, and their mother tongue is Chá palaa (Barrera et al. 2005). The livelihoods of Chachi families depend on hunting and fishing, subsistence farming, commercial coffee and cacao cultivation, and logging. They also engage in other
activities such as handicrafts and livestock farming (Olander 2007). The Chachi communities are grouped into centers,
28 in all, that today form The Federation of Chachi Centers of Esmeraldas (Federación de Centros Chachi de Esmeraldas,
FECCHE) founded in 1978 (information provided by FECCHE).
The Chachi centers of El Encanto, Capulí, and Corriente Grande are in the north of the province of Esmeraldas,
between the ríos Ónzole and Cayapas in the canton of Eloy Alfaro. The El Encanto Chachi Center comprises the communities of El Encanto, Rampidal, and Santa María; Corriente Grande comprises Corriente Grande, Arenal, and Balzar;
and Capulí consists solely of the community of the same name.
The three centers are home to 317 families, with El Encanto having the largest population (162 households), followed by Corriente Grande (86 households) and Capulí (69 households). Together, the three centers comprise an area of
approximately 30,000 ha (Moncayo 2006; Mora 2008, information provided by FECCHE), of which 7,200 have been
set aside for biodiversity conservation through the implementation of conservation agreements.
Average annual rainfall in the region is 3,500 mm/year (GTZ 2006), which means that this area experiences no
shortage of water. Despite this, Corriente Grande and Santa María do not have permanent access to an improved water
source2; only Capulí has a p