Environmentalists and Indigenous Peoples
by Dr. Ross Mallick
3 Banchory Crescent
Canada K2K 2V4
Indigenous peoples are dependent on their environment for traditional livelihoods, which are being threatened by development projects. The indigenous relationship with nature is typically portrayed as being in harmony, and though this may be so in many instances, there are examples where it is not. The paper cites cases where the harmonious relationship is being disrupted by outside development, as well as instances where indigenous people themselves contribute to the disruption. The complex relationship between the environmentalist movement in the dominant society and indigenous peoples is a major theme in the study, where frequently environmentalist support indigenous but in some cases oppose aboriginal development. Both multinational interests and environmentalists cast an influence which affects aboriginal peoples. This paper attemps to increase the understanding of environmentalist about indigenous peoples so that some of the mistakes that occurred in the past will be less likely to be repeated.
ENVIRONMENTALISTS AND INDIGENOUS PEOPLES
Western environmentalism has influenced Third World and indigenous peoples. Its ideas have been adapted as it encountered alien cultures and values and it may incorporate some indigenous values in its philosophy but for the most part it remains an alien imposition on people trying to make a living from limited resources. How environmentalists deal with indigenous peoples will help determine the success of conservationist programs, and therefore an understanding of how this relationship can be managed is critical to the success of environmentalism and the survival of indigenous peoples.
Environmentalists are for the most part middle and upper class professionals who find a personal satisfaction in trying to preserve the planet and its natural world. Indigenous people today are likely to be lower class, illiterate, and increasingly acculturated. The disparities in power and wealth are obvious, and when colonialism brought the two groups together, indigenous peoples were made to comply with whatever the colonial interests deemed appropriate, whether it was for development or protection of an area. With the end of colonialism environmentalists feared the loss of their influence. However, today national elites in the Third World are probably at least as much interested in the environment as the colonialists ever were. This has been backed up by a much more tangible interest, that of tourism, which offers opportunities for business that rival many other potential sources of investment and foreign exchange.
The interest of the First World in the Third can be surmised from the television programs produced in the West. Even a casual perusal will show far more programs about nature in the Third World than about indigenous peoples, and this preoccupation with nature has implications for how the indigenous peoples are treated. Unfortunately the pristine environments likely to attract environmentalists and tourists are also the traditional areas of some of the poorest and most marginalized peoples in the world, who exploit their environment in whatever way is found most productive. This puts tourists, environmentalists and indigenous peoples in potential conflict, though the difference is usually sidestepped in the media portrayals, which emphasize indigenous harmony with nature and the environmental movement.
It is often forgotten that indigenous conflict with environmentalists has historical parallels with the European conflict between commoners and the aristocracy over forest use. Poaching was once the most common of infractions and sometimes carried the death penalty. The community struggles against elite impositions have parallels with contemporary national and international elites attempting to impose conservation practices on indigenous peoples by depriving them of land use and occupation. When people react by poaching, draconian measures are introduced by the state. As Third World states often lack effective coercive forces to prevent poaching, international conservation aid is provided to help capture or kill the poachers. When this proves inadequate, attempts to buy off the communities with development benefits are implemented to add carrots to the unsuccessful sticks.
This conflict over land use is the most important area of friction between indigenous peoples and environmentalists. Indigenous peoples are by and large developers while most environmentalists are preservationists. There is however asymmetry in the amount of power the two sides bring to this conflict. National Third World elites, rather than side with their own indigenous nationals, tend to side with environmentalists. They often are of the same class and education and have links to national and international business that makes for more commonality with environmentalists and tourist promoters than with local residents.
In the conflict over land rights environmentalists and tourist operators, who for the most part represent similar interests, would seem to have the overwhelming advantage over indigenous peoples. However, indigenous peoples, because their traditions and livelihood are at stake, can be expected to put up greater resistance to the takeover of their land than environmentalists can mobilize against what they consider its misuse. The lack of indigenous alternatives makes for a bitterness and level of violence that environmentalists would be uncomfortable taking part in. The evictions generally occur with the use of force and even mass murder. Since these are carried out by the state rather than by environmentalists directly, environmentalists often escape the blame and try to distance themselves from the consequences of their lobbying. They cannot, however, escape moral responsibility even though their indirect role may remove criminal liability.
The fact that environmental coverage is nature-oriented rather than people-oriented is an orientation from which serious consequences follow. Local people are seen in terms of how they affect the environment. It is often forgotten that the average conservationist utilizes in daily life many times what an indigenous person in the Third World consumes. The environmentalist's consumption takes place far from the process and sites of environmental destruction, while the indigenous person in pursuit of a livelihood destroys the environment directly. Furthermore the areas being destroyed by indigenous people are usually those most pristine areas which are the last remnants of a natural world, and therefore the most valuable from a conservationist standpoint.
This conflict occurs not only in the Third World or with indigenous peoples. The conflict between loggers, miners or other destroyers of the environment and conservationists is also found in resource-based communities throughout the hinterland of North America. Such rural-urban conflict is not of the same order as with indigenous peoples. Local communities have elected politicians to represent their interests, and corporations which have major investments in communities hold considerable political influence. Indigenous peoples with few exceptions have inadequate political representation, and corporate interests are more intent on removing them from their land than representing them in conflicts with environmentalists.
Indigenous peoples are therefore different from extractive non-indigenous communities which compete with them for land use rights. Environmentalists, in confronting local communities, however, have a particular difficulty in dealing with indigenous peoples because of their land claims and poverty. Since the environment has the appearance of being pristine despite their use of the land, it is often claimed that these aboriginals must be in harmony with nature. This claim suits both environmentalists and the indigenous peoples for certain reasons. It creates a positive image for indigenous people and provides allies for the environmental movement. Whether this harmony has any scientific basis has little significance, since this is basically a claim for the benefit of public relations in which science has little role. As long as aboriginals do not undertake obviously destructive exploitation which, given their poverty, they have limited ability to do, they can be portrayed as environmentally friendly. Their claim to the land is then supported by the environmental movement because it is believed to preclude more destructive, corporate development. This is the basis for the alliance between environmentalists and aboriginals. Since aboriginal development is less destructive and may even be sustainable, it is preferred to more extensive development. That the aboriginals may have development plans of their own or at least be divided on the issue is indicative of the sort of internal differences that tend to be ignored when environmentalists and aboriginals form alliances.
That environmentalists in different contexts can be either allies or enemies of indigenous peoples makes for a complex situation as projects arise. Not all projects get equal attention, and to some considerable extent the amount of attention a land use conflict engenders is dependent on whether the environmental movement's takes up the cause. Since only some conflicts over land use become part of the environmental movement campaigning, the land in question must have some particular value to the environmentalists as well as to aboriginals before the issue is joined. To interest environmentalists it helps to have some unique aesthetically pleasing area of the type that might attract tourists. It also helps to have some international interest such as from the World Bank or a multinational corporation that can be singled out in the home countries of the environmentalists. This should be supplemented by local opposition to the project which creates some empathy internationally and provides scope for media coverage and manpower for demonstrations.
Such ideal locations are of course few and far between. Much of the land may be aesthetically boring. The areas may have few resources to attract multi-national corporations. With neither tourist potential nor multinational linkages, the depredations in indigenous areas will not likely attract environmental interests. If, however, the area has these attributes, linkages may be possible. At the same time, multinationals and local elites also have the funding to induce indigenous peoples to participate in development and bring them on side in opposition to the environmentalists. Historically multinationals and local business interests never saw the need to do so but as the environmentalists spread their influence, such strategies in many areas became practically a prerequisite. In areas such as North America indigenous opposition can be critical to whether a project goes ahead, so both multinationals and environmentalists seek the support of aboriginal communities, and when this cannot be obtained seek to promote factions within communities which would support their positions.
There is more to be gained from cooperation than conflict and both sides complement each other when campaigning. Aboriginals bring local commitment and knowledge about the area as well as access to the location, which is not likely to be forthcoming from local beneficiaries of development in the dominant society. The people provide a personal touch that is useful for media coverage. Environmentalists bring funding, media savvy, and the connections that may enable the issue to become internationally-known, challenging bigger players such as the World Bank and multinationals that would otherwise ignore local indigenous concerns.
This cooperation comes at a cost to indigenous peoples, while for environmentalists there is little or no compromise required. Aboriginals who use environmental allies become more or less committed to environmentally sustainable development, when in fact many would prefer more rapid exploitation of the resources to turn a quick profit required to pay off the debts that development entails. Environmentalists may have to agree to allow the introduction of modern capital-intensive machinery and marketing, but for the most part they can join or leave the alliance as they see fit. Since unlike the aboriginals they are not tied to one resource base or location, their mobility means their flexibility is much greater. They can take up or drop issues at will, depending on the importance of the project and their likelihood of success.
For aboriginals to attract the attention of environmentalists and keep it, it is imperative to enter a discourse that accepts the premises of the movement, at least rhetorically. In fact they may behave very differently but as long as the position is maintained publicly, their practices should not create too many problems. Since indigenous spokespersons are usually from the more educated and assimilated elements, they quickly learn what the environmental audience wishes to hear and refine their message until it conforms to what sells in the international marketplace of ideas. An example of this is the book by Rigoberta Menchu which is a partially fictionalized autobiography designed to appeal to a western audience. Such indigenous attempts to attract outside support later came in for literary criticism due to less-than-accurate portrayals of life history, but the context that necessitated such appeals and the inequitable power relations on which it was based tend to get lost in the criticism. The indigenous attempt to elicit foreign support means adopting the language of the environment. Making complaints of environmental pollution in the Niger delta, as a way of eliciting international support, replaces the local demand for a share of the oil revenues. The fact that most aboriginals can be bought with adequate compensation is downplayed in favour of environmental demands which require exclusion of development rather than sharing in the revenues.
Those aboriginals who do not attempt to conform to environmental standards will at best be ignored or, as in the case of the Makah whalers, become the object of attack. The Indian whalers obtained permission from the International Whaling Commission to harvest whales as they had traditionally done. While Greenpeace was willing to accept this, the more extremist element led by an original co-founder of Greenpeace tried to disrupt the hunt.
Calling Greenpeace the "Avon ladies of the environmental movement" and claiming to be the original Greenpeace, Paul Watson of the Sea Shepherd Conservation Society had sunk whaling ships, but this time was prevented by the Coast Guard from approaching the whalers. When the Makah decided to wait him out he eventually went home. This showed the relative weakness of environmental campaigns against aboriginal harvesting. Since the Indians lived there, they could wait indefinitely until the environmentalists and media ran out of money and patience and left the Indians to quietly harvest whales. Environmentalists need a cause to maintain funding and to do so can travel anywhere to launch campaigns to suit their needs. They are also free to abandon the struggle when these needs are not meeting their objectives or indigenous resistance makes the campaign counterproductive.
The global environmentalist groups such as Greenpeace and the World Wide Fund for Nature "selectively advocate ‘green' issues based, among other things, on the interest of the supporters, the popularity of the issue and the anticipated result in an acceptable time span....Unfortunately, and somewhat predictably, many of the programmes initiated to protect the [West Sumatra] islands' forest reserves and traditional culture did not succeed, mainly due to weak local participation." Getting people to undertake projects of someone else's inspiration and philosophy is bound to be difficult given the ethnic and class differences involved, so such setbacks will be frequent. Still cooperation and experimentation with mutually beneficial projects is likely to be more successful over the long term than promoting state repression.
That Greenpeace chose not to take up the Makah whaling issue indicates their larger interests in maintaining alliances with indigenous peoples around the world, which undoubtedly has more to offer the environmental movement than picking fights with isolated Indian bands which assert subsistence rights. However there is always the danger that the more radical environmentalist groups will gain more membership and adherence through outflanking the established conservationists, as Greenpeace itself had done in the 1970s.
The environmentalist movement had been going through an institutionalization that professionalized staff and brought significant funding to the movement. The extent of their wealth was illustrated when Brian Davies of the International Fund for Animal Welfare, whose anti-sealing campaign had devastated aboriginal sealing in the Arctic, received $2.5 million for exclusive use of his name on his retirement from his job as Chairman and Chief Executive of the organization. In defending the payment they argued it was less than 1% of the financial contributions they would receive over the seven year deal. Now that the environmental movement had become big business, it had to make strategic choices over what issues would be selected for soliciting contributions. Larger, cuter, and more human-like animals offered more opportunities for fund-raising than bugs or other lower life forms. Indeed indigenous peoples could be made to look more appealing than peoples in the dominant society. Oddly enough difference and "primitiveness" had become a fund-raising attribute that could be used by both aboriginals and environmentalists to promote their cause. The use of modern technology in harvesting was discouraged as it was regarded as a disqualification for this appealing status, though in practice it continued unabated.
In the West aboriginal support organizations were largely state-funded. Cultural Survival received $400,000 a year from USAID, the World Council of Indigenous Peoples was almost entirely funded by the Canadian International Development Agency for many years, and the International Work Group for Indigenous People was funded by the Danish government. Aboriginals were a long way from funding their own international operations, and the compromises required to maintain any aboriginal presence meant that the movement could not be too vigorous in anti-state positions. Even so financial support for these organizations was marginal compared to the funding and staffing available to environmental organizations, and therefore their influence was severely limited.
The environmental movement, however, has limited funds compared to governments and large multinationals. Its prime influence is at the level of ideas which are planted in the western public and exported to the Third World through tourism and environmental front organizations. By funding and promoting Third World environmentalism it creates lobbies in the Third World replicating its own methods in the West. Environmental organizations can be most effective in their own countries in demanding that multinational corporations and lending agencies adhere to environmental standards not normally followed internationally. Where they are in agreement with indigenous groups they have been able to organize and fund appearances before legislative committees and officials by representatives of indigenous peoples, as occurred with the Narmada dam campaign. Such help is usually beyond the reach of indigenous groups acting on their own, thereby indicating both their dependency and the importance of their collaboration with environmentalists.
The problem is that what environmentalists claim to be aboriginal opinion and the spokespersons they present to Congressional Committees are not necessarily representative of the displaced persons. They have been selected rather for their agreement with an environmentalist position as in the case of the Narmada representatives, who appeared before a Congressional committee and the World Bank. Closer analysis reveals these representatives may well have been working against the interests and certainly without the consent of indigenous peoples when they went with the support of American environmentalists to lobby in the West.
The core group of the Andolan is a close-knit organization. The group consists of some fifteen to twenty people...The core group, for all practical purposes, takes major decisions related to the resources, strategies and politics of the Andolan... A striking feature of this group is that it is almost exclusively composed of middle class activists from outside the Narmada valley. With few exceptions, the majority of the members of the core group have little or no grassroots links with the villages in the submergence zones...Activist groups have complained about the Andolan's banking on charisma and the authoritarian leadership. The leadership is also exclusionist; affected people who either seek or have sought rehabilitation run the risk of being totally marginalised...Our analysis suggests that the Andolan's centralised command structure inhibits the fostering of local level leadership... The politics of the Andolan reveal undemocratic structures and practices, although it itself demands democratic governance and participation. It is doubtful if an organization that did not conform to the wishes of the environmentalist movement would have had much of a hearing, and indeed this was the case with the Arch-Vahini group which supported rehabilitation instead of opposing dam construction. Third World middle class activists, just like their western counterparts with whom they have much in common, have interests in representing only those aboriginals who happen to agree with their causes, thereby effectively silencing dissent. That this happened with one of the most "successful" environmental campaigns is indicative of how effectively the environmental voice can smother the aboriginal voice simply by denying it an international platform. It also indicates how accepting many western supporters were in assuming the leaders were representative of the people they claimed to speak for.
The interests of adivasi [tribal] villages, who could benefit from local access and control of forest resources; of the agriculture labourers and marginal farmers who stand to benefit from the rehabilitation package; of the children and the young who could gain access to modern health and educational resources in new resettlement sites; of women who could gain ownership of land under a progressive R&R policy - interests that emerge from resource conflicts within the local - find no representation in the Andolan's localism.
It is widely noted that a quarter of the world population consumes 70% of its energy, 75% of its metals, 85% of its wood and 60% of its food. Such consumption creates what is known as a "shadow ecology" in which much of the planet is used as a resource base for the quarter of the world which consumes most. Along with this consumption come the environmentalists attempting to conserve these resources. Ironically it is the consumption of these resources and the income they generate that enable environmentalists to be so effective in the Third World. Within the "shadow ecology movement" are Third World groups created or funded by First World environmentalists who make their careers promoting issues which have become popular in the West. These Third World professionals in search of careers and funding adapt their message to granting agencies from the West. Thus though the Third World may be far removed culturally and politically from Washington or London, they come to pursue policies in tandem with what environmentalists in the West want. States in the Third World may be resistant and environmentalists often do not get what they want but they at least have made the environment a serious issue in the Third World, where it had previously been thought of as minor compared to all the social and economic problems these nations faced.
Environmentalist ideas are hardly likely to have an impact on illiterate peasants and forest dwellers too desperate to make a living to become environmentally friendly. Where environmentalists have been most successful is with Third World elites who have enough personal economic security to consider national issues and see career and economic benefits in pursuing such issues for the business they provide. Tourism is of course the major potential spinoff from environmentalism. That it also requires considerable investment and use of what are often scarce local resources such as wood and fuel is considered minor compared to the foreign exchange it can bring in. In this respect, however, the local interest may not be the same as the national one. Frequently tourism brings little in the way of local benefits, which are mostly acquired by national and international elites.
This shadow effect of environmentalism as represented by the tourist industry may not seem a logical linkage. However, today tourists are heavily influenced by environmentalism and the desire created by it for natural surroundings. The media extols the natural and exotic with programs about distant parts of the world that almost always look better on TV or in travel magazines than they do in real life. To ease these realities of Third World living considerable investment is required to bring the infrastructure up to acceptable tourist standards. The tourists still want all the comforts of home, so in the pursuit of nature they will continue to consume many times what the locals use. Villagers near the Himalayan snow line walking barefoot past nature tourists with footwear worth their annual income is only one of many comparisons which could be made. The garbage strewn camp sites of Nepal have become such a problem that regulations on garbage disposal had to be introduced. Paradoxically even though the comforts of home are required, the views must be natural and exotic. It is the difference from their home environment that tourists seek, without the realities of poverty in which the locals have to live.
This search for the exotic in peoples of other countries emphasizes difference over commonality. Western accoutrements which have become universal must be hidden in favour of the traditional whether or not they are still in general use. Whether this resurrection of the traditional is positive depends on the local circumstances and which groups are empowered by it. Indigenous costumes and souvenirs which are produced for the tourist market are seen as positive, though what effect this new production has on local social relations is rarely understood. The emphasis on certain aspects of indigenous culture over others less attractive distorts indigenous realities and tourist impressions are almost inevitably superficial. No one wants to know the personal problems of the personnel who service the tourists, and particularly not on a short vacation. The land conflicts are hardly touched on or what effects park expropriations may have had on indigenous peoples.
Since conservation is often at the expense of indigenous land rights, accommodating competing claims is a difficult proposition. Tourism and parks rarely go well with human habitation of even the most basic sort. However it is rarely possible for environmentalists today to ride completely roughshod over local inhabitants even if the state is willing to undertake the process. Brutal states generate negative international publicity if not also domestic opposition, so environmentalists have to be wary about being associated with dictatorial and oppressive regimes.
Perhaps the most important indigenous influence on environmentalists arises from the need to obtain local cooperation rather than arouse opposition. Massacres of the locals by governments promoting programs funded by foreign environmentalists does the fund-raising activities of conservationists no good. More critically, locals even if displaced from parks continue to inhabit the periphery and sneak back into the parks for subsistence activities such as wood collection and particularly poaching. With the common availability of snare wire, pesticides that can kill predators such as tigers, and modern firearms from civil wars, policing becomes much more difficult. Given the limited budgets and the corruption of Third World regimes, locals are often well placed to subvert the best laid plans of conservationists. This often gives locals a practical veto power over conservation project sustainability.
Legal protection is rarely sufficient to guarantee the continuing integrity of conservation areas. Local people, often with good reason, frequently see parks as government-imposed restrictions on their legitimate rights. Patrolling by guards, demarcation of boundaries and provision of tourist facilities will therefore not deter them from agricultural encroachment. Illegal hunting and gathering of forest products will be difficult to control. Laws which are resented by the majority of the population are difficult to enforce. In these situations, protected areas lose support and credibility, and their condition rapidly deteriorates. Historically these subversions were suppressed by colonial states which were often more efficient and less corrupted than their present day counterparts. Not needing to obtain much local legitimacy they could for the most part have their way with local people. One conservationist who claimed her husband in the colonial era had stamped out elephant poaching in Kenya by jailing a tribe would have difficulty undertaking such sweeping measures now that human rights groups would protest such ethnic punishments against "criminal tribes". Certainly conservationists would find such methods unacceptable to their donors.
Regimes that could effectively repress their peoples in the name of conservation were becoming an increasingly scarce group as democratization spread in the Third World. A study of deforestation in Java under Suharto indicates that even repressive regimes cannot be counted on to last forever. "Continued deployment of coercive forest controls - especially in the absence of programs to involve the poorest forest villagers in forest management - will only further antagonize and alienate the rural population. The state's own control policies have pushed forest villagers away from the state and toward state-defined "illegal" alternatives for forest land use and forest species disposal." Democracy on the other hand is perhaps even less environmentally friendly for it creates incentives for political parties to promote illegal forest use in order to undermine political rivals intent on preservation. This occurred in the Indian state of West Bengal.
The Left Front leadership had found it expedient to encourage forest destruction during their campaign, as a way to gain support from the rural poor who had largely been excluded from the illicit gains of forest encroachments and organized theft. As a stratagem for political mobilisation, such forest destruction not only undermined the Naxalite land grab platform, it also worked through the ideas of regional identity and channelled regionalism against a national government described as partisan and hostile to the development of West Bengal.
With these sorts of competitive forces at play political parties are bound to adopt whatever ideas the locals find self-serving, regardless of the long term consequences for the environment. Environmentalists therefore have to come to the bargaining table with offers that make degradation unproductive. This is a tall order for there are far more places being degraded than there are tourists to pay for their upkeep. Development aid is unlikely to be sufficient to compensate for the loss of fuel from cutting trees or the crop destruction from wild animals.
The failures of earlier conservation efforts have led to attempts to integrate locals into the benefits of conservation through spreading tourist revenues to them. The locals, however, tend to want more ownership and control over the process than conservationists often feel comfortable with. It is clear that there remains an inherent reluctance of conservationists to relinquish or even share power over protected areas. Stung by the criticisms of their socially insensitive and politically blind approach, conservationists have been readily persuaded to admit that the needs of local people should be taken into account. They have been far more reluctant to recognize indigenous assertion, backed by international law, of their rights to own and control land and exercise their authority over their own domains. As Greenpeace associates, Stairs and Taylor caution, "NGOs need to take great care over their own internal dynamic with respect to motivation and policy. As NGOs grow to multinational million-dollar operations and are dependent upon public funding and media coverage of issues, certain inflexibilities and "hidden agendas" can develop."
For their part indigenous groups are not homogeneous and often attempts at cooperation play into the schemes of elites to empower themselves rather than their communities. Schemes that attempt to develop business interests among aboriginals are particularly likely to benefit entrepreneurs and politicians who are best placed to obtain environmental patronage.
Often the indigenous population picks up the habits of the developers in the dominant society and the environmental degradation continues under new management. The fact of the matter is that any tourist intervention on a scale that makes it worthwhile is bound to cause disruption to local communities and create vested interests in tourist expansion. Though nature tourism is the product of environmentalism, it tends to destroy whatever environment it encounters both physically and culturally. When this destruction has reached the point where it is no longer suitable as a nature preserve the tourists move on. Like a wave, tourism erodes cultures as it moves into undisturbed areas. As they become more accessible and flooded with tourists, the tourists travel to more remote areas for the "authentic" experience.
Some areas, because of unique ecosystems and scenery, may keep a considerable tourist clientele but the result is a transformation of the economy and culture which incorporates western values and practices. In other cases national elites may imagine their country offers unique tourist advantages and expend considerable resources to develop tourism but find the tourists do not come. Parks may have been created and locals displaced only to leave vacant facilities for tourist no-shows. The damage to the locals may have been done without the tourists ever arriving in large numbers. National businessmen may have exaggerated views of their own countries' attractiveness to tourists, or tourist fashions may change. Local people may become hostile and make the area unsafe for tourists, which governments cannot easily prevent.
Even if the vast conservation benefits potentially available from nature tourism could be realized, it is important to remember that only a small minority of protected areas attract significant numbers of visitors. The characteristics of sites attracting large numbers of tourists include spectacular scenery, large mammals, uniqueness, reasonable access, and developed infrastructure (such as roads and accommodation facilities). The proportion of most countries' protected areas for which large-scale tourism is viable is thus extremely small....This form of "ecotourism," or adventure tourism, can make modest contributions to local economies but does not have the potential to attract the volumes of tourists who flock to Nepal's Himalayan parks and the African wildlife parks."
Despite such limitations there is no doubt that tourism whether realized or imagined, gives environmental issues an importance they would not otherwise have with Third World elites and governments. This enables environmentalists to influence Third World government policy in ways potentially detrimental to indigenous peoples. Remoteness, which previously insulated aboriginals from environmentalist intrusions, no longer keeps them away as such areas are actively sought out for their tourist potential. According to one tour operator their clients "live in little gray boxes and go to work in tubes....But people are strange. You read about someone drowning in a rafting accident, and the rafting company's bookings pick up the next week. You read about a game lodge where someone is chewed on by a lion, and the bookings pick up. People know it's the real thing, and they want it." Such growing adventure tourism means that no indigenous group is today safe from tourism and environmental interference.
There is apparently a need for knowing that ‘out there somewhere' there are unspoilt human societies, ‘people close to nature', rejecting the corruptive impact of modern civilization. Just like ‘untouched wilderness', ‘the last paradises' brought to cozy middle class homes by easy consumable 45 minute TV documentaries and glossy coffee-table books, indigenous peoples seem to serve the psychological hygiene of people deeply unsatisfied with the state of their own society.
The peculiarities of indigenous peoples' culture and social and political system are all too often only recognized if they conform to such prevailing prejudices - or to the extent they serve particular interests like those of conservation agencies and development NGOs, for example, which may more easily raise funds these days if their programmes are brushed up with an ‘indigenous peoples component'.
In fact the indigenous component of such schemes is usually rather nominal. "Indigenous rights to self-determination and territories, may prove to be nothing but another ‘development bandwagon' on which governments jump in order to comply with foreign donors' demands, or even a means for maintaining control over indigenous territories while maintaining ‘political correctness' in a context of growing international concern for indigenous peoples' rights'.
Local participation has become a mantra for conservation projects, given the legacy of past failures. According to a World Bank, World Wildlife Fund and USAID sponsored international study of protected areas: Nearly all of the planning documents for the case study projects emphasize local participation. Few of the projects, however, have specified what they mean by participation, nor detailed how they expect local participation in project development activities to reduce threats to nearby protected areas...Although unambiguous examples of successful participation are rare, local participation has recently become virtually indispensable in discussions of development. Failure to emphasize participation dramatically increases the chance of rejection for proposed development efforts.
The favourite mechanism for protecting areas from people is the creation of buffer zones around parks where local people who have been removed from the park are allowed to continue subsistence activities in return for not exploiting the protected area. This buffer population is expected to resist over-exploitation by surrounding populations outside the buffer zone While it is possible that local communities would perceive a self-interest in keeping buffer zone exploitation sustainable, there is little evidence to support such an assumption....For example, it may be difficult to convince local people that restricted buffer zone access constitutes a valuable benefit if they had unrestricted use of the area prior to establishment of the protected area or if the proposed buffer zone area has already been degraded. Both of these situations are common on traditional park boundaries.
The proximity of the environmentally oriented tourists and indigenous peoples means that indigenous conduct is likely to be more intrusively investigated. Adverse publicity has resulted in some indigenous groups refusing to take tourists on hunting trips where negative images might be recorded, putting their traditional livelihoods in jeopardy. Every promotion of tourism and environmentalism then becomes a potential threat to indigenous peoples. Even in remote areas of Papua New Guinea, which is arguably the most pristine environmental and indigenous area in the world, "many younger people are so intrigued by Western clothes, gadgetry, machinery and, most tellingly, money" that the old ways no longer seem sustainable. Neither fundamentalists averse to western values nor Communist states could prevent the infiltration of these items and it seems unlikely that indigenous cultures can ultimately succeed in preventing their introduction.
Indigenous peoples cannot generally afford to hire public relations firms, lobbyists, and media consultants to express their views positively to others. They can be expected to misinterpret outsider interest, and then find unsympathetic interpretations of their cultural practices. Traditional agricultural practices such as slash and burn forest clearing techniques suitable for low density populations become counterproductive beyond a certain carrying capacity. Environmentalists have a legitimate interest in preventing such destruction, while indigenous peoples may have no suitable alternatives given lack of secure land title and limited resources. The attempt to confine peoples such as the Maasi pastoralists in agricultural settlements may make the game parks more secure from wandering cattle, but also threatens a whole way of life on which the Maasi culture is based. Such are the conflicts in which environmentalists find themselves as they attempt to protect lands from human encroachment. As the environmentalist interest is in natural rather than human preservation it is to be expected that they will follow their mandate and give priority to the environment over indigenous preservation.
This does not mean that compromises and accommodations between environmentalists and indigenous peoples are not possible. There have been some tentative steps towards giving intellectual property rights to indigenous people for pharmaceuticals derived from indigenous treatments. Though these have yet to deliver any significant results, as an idea it brings the issue to the public and focuses on the need for reciprocity between environmentalists and aboriginals. More immediate prospects arise from ethnotourism and the employment of aboriginals in environmental projects as a means of spreading the benefits among local communities. A problem with this is that the local elite and their kin tend to secure the jobs, creating disparities within what had often been relatively homogeneous communities. Community oriented projects avoid some of these problems, but the fact that these enterprises are dependent on outsiders' continuing to visit or provide funding makes their longevity problematic. With the environment, protection has to continue indefinitely otherwise all that went on before to preserve it is likely to be lost forever.
As indigenous peoples are unable and unwilling to remain isolated, acculturation is inevitable and environmentalists are only one of a number of players who will influence this process. Finding a positive role for environmentalists is particularly problematic, given their desire to preserve nature. In some parts of the world animals remain an important source of protein. In Papua New Guinea some species have survived only due to the taboos of individual tribes against eating them. However when neighbouring tribes overrun an area, these unique species can be driven to extinction.
In 1975 the skull and bones of an ice-age bat of singular rarity were found. The animal entered the scientific roster as Bulmer's fruit bat, the world's largest, extinct for 12 millenniums. In 1977 an anthropologist sent to a bat expert in Sydney a skull saved from a banquet of roast bat he attended in New Guinea. It was a Bulmer's fruit bat. The expert rushed to the cave where the mountain people had gathered their feast and found no sign that a single bat was left - Extinction II. What had happened was this: The tribe living near the cave observed a taboo against touching the bats. But hunters from another tribe lowered a man on a rope into the cave, armed with a pernicious piece of Western technology: the anthropologist's shotgun. He blasted away at the cave ceiling and thousands of bats fell. Other tribes heard about this and devoured the rest.
Though a live specimen of the Bulmer's bat was caught ten years later, the point is that indigenous people are a diverse group with different customs which do not necessarily ensure species protection. More well known is how the seafaring people of Easter Island cut down all their trees so that when Europeans arrived they had already become marooned. At some point this fate must have become obvious to them but it did not prevent them from cutting down the last tree. Diverse indigenous traditions are not enough to ensure the survival of species, particularly given the rapid acculturation that is taking place in indigenous societies. The role of environmentalists in this preservation is undoubtedly vital. The problem is that this necessity has historically resulted in indigenous interests being ignored, only to be revived when the conservationists realized that coercion was insufficient to guarantee preservation in the face of newly antagonized local peoples.
That the concept of co-management with indigenous peoples has now emerged among conservationists is a measure of the desperation they now feel to preserve species and biodiversity after repeated failures to integrate local peoples resulted in environmental degradation. As long as state coercion was effective, species were protected, but as the collapse of the Soviet Union showed, poaching can soon decimate populations once states lose control or policies change.
As state disintegration becomes common in places like Africa, it is even more imperative to integrate local people in conservation so species can be protected in the absence of the state and in the middle of civil wars. This represents a change of strategy from state-oriented conservation policies to ones that attempt to integrate locals into the benefits of preservation. Though this strategy avoids state dependence, it makes conservation dependent on the fickle tourist market. Incomes tend to decline as tourists move on to greener pastures, having saturated an area with their largesse, and programs such as education and health may suffer with the decline. The killing by Hutu guerrillas of eight tourists visiting a gorilla sanctuary in Uganda threatened the community projects the tourist visitations funded. This market integration, however, is inevitable and without such ecotourist possibilities the dangers to biodiversity would undoubtedly be greater.
The fact of the matter is that population growth means that wild lands will be under increasing pressure until world population stabilizes. There are simply not enough economic incentives available to make it worthwhile for locals to forgo use of the forests. In the Ivory Coast in the past 20 years jungles decreased to a tenth of their former size of 30 million hectares. However, as the cocoa plantations develop, these clearings will lose the necessary soil nutrients after 20 to 30 years, and new forests will have to be cleared faster than old areas are reforested. In the meantime the deforestation will destroy the humid shady conditions needed to make these plantations productive, and a major foreign exchange earning crop will be lost through its own over-development. The economic imperatives of subsistence living and debt repayment make environmental destruction and future losses of livelihood almost inevitable. The state is unable or unwilling to completely prevent encroachment given the influence of some of the squatters, while others without such influence are repeatedly driven out and their crops and homes burned. The most that the environmental movement can hope for is that exceptional areas of biodiversity may be saved through subsidizing local communities not to engage in forest destruction. A line can then be drawn between protected and human use areas. These protected areas will have to be sized so that surrounding communities can be paid for forest protection. Tourism will be an important subsidy, but outright grants may also be necessary where political violence or unattractive surroundings make such income generation impractical. This means establishing ecosystem priorities so that subsidies are not spread too thinly to be an effective deterrent. Unfortunately communities are not homogeneous and those at the top of hierarchial communities tend to reap the aid benefits. Ensuring that the likely poachers, who usually are the poorest people, are adequately compensated is critical, for even if aid goes to the community as a whole, if these individuals do not benefit, the preservation policies will likely fail. In caste societies the lower castes or classes do not have the same world view as the village elites, so without carefully targeted aid the projects will be worthless. Programs, to be effective, thus require a considerable degree of local information which is not usually obtained by policy implementors.
The implication is that successful co-management with indigenous peoples for environmental preservation is a much more complex and difficult undertaking than is commonly supposed, at least if the publicity literature of the conservation organizations is taken literally. Sustainable models are few and far between and usually depend on a favourable tourist climate or some external factor beyond the control of the local community or the environmentalists. Finding out how these schemes really work out on the ground is a challenge few scholars have been willing to undertake because it could cause offence not only to host communities on which they depend for research access but also to influential environmental lobbies in the West which will not take kindly to exposure of the shortcomings in their programs.
The persistent argument that science can only be objective by being neutral, and therefore amoral and apolitical, is either remarkably naive or purposefully deceptive. The "neutrality" many anthropologists express in the face of the continuing holocaust in the Amazon contributes, at least indirectly, to genocide, ethnocide, and ecocide. Such inaction is tantamount to complicity, even if the latter is inadvertent. If anthropology does not become more of the solution, then it will remain more of the problem in the holocaust in Amazonia. Political involvement of some kind is increasingly unavoidable for the ecological anthropologist, simply because indigenous societies and environmental concerns are increasingly political.
It is not clear, however, where this involvement should lead and whether environmental or indigenous concerns should have priority when the interests are opposed. Anthropologists and ecologists will likely take their respective sides in opposition to each other. Since decreased natural biodiversity will lead to greater conflict, political involvement does not provide an answer in the absence of a strategy that can combine the interests of indigenous peoples with biodiversity. Patenting traditional medicines and other knowledge may seem farfetched, given the way pharmaceutical companies operate, but it does point to the dangers of business determining all human endeavours. Still, it is difficult to see how the indigenous land claims can succeed in countries under severe ecological stress without indigenous peoples having the skills and influence of environmentalists to help protect their interests. Given this dependence on international lobbies, it is also difficult to see how indigenous peoples will not be grossly misrepresented at these forums to which they almost always lack independent access. In this respect indigenous peoples remain at the mercy of the environmental movement, to be utilized as long as they promote western environmentalist views and ignored if they resist this interpretation of their interests.
1. James C. Scott, Weapons of the Weak: Everyday Forms of Peasant Resistance, Yale University Press, New Haven, 1985, p. 35.
2. Ross Mallick, "Refugee Resettlement in Forest Reserves", Journal of Asian Studies, February 1999, p. 1.
3. Kay B. Warren, Indigenous Movements and their Critics: Pan-Maya Activism in Guatemala, Princeton University Press, 1998, p. 116.
4. Peter McKenna, "Shooting the messenger?: Rigoberta Menchu and the Story of all Poor Guatemalans by David Stoll", National Post, March 6, 1999, p. 8
5. Ben Naanen, "Oil Producing Minorities and the Restructuring of Nigerian Federalism: The Case of the Ogoni People", Indigenous Peoples, Environment and Development, edited by Silvia Buchia, Christian Erni, Luzia Jurt, and Christoph Ruegg, Proceedings of the conference, Zurich. May 15 - 18, 1995, International Work Group for Indigenous Affairs, Document No. 85, Copenhagen, 1997, p. 83.
6. Sarah Schmidt, "The One That Got Away", Saturday Night, March 1999, p. 80, 84.
7. Jayalaxshmi Mistry, "The human-nature game", The Times Higher Education Supplement, February 26, 1999, p. 31.
8. Charles Clover, "Harp Seal Crusader gets $2.5 m payout", National Post, March 5, 1999, p.A1.
9. Elaine Dewar, Cloak of Green: The Links Between key Environmental Groups, Government and Gib Business, Lorimer, Toronto, 1995, p.74.
10. Kay Treakle, "Ecuador: Structural Adjustment and Indigenous and Environmental Resistance", in The Struggle for Accountability: the World Bank, NGOs, and Grassroots Movements, edited by Jonathan A. Fox and L. David Brown, MIT Press, Cambridge, 1998, p. 252.
11. Ranjit Dwivedi, People's Movements in Environmental Politics: A Critical Analysis of the Narmada Bachao Andolan in India, Working Paper Series No. 242, Institute of Social Studies, The Hague, March 1997, p. 21, 25, 35.
12. Ranjit Dwivedi, People's Movements in Environmental Politics, Working Paper Series no. 242, Institute of Social Studies, The Hague, March 1997. P. 33.
13. Peter Dauvergne, Shadows in the Forest: Japan and the Politics of Timber in Southeast Asia, MIT Press, Cambridge, 1997, p. 10.
14. Marcus Colchester, Salvaging Nature, United Nations Research Institute for Social Development, Geneva, September 1994, p. 17 - 18 quoting Jeffrey Sayer of IUCN.
15. Nancy Lee Peluso, Rich Forests, Poor People: Resource Control and Resistance in Java, University of California Press, Berkeley, 1992, p. 235.
16. K. Sivaramakrishnan, Forest, Politics, and Governance in Bengal, 1794 - 1994, PhD dissertation, Yale University, 1996, p. 643.
17. 17. Marcus Colchester, Salvaging Nature, United Nations Research Institute for Social Development, Geneva, September 1994, p. 38.
18. Steven Yearley, "Campaigning and Critique: Public-Interest Groups and Environmental Change", Earthly Goods: Environment Change and Social Justice, edited by Fen Osler Hampson and Judith Reppy, Cornell University Press, Ithaca, 1996, p. 217.
19. Elaine Dewar, Cloak of Green: The Links between key Environmental Groups, Government and Big Business, Lorimer, Toronto, 1995, p. 35.
20. Michael Wells and Katrina Brandon, People and Parks: Linking Protected Area Management with Local Communities, The World Bank, Washington, January 1992, p. 36
21. Donald G. McNeil, Jr. "The Dicey Game of Travel Risk", The New York Times, March 7, 1999, Secion 4, p. 4.
22. Christian Erni, "Indigenous Peoples, Environment and Development: Approaching the Issue", Indigenous Peoples, Environment and Development, International Work Group for Indigenous Affairs, Copenhagen, 1997, p. 23.
23. Christian Erni, "Indigenous Peoples, Environment and Development: Approaching the Issue", Indigenous Peoples, Environment and Development, International Work Group for Indigenous Affairs, Copenhagen, 1997, p. 34.
24. Michael Wells and Katrina Brandon, People and Parks: Linking Protected Area Management with Local Communities, The World Bank, Washington, 1992, p. 42.
25. Michael Wells and Katrina Brandon, People and Parks: Linking Protected Area Management with Local Communities, The World Bank, Washington, 1992, p. 26.
26. D.J.R. Bruckner, "There goes the Neighborhood", The New York Times Book Review, March 7, 1999, p. 14.
27. John G. Galaty, Dan Aronson, Philip Carl Salzman, and Amy Chouinard (editors), The Future of Pastoral Peoples, Proceedings of a conference held in Nairobi, 4 - 8 August 1980, International Development Research Centre, Ottaw, 1981.
28. Darrell A. Posey and Graham Dutfield, Beyond Intellectual Property, International Development Research Centre, Ottawa, 1996.
29. D.J.R. Bruckner, "There Goes the Neighborhood", The New York Times Book Review, March 7, 1999, p. 13.
30. D.J.R. Bruckner, "There Goes the Neighborhood", The New York Times Book Review, March 7, 1999, p. 13.
31. Donald G. McNeil, Jr. "The Dicey Game of Travel Risk", New York Times, March 7, 1999, Section 4 p. 1.
32. Glenn McKenzie, "Rain forest damage a matter of survival", The Globe and Mail, March 9, 1999, p. A8
33. Leslie E. Sponsel, Indigenous Peoples and the Future of Amazonia, University of Arizona Press, Tucson, 1995, p. 282.
Back to the List of Participants with Research Papers
Back to Global Dialogue
Back to the Portal of the Global Community organization
Back to top of the page
Back to the List of Participants with Research Papers
Back to Global Dialogue
Back to the Portal of the Global Community organization
Back to top of the page
Back to the List of Participants with Research Papers
Back to Global Dialogue
Back to the Portal of the Global Community organization
Back to top of the page