OOS 30-1 - How Western ecologists and indigenous knowledge-holders from two stand-alone epistemologies can find common ground and join forces in ecological restoration and conservation biology

Wednesday, August 8, 2012: 1:30 PM
A107, Oregon Convention Center
Dennis Martinez, Indigenous Peoples Restoration Network, Douglas City, CA

Over the past 40 years, beginning with the first Earth Summit in Stockholm in 1972 and continuing through the 1992 Rio Earth Summit and beyond, Indigenous peoples have championed both their ecological competency and inherent collective human rights to their lands and customary practices in global conservation fora. A report circulated at Rio documented 100 community-driven stewardship projects begun during 1970-1990 throughout North America, with 94% still active in 2010. Passive before 1970, they have been asserting their concerns about evictions from their homelands, lack of access to cultural and natural resources, political/economic marginalization, social disintegration, identity loss—and the loss of healthy ecosystems that they depend on. Evictions of communities from protected natural areas peaked during 1960-1980, mostly in east Africa, but still continue under the media radar. Among ecologists, only Ray Dasmann voiced concerns over the scientific rationale for evictions, stating that evictions were more blind custom than ecological necessity. By the 2003 Durban Parks Congress, stewardship-based strategies were changed to rights-base strategies by technical support NGOs. But during 1990-2010, university ecologists and conservation NGOs had established field research stations in protected areas from which resident communities had been evicted, while ecotourists, donors, and researchers had taken their place. While rights are important, scientists are overlooking the ecological competence of Indigenous stewards at the expense of conservation, Indigenous cultural survival, and local knowledge that is needed for doing good science. Ecologists are in a good position vis-a-vis the governments of developing countries—who justify evictions with Western science—to exercise their authority to change this.


The purpose of my talk [and the session itself] is to show that traditional Indigenous peoples are sufficiently ecologically competent to co-exist with Western scientists as managers of protected areas, indeed are a necessary complement to conservation. Indigenous peoples and their knowledge has had to be adaptive in the face of millennia of environmental change and, contrary to conventional thinking, are adaptable alternative modernities, part of the solution to modern environmental challenges like climate destabilization. But we must first deal with epistemological barriers that are preventing effective communication between Western ecologists and traditional knowledge-holders. I [and others] will discuss specific barriers while showing how philosophical impasses and culturally-based scientific bias can be bridged, explaining the role of Indigenous peoples in nature, and linking qualitative observations with quantitative experimentation—finding sufficient common ground for future collaborative research and co-management of protected areas.