Years ago I read western scientists were baffled at the state of national parks and other government protected areas. After removal of indigenous peoples from their lands (not just in the U.S. but all over the world) the seized lands were no longer as abundant or as diverse as when the indigenous peoples managed them.
Following the western concept that humans can only ruin land, governments and NGOs (non-governmental agencies) worked together to take land and forcibly remove indigenous peoples.
The indigenous land management methods of controlled burning, selective harvesting, native plant plantings, forest gardens, human seasonal migrations (nomadic lifestyles), and sacred places were no longer acceptable.
Empty Places, Biodiversity, and Abundance
The first national park in the United States was Yellowstone. It was territory jointly used by indigenous peoples of Shoshone, Lakota, Crow, Blackfeet and other nations. The traditional ways of living in the land were deemed primitive and unacceptable.
No longer could the people continue the practices they had done for thousands of years. Sure, the land was unbelievably abundant. The rivers full of fish and freshwater crustaceans. The forest and plains were teeming with fur and food animals. Food gardens and park-like lands full of fruits, nuts, berries, and other foodstuff surrounded the villages. Yes, there were homegardens and communal fields, but so what.
To western eyes, the abundance of the lands were the result of empty places where no human interfered. But everywhere they went in the new found lands were humans in villages and trails from one end of the land to another. And these abundant lands existed not just in the Americas but in Polynesia, Africa, Asia, and other territories. The presence of humans everywhere and the abundance of the lands should have given them a cause to pause and ponder: how could this be?
The Ecological Understanding 500 Years in the Making
It has taken over five hundred and twenty years, but now western science has begun to understand and appreciate indigenous environmental knowledge and land management. Scientists from the U.S., Canada, Australia, and Asia now state in research paper after paper that humans have shaped Earth’s ecology for as least 12,000 years mostly sustainably.
The reason for today’s biodiversity crisis is not destruction of uninhabited “wild” lands but “rather the appropriation, colonization, and intensified use of lands previously managed sustainably”.
Indigenous peoples still exercise some level of management of about 5% of the world’s lands, upon which 80% of the world’s biodiversity exists. Indigenous lands are a haven for animals who are hard pressed to survive in “developed” lands.
And the indigenous land management research says loud and clear the traditional western conservation methods haven’t worked. They must be desperate.
Save Us from Ourselves
There was a study done in the last several years which found that women were given CEO positions when the company was in the worst shape and the board of directors were ready to try anything to save the company. Women managers are often expected to work magic. I found myself in a management position where the department I was hired to manage could not get any worse, so I got the job.
Now, they call for indigenous people to be included in management decision making. Indigenous peoples didn’t create the situation but they are now called on to clean up the giant mess of others. Using practices that were outlawed, banned, and forbidden by the people who took the majority of their lands. I guess the scientists are glad the systematic and long-term program to wipe out indigenous identity and spirituality didn’t work.
Now, like women hired to save sinking ships, the indigenous are basically asked to save us. Is there time to save the planet and ourselves? Can the indigenous land management strategies be put into practice and become commonplace to repair the extensive damage that has been done? Can we convince the hard-core western superiority believers among us to use what they still see as” primitive methods”?
What do you think and what are you doing for our uncertain future?
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