Conservation Refugees: The Hundred-Year Conflict between Global Conservation and Native Peoples

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Since 1900, more than 108,000 officially protected conservation areas have been established worldwide, largely at the urging of five international conservation organizations. About half of these areas were occupied or regularly used by indigenous peoples. Millions who had been living sustainably on their land for generations were displaced in the interests of conservation. In Conservation Refugees, Mark Dowie tells this story. This is a "good guy vs. good guy" story, Dowie writes; the indigenous peoples' movement and conservation organizations have a vital common goal—to protect biological diversity—and could work effectively and powerfully together to protect the planet and preserve biological diversity. Yet for more than a hundred years, these two forces have been at odds.

The result: thousands of unmanageable protected areas and native peoples reduced to poaching and trespassing on their ancestral lands or "assimilated" but permanently indentured on the lowest rungs of the money economy. Dowie begins with the story of Yosemite National Park, which by the turn of the twentieth century established a template for bitter encounters between native peoples and conservation. He then describes the experiences of other groups, ranging from the Ogiek and Maasai of eastern Africa and the Pygmies of Central Africa to the Karen of Thailand and the Adevasis of India. He also discusses such issues as differing definitions of "nature" and "wilderness," the influence of the "BINGOs" (Big International NGOs, including the Worldwide Fund for Nature,Conservation International, and The Nature Conservancy), the need for Western scientists to respect and honor traditional lifeways, and the need for native peoples to blend their traditional knowledge with the knowledge of modern ecology.

When conservationists and native peoples acknowledge the interdependence of biodiversity conservation and cultural survival, Dowie writes, they can together create a new and much more effective paradigm for conservation.

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Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly

With a beautiful balance of critique and sympathy, Dowie (Losing Ground) challenges the halos of the major multinational conservation nonprofits, including the Nature Conservancy and the Worldwide Fund for Nature, in this exposé of their disastrous treatment and expulsions of indigenous peoples living in nature reserves and parks. Dowie traces the myth of "wilderness" as an "idealized version of nature" to John Muir, the "Godfather of Conservation," who denied that Indians ever lived in Yosemite despite their longtime cultivation of the area; he was "revolted" by their eating habits and "uncleanliness" and said they "had no place in the landscape." This American concoction of a pristine wilderness park, and the idea that humans are not a part of nature, was exported throughout the world, wreaking havoc among both dislocated indigenous people and the environments that they had nurtured with traditional knowledge, for hundreds, even thousands of years. Dowie comes to a surprisingly optimistic conclusion, noting recent collaborations between indigenous peoples and conservation organizations-who are beginning to realize that "only by preserving cultural diversity can biological diversity be protected, and vice versa." (May)

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From the Publisher
"A beautiful balance of critique and sympathy." Publishers Weekly

"Far from being a hysterical diatribe...this exceptionally researched and documented study provides authoritative guidance toward a diverse and sustainable future." Richard W. Grefrath Magill Book Reviews

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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780262012614
  • Publisher: MIT Press
  • Publication date: 5/29/2009
  • Edition description: New Edition
  • Pages: 376
  • Product dimensions: 6.30 (w) x 9.00 (h) x 1.30 (d)

Meet the Author

Award-winning journalist Mark Dowie is the author of Losing Ground: American Environmentalism at the Close of the Twentieth Century, American Foundations: An Investigative History (both published by the MIT Press),and four other books.

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Table of Contents

Preface ix

A Word about Terms xi

Introduction: "Enemies of Conservation" xv

1 Miwok 1

2 "Nature" 15

3 Maasai 23

4 BINGO 45

5 Forest People 65

6 Exclusion 79

7 Karen 101

8 Natural Capital and TEK 107

9 Adivasi 119

10 Disturbances 133

11 Basarwa 141

12 Fighting Back 153

13 Ogiek 183

14 The Science of Princes 191

15 Kayapo 201

16 Fiasco 209

17 Mursi 223

18 First Stewards 235

19 Gabon: An Irresistible Opportunity 249

Epilogue: Vital Diversities: Balancing the Protection of Nature and Culture 263

Appendix A Indigenous Peoples and Conservation: WWF Statement of Principles 271

Appendix B United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples 281

Notes 297

Index 307

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