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The author's response.

The discussion sparked by this article, which began even before it appeared in World Watch, is gratifying. WWF, CI, and TNC all agree that the issues raised in the article are valid and important and need to be addressed. Of the three, WWF--here represented by the U.S. and International branches--goes furthest in committing itself to three resolutions designed to create more effective partnerships with indigenous and traditional peoples. All of this is a positive sign.

The issues are complex and far from clear-cut, and cannot be adequately addressed in a brief exchange. Open dialogue such as that mentioned in most of the letters, followed by real--rather than token--action, must happen if there is to be any advancement in relations between conservationists and indigenous and traditional peoples. We need to build a more socially responsible brand of conservation characterized by effective, more evenly balanced partnerships, better communication, a regard for the rights of local people (be they indigenous or not), and accountability. At present, all of these are in short supply, but now we have a recognition that something must be done to straighten things out.

My fear at this point is that once the harsh light of reality makes its appearance--something that is all too common the day after resolutions are made and the buzz has worn off--the openness we are all talking about will quietly slink away and go back into hiding. There are strong pressures for this to happen. An official from one of the large international conservationist NGOs recently wrote me, in reference to the article, "I think there are many people within these organizations who share your view, but will not dare say a thing because of their circumstance." If we are to advance, we must work to break down this reluctance to speak out and confront the issues squarely, and we must move beyond the traditional rhetoric to action. This is not impossible, but it will require a tremendous amount of determination, courage, and political will. It will also require, as J. Alcorn and A. Zarzycki point out, "a serious investment in the structural changes and budget allocations necessary for collaborating with indigenous peoples."

Two last points. First, the letters from WWF, TNC, and CI all note that my article is flawed with inaccuracies and errors, yet they offer no examples. The Ford Foundation is more specific, claiming that I am incorrect in stating that the report it commissioned was embargoed. There seems to be a bit of confusion here, for the full report was indeed suppressed in late December 2003 and is still under wraps. The report cited by Ford as "released last June" is no more than a 10-page, smoothed-over summary of the two studies that made up the full report. Fortunately, I understand that the full report will soon be released at least for limited circulation.

Second, the Ford Foundation's response mentions that there are some remarks in my article that are "troubling" because they in some way reflect badly on the Foundation's support of indigenous peoples. I am not sure which remarks are being referred to here, but I can state with assurance that I have had, over the years, the highest regard for the Foundation's backing of indigenous peoples and their causes. The fact that the Ford Foundation has taken it upon itself to critically examine the deteriorating relations between indigenous peoples and conservationist NGOs is but one example of its concern for the rights of indigenous peoples.

Mac Chapin is an anthropologist who has worked with indigenous communities on three continents as head of the Center for Native Lands (now a part of the Environmental Law Institute). He has held positions with USAID, the Inter-American Foundation, and Cultural Survival, and is a Pew Fellow in Conservation and the Environment.

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Title Annotation:FROM READERS
Author:Chapin, Mac
Publication:World Watch
Date:Jan 1, 2005
Words:676
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