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This land is our land.


The worldwide conservation movement may have done wonders for protecting land and biodiversity, but it's the latest threat (alongside extractive industries and tourism) to indigenous people, writes Mark Dowie in Conservation Refugees: The HundredYear Conflict Between Global Conservation and Native Peoples (The MIT Press, $27.95). From the Miwok, Paiute and Ahwahneechee of Yosemite Valley, to the Maasai of Eastern Africa to the Adevasi of India, a quest for conservation is creating millions of new refugees. Twelve percent of all land on Earth--or 11.75 million square miles--is now under conservation protection. "That's an area greater than the entire landmass of Africa," Dowie writes. And over half of that land was occupied or used by indigenous people. Early environmentalism has some skeletons in its closet--particularly celebrated naturalist and author John Muir, who founded the Sierra Club in 1892 and sought to protect the Yosemite Valley (what would later become Yosemite National Park), in part by getting rid of its Indian inhabitants. The exclusionary national park model developed at Yellowstone and Yosemite would be replicated across the world. Tourists--and even hunters--however, remained welcome.

Dowie writes, for example, that "about eight thousand tribal people and low-caste farmers living in the Kuno area of Madhya Pradesh, India, were summarily uprooted ... and moved to twenty-four villages on scrubland outside the borders of a sanctuary created for a pride of six imported Asiatic lions." India has as many as 600,000 conservation refugees, according to Dowie. What's worse, native people are often moved in the name of conservation only to have the land turned over to big development--teak and eucalyptus plantations in India--what Dowie calls "the fig leaf of conservation."

An initial move to protect native rights has come in the form of the Forest Rights Act, much maligned by wildlife conservationists. The United Nation's Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples has offered protection, too, but though 140 nations supported the measure, four were against it, including the United States. A remaining danger, writes Dowie, is that the tribal people allowed to remain on their lands will be expected to remain "native," and be encouraged to "turn their community into a human zoo, where proud adults are paid ... to dress up in ceremonial garb and perform fertility dances for visiting ecotourists."

Brita Belli

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Title Annotation:The HundredYear Conflict Between Global Conservation and Native Peoples
Author:Belli, Brita
Article Type:Book review
Date:Jul 1, 2009
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