Academic journal article Archaeology in Oceania

Indigenous Peoples and the Collaborative Stewardship of Nature

Academic journal article Archaeology in Oceania

Indigenous Peoples and the Collaborative Stewardship of Nature

Article excerpt

Indigenous Peoples and the Collaborative Stewardship of Nature By Anne Ross, Kathleen Pickering Sherman, Jeffrey G. Snodgrass, Henry D. Delcore and Richard Sherman. Walnut Creek, CA: Left Coast Press, 2011. ISBN 978-1-59874-577-1 (hb)/-578-8 (pb). Pp. 320. $US89 (hb), $US29.95 (pb).

This book presents a clear-eyed critical overview of efforts made to date to forge workable partnerships in the manag ement of natural resources between Indigenous groups on the one hand and conservation scientists and government agencies on the other. The news is for the most part not good, or perhaps one should say that there is good to be found but you have to look for it among the plethora of initiatives which, however well motivated, rarely deliver equity or real justice to Indigenous peoples. Many of these initiatives involve collaborations between conservation biologists (often under the auspices of one or another of the IUCN program areas) and Indigenous groups. Archaeologists in Australia, Canada, and the USA often become involved in this area via 'community archaeology' projects with Indigenous groups and via the latter's holistic conception of landscape. One of the great values of this volume is that it combines case studies of Indigenous stewardship of nature in former settler colonies (Aboriginal groups in southwest Queensland and the Lakota Native American people at Pine Ridge in South Dakota) with case studies of Indigenous minority groups in Thailand (tribal minority groups in Nan Province) and India (the Dhil tribal minority on southwest Rajasthan).

The authors identify a series of epistemological and systemic (or institutional) obstacles to Indigenous involvement in natural resource management (NRM). The former are mainly to do with difficulties encountered in achieving recognition of Indigenous knowledge as a valid basis for landscape or NRM management and this points to a key sticking point: Western biological science is recognised by the modern state as the proper knowledge in this field and Western biological science exercises various forms of closure against other forms of knowledge. These include an insistence that Indigenous knowledge conform to the same methods and standards of proof that operate in science disciplines. On the Indigenous side, environmental knowledge tends to be integrated in complex ways with religious belief and often this entails a conviction that habitats and species embody spirits and spiritual forces which give them a degree of agency in relation to humans. The rationalisation of the Western mind which has been proceeding apace since the Protestant Reformation ensures that such beliefs are regarded as superstitious, absurd, and as a recipe for economic backwardness. But Western conservationists must contend with the reality that a large proportion of the biodiversity presently extant in the non-Western world has survived precisely because such belief systems have protected it--witness for instance the sacred forest groves of India, Africa, and parts of Southeast Asia. …

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