Academic journal article Refuge

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

Academic journal article Refuge

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

Article excerpt

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

Mark Dowie MIT, ISBN: 9780262012614, pp. 376, 2009

The parks vs. people debate continues to garner attention in scholarly, policy, and activist circles. Conservation Refugees is Mark Dowie's welcome addition to this forum. From international conferences and the boardrooms of the largest conservation NGOs, to the patch of grazing land on the Serengeti, Conservation Refugees provides an accessible and informative overview of the displacement of indigenous peoples (both in terms of forced eviction and indirect forms) around the world for the purposes of biodiversity conservation. Not only does Dowie outline the history of this debate from the establishment of Yosemite and Yellowstone up until today, but he also argues for a new conservation paradigm whereby indigenous peoples and powerful conservation interests work together to balance the protection of nature and culture. This paradigm is one where indigenous peoples participate fully in conservation and the management of protected areas not as stakeholders, "but as rights-holders and equal players." (1)

Dowie organizes the book by alternating chapters focused on case studies of specific indigenous groups--from North and South America, Asia, Australia, Sub-Saharan Africa--and their experience with biodiversity conservation, with thematic chapters concerned with the social construction of "nature" and "wilderness", the political economy of conservation, scientific vs. traditional ecological knowledge, among others. This provides an assortment of empirical examples in addition to an overview of many topics that one would find in an introduction to the political ecology of conservation. With the wide range of case studies based largely on his own investigative journalism and supported by the work of others, Dowie does sacrifice depth for breadth. As a result he may miss some nuance in certain places. However, the vast amount of ground that is covered allows Dowie to highlight the scale of conservation-induced displacement, the myriad of forms that it takes, and the similarities that connect them all. People may also rightly point out that the book lacks theoretical rigor. However, as a journalist, not an academic, and in conjunction with his ability to outline the issues in an accessible way that has the potential to bring the issues at hand to new audiences, Dowie may be forgiven.

In the first line, Dowie sets the book up as a "good guy vs. good guy story" with international conservation pitted against indigenous peoples. (2) His reason for not labeling international conservation as the bad guy is because the big conservation actors "should not be assigned the same 'bad guy' status as 'extractive corporados' and others who push native people around and compromise ecosystems in their avaricious quest for resources and profits." 3 He adds to this by pointing out that big conservation is also doing some good by protecting biodiversity. It is a noble goal to move away from a narrow good guy vs. bad guy or David vs. Goliath narrative, but the 270 pages that follow the first line of the book tend to fall into it nonetheless. At times it is actually difficult to see how international conservation and the extractive bad guys are wholly separate because Dowie himself details how the two have partnered in many instances. This often makes extractive activities possible in some of the most ecologically sensitive areas while indigenous peoples are excluded from the same spaces. Furthermore, his arguments concerning the political economy of conservation highlight how the separation of "nature" and people is in part tied to the quest for money on the part of conservation NGOs as well. Perhaps most damaging to the "good guy" status of big conservation are the words of indigenous groups themselves to make the point that conservation, not the extractive industry, "has become the number one threat to indigenous territories. …

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