Global Ethics and Environment

By Nicholas Low | Go to book overview

13

Indigenous peoples, the conservation of traditional ecological knowledge, and global governance

Henrietta Fourmile

Introduction
Indigenous knowledge and biodiversity are complementary phenomena essential to human development (Warren, 1992:1). The world’s indigenous peoples are the custodians of much of the planet’s biodiversity, which in many cases they have nurtured and developed over many millennia. However, the role of indigenous peoples and their knowledge in the conservation and sustainable use of this biodiversity has gone unacknowledged. Yet this knowledge, far more sophisticated than previously assumed, offers new models for development that are both ecologically and socially sound (Posey, 1985:139-40). While indigenous knowledge continues to be exploited for commercial gain by alien governmental institutions and transnational corporations alike under a Western system of intellectual property law which does not protect the communal rights of indigenous peoples in their traditional knowledge, innovations and practices, signs of change are emerging in a body of new international environmental treaties which promise not only to generate new standards of protection for indigenous knowledge and benefit sharing, but also to encourage greater participation and collaboration by indigenous peoples in conservation partnerships for the maintenance of Earth’s biological heritage.
Indigenous peoples
Indigenous peoples live in many different geopolitical contexts. It is very difficult to define who they are as a class of peoples. However, a number of characteristics have been identified which are common to most indigenous peoples worldwide, namely that they:
• have a strong and abiding identification with the lands and seas which they have traditionally occupied and used, irrespective of any alienation of those lands which may have taken place over time;
• have a historical continuity with pre-invasion and pre-colonial societies that developed on their territories; in other words, they are the direct descendants of what are sometimes referred to as the First Nations peoples;

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