Learning Conservation from Indigenous People

Posted on August, 09 2019

As we celebrate the International Day of the World Indigenous Peoples on August 9th, some reflections on conservation are appropriate.
By: Cristina Eghenter

Why? Because we have a lot to learn from Indigenous People about conservation, sustainable use, and taking care of nature. Over the decades, conservation by governments or conservation organizations has been regarded as the only legitimate form of conservation. In some cases, conservation of protected areas equalled exclusion of people and empty nature, a view of conservation devoid of human components. But not all human activities are by definition anti-conservation.

For example, among the Kenyah people in the interior of North Kalimantan, in the Heart of Borneo area, conservation and use of natural resources amount to the same thing: to care for the forest as a source of livelihood, food and good health, as well as cultural identity. There is a strong and deep bonding between the community and the place. This in turn nourishes a belief that forest resources will continue to sustain the community in the future: if nature is respected, nature will give back and provide for. There is no clear distinction between conservation and livelihoods and culture, conservation is inclusive of those positive human components, traditional knowledge and values of the communities that depend on those resources for a living, and for their cultural survival. Indigenous conservation is inclusive and holistic.

The term ‘inclusive conservation’ has recently been adopted by the Global Environment Facility (GEF) biodiversity strategy. Areas managed by indigenous peoples and local communities (IPLCs) hold as much as 80% of the Earth's biodiversity. Further, recent studies have shown that when the rights of IPLCs to their land and natural resources are respected, deforestation rates are lower and that local participation in conservation management can improve biodiversity outcomes.
The territories and areas conserved by Indigenous People and Local Communities or ICCAs-Territories of Life are clear examples of how Indigenous conservation stems from the integration of various aspects: livelihoods, food and water security, conservation and environmental security. From a rights perspective, ICCAs are the realization of economic, environmental rights, and social and cultural rights. ICCAs not only conserve a vast range of habitats, biodiversity and ecosystem services, they are also the basis of livelihoods for millions of people. The recognition of ICCAs could balance the need for protecting critical forest or coastal areas while securing the rights of local and Indigenous communities to sustainably manage them. This approach recognizes that the cultural and natural values of landscapes are inextricably linked, and that local communities are central to sustaining them.

Ultimately, the strength of ICCAs and inclusive conservation initiatives depend on the strength of the communities themselves (“how strong and committed we are”). Local institutions and values that have embodied those conservation ways need to be sustained and strengthened, and empowered through recognition, information, and capacity building to enable Indigenous and local communities to be responsible participants and champions of inclusive conservation in Indonesia and the world.
Victor Fidelis Santosa, Heart of Borneo, HoB, Dayak People, Iban, West Kalimantan
The Dayak indigenous people in the Heart of Borneo have for centuries managed the forest in sustainable ways.
© WWF-Indonesia/Victor Fidelis Santosa
#victorfidelissantosa #westkalimantan #wwfindonesia #heartofborneo #hob
Conservation landscapes in West Kalimantan.
© WWF-Indonesia/Victor Fidelis Santosa
Albert Teo, Heart of Borneo, Krayan, Lundayeh, HoB, North Kalimantan, Indonesia
Lundayeh Youth in Krayan Highlands
© Albert Teo