Decolonize Conservation: Global Voices for Indigenous Self-Determination, Land, and a World in Common
by Fiore Longo and Ashley Dawson, eds., Survival International
Publisher: Common Notions
ISBN: 978-1-942173-76-2 Published: April 2023, Paperback, Pages: 256
The road to hell is paved with good intentions. In fact, this book makes a strong case, bordering on a polemic, that it is rather bad intentions, those of Big Conservation, that paves the road to hell for the Indigenous peoples. It proposes alternative conservation models fully involving the Indigenous, the traditional, wise guardians of nature, and rightful owners of what became "Protected Areas", National and Transboundary Parks. Despite centuries of displacement by colonialism, Conservation rarely takes place in a vacuum with total wilderness remaining, largely, a myth. Conservation nearly always affects indigenous and local people and should no longer take place at their detriment or without their full and informed consent and participation. This is an eye-opening book that every well-meaning supporter and employee of big conservation organizations should read. Edited by Survival International’s Fiore Longo and Ashley Dawson and written in a reader-friendly, non-technical style, it contains first-hand testimonials/horror stories and views of some 40 authors, mostly indigenous activists but also analysis by academics from 18 countries, in Africa, South Asia (predominantly India) South America, Europe and North America. Most chapters are based on presentations at the “Our Land, Our Nature” congress, which was organized by Survival International, Minority Rights Group and Rainforest Foundation UK, and held in Marseille in September 2021, during the pandemic.
The central argument of the book is more or less: Wilderness is an artificial concept, as on the one hand Humanity is not separate from Nature and on the other around half of the protected areas had been previously inhabited by indigenous people who managed them wisely. Characteristically, the world’s first park, Yosemite, was developed in the land of the Miwok people, 39 years after they had been expelled by miners. California’s empty parks, also thanks to the Climate Change, now catch fire more easily. Big Conservation is an industry, with roots in Colonial times, and like any other industry, in its neocolonial (and neoCO2lonial) form, is out to make money from the Global South. In addition, this industry is hypocritical too as it claims to save nature and communities while actually destroying them both, by displacing communities and allowing extractive activities inside protected areas. It leverages the Climate Crisis to protect vast new chunks of ‘wilderness’ (from the current `17% of the world or roughly the size of Russia, to reach 30% by 2023 under the infamous 30x30 plan ) so as to attract huge additional funding (up to $10 trillion by some estimates, little of which will reach the communities) by greenwashing (via offsets, REDD and nature-based-solutions) corporations so that the latter can go on polluting, extracting and exploiting, sometimes within the said protected area. Other funds are being generated through cooperation with the intelligence community to combat illegal wildlife trade, also a source of funding for extremist groups. In essence, the big 5 (pun intended) conservation organizations of the Anglo world, are the new “East India” and “East Africa” Companies of the colonial era, thus we have a neocolonial conservation model. As their forefathers, they went in first, then came the troops: conservation is becoming increasingly militarized, with lethal effects for indigenous and locals. In Tanzania , Malawi, Zimbabwe, Kenya and Botswana and some of India’s states, among others, there is a shoot-on-sight policy, so rangers are allowed to shoot first and ask questions later. Anyones that moves inside the forest is conveniently called a poacher, even if hunting for subsistence. In Salonga National Park in the Democratic Republic of the Congo, a UNESCO World Heritage Site, the biggest rainforest reserve in Africa and one of the biggest in the world, there have been several “extra-judicial killings'' (a polite synonym for “murders”) of suspected “poachers”. Pastoralists are also unwanted and occasionally shot at. While agro-pastoralism is accepted in France and within Cévennes National Park (a World Heritage Site) for some reason it is not fit for Tanzania and the Maasai traditional pastures. Could this just be plain racism?