In May I attended the World Indigenous Network (WIN) Conference in Darwin on behalf of SULi, seeking to better understanding the context, importance and current dynamics of use of wild resources by indigenous peoples and local communities, and make connections and links for our work. SULi member Tahir Rasheed also attended to present his experiences in addressing poverty and promoting biodiversity conservation in the Torghar Valley in Pakistan.

The World Indigenous Network is a recently established global network connecting indigenous peoples' and local communities' land and sea managers. The idea of WIN began, apparently, with a conversation in the Kimberleys of NW Australia, between the Australian Environment Minister and Wayne Bergmann, CEO of the Kimberley Land Council's enterprise arm. It was officially launched by Australia in cooperation with Brazil, Norway and Canada at Rio +20 in June last year, and the Conference itself took shape very rapidly over early 2013. This conference was organised and funded primarily by Australia, lead by a National Advisory Group. It is envisaged that this will become an enduring organisation with a conference every two years, and discussions on its objective and structure were held during the conference and will continue. However, the future funding and structure of the WIN remain unclear and talks involving regional representatives will continue this year.

The Conference was remarkable and unique (so far) event, bringing together indigenous peoples and local communities from across the globe to share knowledge and experience, focused particularly on land and sea management. There were over 1200 delegates from over 50 countries including every region of the globe. Around half the delegates were Aboriginal Australians from across the country, making it the largest gathering of Aboriginal land and sea managers in history.

The most powerful overall message from the WIN was the scale and extent of the global shift toward community-based natural resource management that has taken place over the last couple of decades. Through presentations from an enormous diversity of political and ecological contexts, thousands of initiatives were presented where indigenous and local people were managing or co-managing their land and sea country and maintaining culture, knowledge and identities.

Key messages and implications for sustainable use and livelihoods

  • The big themes of the conference for me, raised repeatedly throughout talks and discussion, were sovereignty and territorial control; and indigenous/traditional knowledge (IK/TK). On the first, the fundamental priority for many or most people was gaining recognition of sovereignty over traditional lands. Many face inadequate or limited rights to access and manage territories, and face pressures on two fronts - on one side the pressures of large scale commercial development in the form of mining, hydro development, and commercial logging, and on the other the imposition of conservation models excluding their participation and limiting their access and resource use. On the second, there was great concern about preserving IK/TK and culture, ensuring control and ownership of it, and instituting management based on it. Examples presented of management based on IK/TK included fire management and agriculture, but none on wild resources. It was emphasised repeatedly in discussion that IK/TK practices are not frozen in stone, but evolve as culture evolves.
  • Protected areas, under a management model that safeguards local use, are now widely viewed and employed as a major means for indigenous people and local communities to gain greater control over their land/sea areas. While indigenous protected areas (and similar designations) are often supported by government agencies and NGOs for reasons of biodiversity conservation, it came out strongly in presentation and discussions that their primary importance to indigenous peoples and local communities (IPs/LCs) often revolves much more around gaining recognition of sovereignty and maintaining traditional culture and knowledge.
  • Sustainable use is a fundamental issue for IPs/LCs. Its current importance appears to revolve around gaining recognition and support for rights to continue customary hunting, fishing and gathering on traditional lands/waters - this includes both the right to continued access and use, and also the right to exclude unwanted large scale development. A discussion took place, facilitated by John Scott of the CBD Secretariat (who is an Aboriginal Australian) on forming a global network on "customary sustainable use" to feed into the CBD discussions on this theme.
  • There was very little discussion of management of sustainable use. In general, subsistence level indigenous/local use of wild resources was not seen as requiring management, or at least none based on western science. However, particularly where some commercial use was involved (such as in locally managed marine areas including fishing), there were some interesting emerging models of integration of western science and IK/TK in management. Here western science was envisaged as playing a supporting role in assisting the achievement of objectives and values that drew on indigenous/traditional knowledge and practices.
  • Small-scale, locally owned and managed forms of commercial use, such as small scale forestry, fishing, commercial/trophy hunting, products based on medicinal plants etc are of considerable interest to many people, but were not a major focus of discussion here.
  • There are some clear areas where SULi can play an important role here, including in highlighting good practice and developing models of integration of IK/TK and western science, tools for monitoring and managing use, and integrating customary and locally-managed commercial forms of use. All of these issues are as relevant within as without PAs, given the growth of ICCAs (Indigenous peoples' and Community Conserved territories and Areas). Our next opportunity to highlight and bring together thinking on these issues is at the World Parks Congress next year, for which preparation is now in full swing.

A few highlights from talks

The conference had a series of keynote speakers followed by a large number of workshop presentations run in parallel, with music and Aboriginal arts events taking place alongside. There were many excellent and interesting talks, including a keynote address by Taghi Farvar, President of the ICCA (Indigenous peoples' and local Communities Conservation territories and Areas) Network (and past CEESP Chair) that showcased the success of the ICCA model globally and its current challenges. To provide a flavour I include summaries of several plenary addresses here -you can see the full programme, with videos of many talks on the conference website.

  • Keynote speakers included James Anaya, the UN Special Rapporteur on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples, who highlighted the challenges in implementation of the UN Declaration of the Rights of Indigenous Peoples (which includes strong statements on their rights to traditional land and resources), presented an interesting set of contrasts between positive and negative experiences within the same countries. These included, for example, the contrast between the situation of the San in Etosha National Park in Namibia, where they have poor living conditions and are denied hunting/gathering rights, and their situation in Nyae Nyae communal conservancy, where they have rights to live and use natural resources, a steady flow of income from tourism and commercial hunting, and where wildlife outcomes have improved alongside social indicators.
  • Dennis Georgekish, a leader from the Wemindji community of the Cree Nation from St James's Bay in eastern Canada, highlighted the ongoing challenges they are dealing with to safeguard their territories, relied on for the hunting/fishing/trapping/gathering that supports 1/3 of their population, from intense pressure for hydro, minerals and uranium development.
  • Wayne Bergmann (see above), who leads KRED Enterprises in the Kimberley region of Australia, likewise pointed to the pressure for oil and gas development in the region, and highlighted the varying levels of rights Aboriginal people on different land tenures had to negotiate and control  mining development on their traditional lands. While Australia these days is sometimes spoken of as being "carried on the dump truck" (rather than on the sheep's back, as in earlier years) he argued that in fact it was carried on Aboriginal land. Some environmental groups have ignored the cultural rights to make decisions. Aboriginal people need to be able to shape their own communities and economies, including the right to say no to commercial resource extraction, as well as the right to manage natural resources on country.

The future of WIN?

The announcement was made during the meeting that the interim Secretariat for WIN would be the UNDP body the Equator Initiative. There was some surprise that more consultation had not taken place on this, and many present had no information about what the Equator Initiative was. In the Australia/NZ consultation session, however, one delegate expressed great satisfaction that finally Australian indigenous people would get some access to a UN development agency, raising the idea of the "fourth world" - the third world within the first world. Talks on the structure and funding for WIN will continue this year, and future meetings were envisaged as taking place in conjunction with major international events such as the Convention on Biological Diversity Conferences of the Parties.

Rosie Cooney is Chair of SULi