Sharing Power: A New Vision for Development – Conference Report

The Sharing Power Conference was held in Whakatane, New Zealand, 11-15 January, co-sponsored by the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) Commission on Environmental, Economic, and Social Policy (CEESP) and two Mäori (indigenous) organizations, Te Rūnanga o Ngāti Awa (a tribal authority) and Te Whare Wānanga o Awanuiārangi (a tribal university). As described on the Conference website:

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"The Conference brought together scientists, economists, indigenous leaders, environmentalists, academics, policy makers in national governments and international agencies, and many others who care about the quality of heritage this generation passes on to future generations. The Conference also focused on the need for policy and decision makers in Governments and Corporations to accommodate a greater level of inclusion of indigenous peoples and all citizens, in national and international policies on the management and governance of bio-cultural resources, and advocated the rights of mother earth – the planet."

One hundred and eighty-eight registered participants from 44 countries participated in the Conference. The Conference was opened by the New Zealand Minister for Mäori Affairs, Hon Pita Sharples, followed by presentations from six youth representatives. In addition to a video-taped greeting from Julia Marton-Lefèvre, the Director General of IUCN, the Conference featured three keynote talks:

  • Winona La Duke, Anishinaabekwe, (Ojibwe);
  • Ashok Khosla, President of IUCN, Co-President of Club of Rome, and Chairman of Development Alternatives, a social enterprise headquartered in New Delhi, India; and
  • Professor Elinor Ostrom, Nobel Laureate 2009 in Economics, the Arthur F. Bentley Professor of Political Science and Senior Research-Director of the Workshop in Political Theory and Policy Analysis at Indiana University, and Research Professor (Part-time) and Founding Director of the Center for the Study of Institutional Diversity at Arizona State University.

There were six simultaneous "Streams" of over eighty contributed papers and discussions dealing with the primary focus of the Conference identified above:

A. Pathways To A New Vision Of Conservation And Development
B. Biocultural Heritage & Indigenous Values
C. Power Sharing And Shared Governance In Practice
D. Sharing Power: Responses To Climate Change, Extractive Industries And Agricultural Policies
E. Re-Thinking Economics
F. Inter-Cultural Dialogue, Education And Communicating Change

In her Keynote talk, Winona La Duke described her work with the organization she co-founded, Honor the Earth, including the development of alternative power systems on reservations, and some of the underlying concepts on which that work is based. Significant quotes from my notes include the following: "[Native American] reservations are [independent] islands on the continent." "Native American languages have no word for 'economics': wealth is food, the ability to fish." "Consider the impact on the 7th generation from now." "All things that count cannot be measured; all things that can be measured do not count." "I don't want to hear your philosophy if you cannot grow corn."

Ashok Khosla focused his Keynote talk on the connection between sharing power—which, he said, means sharing responsibility—and building a sustainable future, i.e., creating a better world for all. He noted two "terminal diseases" of global human society that need to be eliminated, "Affluenza"—excess and unnecessary use of resources—and poverty. He pointed out the importance and value of "biomimicry," applying what we know about how biological organisms are adapted to living on the earth to develop less impactful technologies based on these principles. He concluded that the UN's Millennium Development Goals are too weak to be useful since the goals ignore global population growth: when population growth is taken into account, achieving the goals, expressed as percentage/per capita change would essentially result in no change at best.

In the final Keynote address, Elinor Ostrom described her Nobel Prize winning work analyzing socio-economic/resource utilization-governance systems to determine characteristics of such systems that make them functional and sustainable. She indicated that there was no standard blueprint, because each community is unique. However, some characteristics of successfully functioning communities include having a relatively limited resource base, self-organized rules for dealing with the limited resource use, a good monitoring system and an agreed upon process for conflict resolution. She was particularly pessimistic about global/international protection of marine resources because the above characteristics do not appear to exist there: the only solution she saw was to expand national boundaries.

Youth involvement was an intrinsic part of the conference. A Facebook page was set up to encourage global youth involvement in sessions (NGA WAWATA O NGA RANGITAHI O TE AO). A room was designated for youth to meet throughout the conference. Youth representatives spoke in the opening and closing plenary sessions and also produced a short video sharing their insights. One of the Maori youth representatives wrote the following “being part of and involved in this conference helped me to understand what Sharing Power – a new vision for development’ can do for myself and other rangatahi (youth). As this conference was held in my community, I felt great honour that I was there for my whanau (family), my hapu (sub-tribe) and my Iwi (tribe).” Melissa Hudson, Ngati Awa

In the final plenary session of the Conference, coordinators of each of the six streams presented some of the key findings and conclusions from the presentations and discussions in the stream. These summary reports will be expanded and published in an upcoming issue of the CEESP publication, Policy Matters, which will be available on the CEESP website.

Some of the key findings included;

  • Conservation is largely a western concept, mostly run by western organizations with western thought that may not have relevance to indigenous communities. In the case of Latin America, many of the conservation organizations are located in the city, and they receive funding from their counterparts in the US or Europe. Historically indigenous peoples have been either been excluded or marginalized from these processes. Sharing power means the right to share responsibility for their lands and resources.
  • Conservation is rooted in the sacred – the wisdom comes from contact with nature. Local communities'/indigenous interests need to be more consistently engaged in natural area/protected area management—this means shared governance. There is a need for the full application of the principle of Free, Prior, and Informed Consent (FPIC)—not just consultation—in dealing with indigenous communities.
  • Conservation gains are not dependent on state involvement. Communities, indigenous peoples, citizens groups can plan for and achieve conservation on their own.
  • People are dying as a result of conflicts with extractive industries' exploitation of their lands and resources; governments need more actively impose and enforce rules on these industries' activities. Here again, FPIC should be fundamental in dealing with local/indigenous communities. Agri/Biofuel development may not be a long-term alternative energy solution, and should not take away food producing agricultural land.
  • There is a need to reshape and rethink economics. We don't measure what is important; the means become the end. There is a diversity of forms of economic organization; traditional and local forms of organization may be the most functional.
  • Intercultural dialogue/communication must be based on processes that give marginalised actors more involvement. There is a need to recognize and affirm there are different forms of knowledge: cognitive justice. Communication for change needs to recognize there are multiple audiences for which the message should be shaped, and its purpose should be transparent. We need to create a story of what a sustainable future looks like and figure out how to tell it in multiple different ways to different audiences.
  • The Commodification of the environment goes against the usual concept of how indigenous peoples have historically seen their lands, territories and natural resources for instance water. That lands, territories and what is within them are an extension of the people, and thus must be cared for the good of the collective people because it is a responsibility and not because a profit can be derived from it.
  • The time has come for a “new conservation ethic”, one that is accountable, celebrates cultural diversity, cares for species and ecosystems and supports civil society movements, indigenous peoples and local communities to bring a more socially and environmentally just world into being. The new conservation ethic responds to the specificities and histories of local places by responding to the visions and ideas of local communities and indigenous peoples specific context and relies on local knowledge and decisions.

CEESP SC member, Richard Cellarius wrote, “The messages/insights that I personally came away with include the concept of personal and group responsibility: sharing power means sharing responsibility; responsibility means both action and accountability. Transformation, the noun (process, result), suggests transform (action), the verb, must occur to make it happen. There is a need to understand the roles, rights, and the right of participation and the right to take responsibility of every individual and community—local and indigenous. Conservation organizations can and should provide tools but not direction, particularly to other cultures and societies.”

Antonio Claperols, CEESP member, published an article on his return to the Philippines in which he recorded the following key priorities arising from the conference;

(1) To develop renewable energy; (2) To change paradigms of thinking and educate the people; (3) To step on the brakes on development and go slow in extractive industries; (4) We have to bite the bullet and protect all our habitats and ecosystems for they are what sustain us all. (5) We have to realize that colonization has never gone away and has just taken a new form, and that a transformation, and not mere change, is necessary, and that (6) We must remember that all things that count cannot be measured and all things that can be measured hardly count, that we cannot have food security without food sovereignty, and that should we continue with present economic models and consumption patterns, all civilization will perish.

A special edition of the CEESP Publication, Policy Matters, will be devoted to the Sharing Power Conference. This should be available by November 2011. Copies of the keynote presentations can be located on the CEESP website.


Richard Cellarius and Aroha Mead

Work area: 
Social Policy
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