Indigenous and community conserved areas have emerged as a new phenomenon in conservation circles but their existence is as old as human civilization itself. Around the world Indigenous Peoples are mobilizing to ensure that their ancient practices based on a profound knowledge of the natural world are recognized as a mainstay of global conservation.
"Eleven years ago at the World Parks Congress in Durban, we discussed the contribution of indigenous peoples to conservation, says Ramiro Batzin, Indigenous Sotzil of Guatemala. “Today this contribution is clear and advances in indigenous governance are shown in current conservation models. In fact, indigenous areas are the best preserved areas in several countries, one of them is Guatemala."
Indigenous Peoples of South America are gearing up to lead discussions under the theme Respecting Indigenous Knowledge and Traditional Culture at the IUCN World Parks Congress taking place in Sydney, Australia in November.
“There is agreement on specific issues that will be debated at Sydney,” says Batzin. “One is a proposal for the recognition of an indigenous category in the IUCN protected area management categories. There should already be a category that allows Indigenous Peoples to implement their own conservation models. This category should recognize four basic elements: forms of community organization, territorial issues, demands of Indigenous Peoples and the need for government investment in these areas.”
“This category could be specific for each country and might come under different names such as: conservation territory, biocultural territory, or indigenous conservation area. The important thing is that a country or Indigenous Peoples group should be able to join this category only if they understand the four basic elements," says Batzin.
Indigenous Peoples are getting together to exchange knowledge and experience, gathering case studies and regional examples of the sound management of natural resources. At the national level, they have held policy discussions; internationally, they are working towards an agreed global vision of Indigenous Peoples and protected areas.
Indigenous Peoples groups are also working closely with IUCN’s regional offices in Central and South America on several issues including the contribution that Indigenous Peoples make to the use, management and conservation of natural resources; the contribution of Indigenous Peoples´ traditional knowledge to conservation models; the discussion of IUCN protected area management categories, and the links between protected areas and Indigenous Peoples.
“Indigenous conservation territories represent an alternative to climate change adaptation and mitigation as reservoirs of knowledge. They provide benefit not only to Indigenous Peoples, but to society in general yet public policies are not taking into account the rights of these groups”, says Batzin.
Latin American Indigenous participation at the World Parks Congress is organized by the Indigenous Forum Abya Yala, a regional platform consists of six regional organizations of Mesoamerica and South America: the Indigenous Council of Central America, Mesoamerican Indigenous Council, Network of indigenous Women for Biodiversity, COICA, the Coordinator of Andean indigenous Organizations, and the Enlance Continental de Mujeres.