Indigenous peoples deserve as much protection as the threatened environments they inhabit

Indigenous peoples deserve as much protection as the threatened environments they inhabit

Robert Williams writes:

Over 600,000 tourists travel to Tanzania’s Ngorongoro Conservation Area each year, and many will catch a glimpse of the Great Migration: the famed trek of more than one million wildebeests and thousands of zebras, gazelles and other animals crossing over the Mara River into Kenya and back. Yet the Tanzanian government believes it can attract many more tourists seeking the safari adventure of a lifetime: five million by 2025, bringing $6 billion with them per year, according to a recent plan.

That’s why government officials recently announced a change in the legal status of Ngorongoro that will prohibit human settlement inside and near it. The decision will force authorities to remove nearly 100,000 people — mostly Maasai pastoralists who have used Ngorongoro’s vast grasslands to sustain their seminomadic cattle-herding way of life for generations — from the protected area. According to the government, the Maasai must be removed to conserve the land and protect biodiversity. The Maasai argue that removal puts their lives and cultural survival at risk and that the government should instead expand tourism in a way that respects their rights.

As countries around the world pursue environmental goals like preserving 30 percent of the planet’s land and seas by 2030 — goals that can also yield opportunities for eco-tourism development and carbon credit sales — they’re converting lands rich in natural beauty and biodiversity into protected areas. Often they do so with financing and guidance from the biggest conservation organizations, such as the World Wildlife Fund and Wildlife Conservation Society, and wealthy countries like the United States, France, Germany and Japan.

Yet in many cases people are already living and surviving off these lands — indeed, an estimated 476 million Indigenous people dwell on lands that are home to 80 percent of the world’s biodiversity. When governments decide that nature conservation and potential revenue from it take priority over existing human activities, too often they resort to evictions, destruction of agricultural fields and confiscation of livestock, sometimes through stupefying violence, to get residents off the land. At the University of Arizona Indigenous peoples law and policy program, which hosts the United Nations Special Rapporteur on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples, reports of these kinds of human rights abuses and complaints linked to conservation stream in on a weekly, and sometimes even daily, basis from all corners of the globe. [Continue reading…]

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