CI at 25: Honoring the Role of Indigenous Peoples in Conservation

Throughout 2012, as we celebrate CI’s 25 years of impact, Editorial Director Todd Christopher is recounting the ways CI has been changing the face of conservation. Today he focuses on indigenous and traditional peoples.

A Kayapó woman in the Brazilian Amazon.

A Kayapó woman in the Brazilian Amazon. ( © Cristina Mittermeier)

No matter where one lives, and no matter one’s station in life, we all rely on nature for fresh water, clean air, fertile soils — and much, much more. But for the indigenous and traditional peoples of the world, that connection is profound; they depend directly on natural ecosystems to provide them with food, clothing, medicine, fuel and shelter. And more than any other peoples on the planet, their economy, social structure and cultural and spiritual values are closely linked to the biological diversity and ecosystems that sustain them.

Indigenous territories, however, often — and disproportionately — experience rapid social and economic change and pressure from development interests. Yet the very factors now threatening their communities, from deforestation to climate change, can be mitigated through the good stewardship they have practiced for centuries.

CI has long recognized the importance of indigenous and traditional peoples in conservation — and, likewise, the important role conservation can and must play in supporting their rights, their values and their livelihoods. Some of CI’s most important projects over the past two decades include partnerships with the Kayapó Indians of the Brazilian Amazon, the Trio people of southern Suriname and the Wai Wai of Guyana.

CI’s commitment to working with these groups to build a common agenda for conserving biological and cultural diversity was formalized with the creation of the Indigenous and Traditional Peoples Program in 2003; today, CI works with more than 50 indigenous groups around the world and includes Vicki Tauli Corpuz, a leader from the Philippines’ Igorot peoples, on its board of directors.

Todd Christopher

Todd Christopher

This collaborative approach has led to a string of successes — helping the Wai Wai receive absolute title to their lands, creating a long-term trust fund to support the Kayapó and establishing Ecuador’s Socio Bosque program, which pays indigenous communities for reducing carbon emissions by protecting standing forest. With the adoption of CI’s rights-based approach to conservation in 2010, more successes that honor both the land and its people are sure to follow.

Todd Christopher is CI’s editorial director. Read other posts in our “CI at 25″ blog series.

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