News: Whakatane Mechanism launched at the WPC in Sydney, November 2014
The previous IUCN World Parks Congress (WPC) was held in Durban, South Africa in 2003. The historic marginalisation of indigenous peoples and local communities from conservation movements and policies resulted in a difficult push for the recognition of local communities’ rights, indigenous peoples’ contribution to conservation and the need for rights-based conservation approaches. Indigenous peoples and local communities were outside the system pushing to get in. However their efforts were successful and helped lead to the recognition of the “new conservation paradigm”.
11 years later, at the 2014 World Parks Congress in Sydney, indigenous peoples and local communities had a strong presence inside the process. Yet, the key question remains: How many in the conservation world have really moved to a focus on acknowledging that conservation needs to support indigenous peoples and local communities’ own ways of owning, sustainably using and conserving their lands?
Before the WPC itself, over 200 indigenous delegates from across the world met in the Blue Mountains on Aboriginal land. One clear recommendation from the Africa group discussions was the need for IUCN to take an explicit position on ensuring that members work to reform national legislation in their countries to bring it in line with the new conservation paradigm. This must include ensuring legislation no longer permits the eviction of indigenous peoples and local communities from their lands in the name of conservation. Back in the Indigenous Peoples’ and Community Conserved Areas and Territories (ICCA)/World Indigenous Networks (WIN) meeting, discussions focused on securing nature through securing peoples’ rights to own, care for and manage the environments they have sustained and been sustained by.
Moving stories were shared at the ICCA/WIN meeting. One Aboriginal woman explained how if her people don't accept what the conservationists tell them to do, they are threatened with losing their jobs as Rangers. Participants also heard how the ongoing bureaucratic management involved in the World Heritage status of Uluru damages the Aboriginal people supposedly responsible for the 'site'. There was discussion of community land ownership and conservation initiatives in Cape York that are apparently working well because the Government has bought the cattle stations off the Europeans and returned the land to its people.
At the WPC itself, FPP and partners focused mainly on:
- Enhancing the diversity and quality of governance of protected areas
- Respecting indigenous and traditional knowledge and culture; and
- World Heritage, highlighting the need for change on the ground to accompany changes in rhetoric.
FPP and our partners, in collaboration with key players from IUCN, successfully launched the Whakatane Mechanism. Clear evidence of the results gained through Whakatane processes led to the Congress endorsing the continued development of the mechanism as part of a wider call to ensure “that rights-based approaches and international standards of justice are applied in all conservation programmes”.
This included calling for redress for “past and ongoing injustices suffered by indigenous peoples and local communities, including restitution of lands expropriated without free, prior and informed consent”.
Together with the International Working Group for Indigenous Affairs (IWGIA), FPP also held a well-attended book launch on World Heritage Sites and Indigenous Peoples’ Rights. Input by the authors, and others into the WPC discussions on World Heritage, led to the Congress recommending that “Global standards for rights and for the conservation of natural and cultural heritage should be adopted and implemented in the World Heritage Convention, ensuring the full involvement of indigenous peoples and local communities in accordance with a rights-based approach.”
This question of ownership of land and resources and the need to continue support for those sustaining and being sustained by their lands, underpins the on-going work of the Whakatane Mechanism.
"IUCN should walk the talk of the new conservation paradigm and make the Whakatane Mechanism a core part of their activities including encouraging governments that the future of conservation lies in this new approach" - Peter Kitelo, an Ogiek from Mt Elgon, Kenya, and the Coordinator of the Chepkitale Indigenous Peoples Development Project, after participating in the WPC