Conservation and Sustainable Use of the Biosphere - WBGU

Conservation and Sustainable Use of the Biosphere - WBGU

Conserving natural and cultural heritage E 3.5


Box E 3.5-1

Indigenous peoples

Indigenous literally means ‘born into something’, ‘within a

line of descent’, or simply ‘native’. Instead of this last term,

which is felt to be discriminatory, the term indigenous has

established itself uniformly at international level. In order

to distinguish between indigenous and non-indigenous peoples

several criteria always have to be considered, as illustrated

by the definitions below. The definition of the International

Labour Organisation (ILO) is the only international

legal agreement to date with respect to indigenous

peoples. The definition of the United Nations Special Rapporteur

has also met with broad international acceptance.

United Nations Special Rapporteur

Definition by the Special Rapporteur of the United Nations

Sub-Commission on Prevention of Discrimination and Protection

of Minorities of the Council for Economic and

Social Affairs:

‘Indigenous communities, peoples and nations are such

that have developed in a historical continuity with pre-invasion

and pre-colonial societies on their territory, and view

themselves as being different to the other sectors/parts of

the society that now dominate in these territories.They now

form non-dominant sectors/parts of society and have a firm

resolve to preserve, develop and pass on to future generations

their continuing existence as peoples, in accordance

with their own cultural arrangements, social institutions and

legal systems.’

International Labour Organisation

According to Convention 169 of the International Labour

Organisation indigenous peoples are:

1. Tribal peoples in independent countries whose social,

cultural and economic conditions distinguish them from

other sections of the national community, and whose status

is regulated wholly or partially by their own customs

or traditions or by special laws or regulations.

2. Peoples in independent countries who are regarded as

indigenous on account of their descent from the populations

which inhabited the country, or a geographical

region to which the country belongs, at the time of conquest

or colonization or the establishment of present

state boundaries and who, irrespective of their legal status,

retain some or all of their own social, economic, cultural

and political institutions.

Self-definition as an indigenous or tribal people should be

considered the key criterion for the determination of the

group which the provisions of this Convention should apply


be used for nature conservation? Can indigenous

and traditional practices be a model for sustainable

management to conserve biological diversity

(Section E 3.9)?

• There is growing interest in the use and profitable

recovery of the genetic resources available in

these habitats and of the associated knowledge of

the indigenous and traditional communities. How

can we use these materials? How can we let the

‘owners’ of this potential participate in its economic

use (Section I 3.3.3)?

• The frequent abundance of resources (eg iron,

copper, bauxite, gold or silver) in the territories

inhabited by indigenous and traditional communities

has often meant that they have had to give

way to large-scale projects; they have been dispossessed

or resettled.Within a very short time knowledge

was lost that had been passed down orally

over many generations and had thus defined not

only a language, but also the social fabric of the

communities and their identity. Is cultural diversity

a guarantor of the conservation of biological

diversity as well as a value per se? Can the loss be

accepted and should it be further advanced by the

globalization of western patterns of consumption

and production, by the ‘McDonaldization’ of standards

and lifestyles (Chapter H)?

• The indigenous communities themselves also

make demands and assert rights (Dömpke et al,

1996). The growing extent of ‘contact’ with westernized

culture, eg via scientists and representatives

of industry looking for useful knowledge, as

well as tourists, the media, etc increases the fear of

indigenous peoples about the use or exploitation

of their traditional knowledge without the equitable

sharing of benefits, and about the imminent

loss of their identity and their culture. They are

calling for the protection of their intellectual property

and the conservation of their habitat where

they can retain their traditional lifestyles, including

their economic, cultural and religious habits as

well as self-determination and co-determination

with regard to the use of their habitat (Section

I 3.2.9).

Traditional or indigenous societies, which are often

located in areas rich in biodiversity, have always been

forced to manage with the resources in their immediate

habitat. Over many centuries these communities

have developed reserves of knowledge and practices

that have ensured their survival and whose rules are

passed on orally from generation to generation.

Complex processes of adaptation to their living conditions

transmitted as knowledge and spiritual practices

have meant that many, but by no means all,

indigenous and traditional groups have maintained

the foundations of their lives and the abundance of

their flora and fauna. There are not just many different

mythical ideas about indigenous peoples, but also

an impressive array of scientific, mostly ethnological

and cultural-geographical, case studies on the

philosophies of indigenous and local cultures and the

way they live. ‘Myths’ begin with the discriminatory

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