Wapichan people’s plan to secure and care for their lands, Guyana

The Wapichan people live in the South Rupununi District of Guyana. The “Wapichan wiizi” (territory) is home to many animals, reptiles, plants, insects, birds, fishes and other water creatures, many of which are globally rare or endangered.1 The Wapichan territory contains many important cultural heritage sites for the communities, where stone axes, arrow heads, beads, pottery and rock carvings and burial grounds are found. The Wapichan have compiled a plan for the sustainable community-based use and development of their ancestral territory, which covers about 2.8 million hectares, for the benefit of present and future generations.2 The plan describes the multiple services, values and meanings that the territory provides. For instance, respect for spirit beings and their homes is essential for the wellbeing of the communities and the health and abundance of the fishes and game. The territorial management plan sets out common principles, goals, and customary laws on the responsible use of the land, forest, mountain, grassland and wetland ecosystems. It includes more than one hundred inter-community agreements on collective actions for sustainable land use, customary sharing of resources, community development and livelihood initiatives. It also details hundreds of local wildlife sites for community protection, including proposals to establish an extensive 1.4 million hectare Wapichan Conserved Forest covering old-growth rainforest in the eastern part of the territory.

Securing the Wapichan territory by obtaining its legal recognition is a major goal for the Wapichan and a prerequisite for fully realising and implementing their plans. The existing land titles are fragmented and do not cover the full extent of the areas traditionally used and occupied by the Wapichan people. Further the Wapichan territory is facing serious external pressures from illegal mining, cattle rustling, logging and encroachment from commercial hunting. To address these, the Wapichan have developed a community-based system to detect and document such pressures as well as to monitor ecosystem health (for example water quality) and land use change.3 4

The Wapichan have initiated active dialogue with relevant government departments, agencies and commissions to explain their plans for continued community-based care of their ancestral areas. The Wapichan use their own maps and photographic and geo-referenced information, and data on traditional use of the land, to support their land claims and to point out where the tenure gaps are. These initiatives have led to formal talks between the communities and the government about actions to secure their land and forests legally, and to prevent and suspend industrial logging and mining concessions on Wapichan land.

Development of cultural indicators to monitor Kauri dieback disease in Aotearoa/New Zealand

Kauri dieback is a deadly, fungus-like disease specific to New Zealand which has killed thousands of kauri trees over the past ten years. Kauri dieback was formally identified in April 2008. Its origin and time of arrival in New Zealand are still unknown, but evidence suggests that it was introduced from overseas. This assumption is based on the narrow genetic variation found in the disease population and on its preference for high soil temperatures, which suggests a more tropical origin.5 There is no known treatment as yet.

Kauri trees are considered a taonga species by many Māori: a species valued as a means of connection to the spiritual beliefs and way of life of their ancestors. A collective of representatives from Māori entities with kauri forests have formed the Tangata Whenua Roopu (TWR), part of a joint Kauri Dieback Programme that encompasses research on detection of kauri dieback, methods to control it and public awareness campaigns to help arrest its spread. The Programme has developed a culturally-based methodological framework for monitoring Kauri Ngahere (forest) health.

The framework uses a holistic kauri ecosystem approach (ngahere) which takes into account factors beyond the kauri alone. A key application of the methodology is the development of cultural health indicators, including both qualitative and measurable (quantitative) indicators that were repeatable and duplicable. The indicators were designed to determine the state of health of kauri forests in different areas; to anticipate or predict the presence of kauri dieback, and to identify resilient kauri trees or forests that were not susceptible to kauri dieback. The indicators were created using a mātauranga Māori approach2 within a complementary scientific framework.

Extensive interviews with experts in ngahere kauri (kauri forests) were held in order to develop a set of values, which guided the development of indicators and recommendations for the monitoring programme. A site record form and mobile data collection app template were also developed. In addition, a research project based on how Matauranga Māori rongoa (medicinal use of plants) may be useful for either individual kauri trees or kauri forest health was also developed. If successful it could provide knowledge and /or tools for use in future research and potentially in the fight against kauri dieback, either through use of a bio-control or by building the resilience and enhancing the health of kauri forests.

History of the Ngati Hine pilot program for the monitoring, recovery, and protection of eels

Ngati Hine is a fishing nation in Aotearoa/New Zealand which cultivates a day to day relationship with eels. We maintain a high level of traditional knowledge and customary use, including on how to transfer and hold eels in boxes for up to twelve months. There is much concern over elvers (baby eels, tangariki in Māori) due to the man-made and natural obstructions within our catchments. Local environmental guardians (kaitiaki)3 have historically helped transfer the elvers above waterfalls and continue this practice today. This is embodied in the local story of a supernatural being tanisha 2,[Rangiriri, who saw young children using a kete (tightly woven flax basket) to help elvers up the waterfall at Otiria over 400 years ago.

In the 1980s a study was carried out on Ngati Hine eel harvesting that found that customary harvest practices producing approximately 30,000 kg of food were sustainable over a seven year period. Over the past ten years, Ngati Hine, alongside other customary and commercial fishers, have expressed concerns over declining eel populations. In 2011, we completed an eel population survey with the support of the National Institute of Water and Atmospheric Research, peer reviewed by the Ministry of Fisheries. The report confirmed the following: long fin female numbers are low in the upper catchments; there are several eel passage obstructions; significant habitats are degraded; there are lakes with the potential for stocking where eels can mature within four years, and there is potential to establish a nationally significant reserve area on the lower Taumarere River. A pilot project was subsequently designed to address these issues. The project vision was to enhance the relationship of local people with the eel population within Ngati Hine catchments as a pilot strategy that can be implemented across the North Island. The project is called “Kete Tangariki” and its main objectives are to:

  • Improve eel populations for customary and commercial interests;
  • Improve habitat appropriate for eels;
  • Support local, established and new, customary and commercial fishermen;
  • Advocate for laws and policies to improve eel management, engaging the local and central government, industry and the public.

Snapshot of outcomes and successes from the project are as follows:

  • The ideal eel habitat and methods of improvement, such as riparian planting (a traditional method of water management) were discussed. Underground wetlands were identified as important unique habitats which Ngati Hine must maintain.
  • Impacts of farming and pine forestry were identified as having harmful effects on elvers and eel habitats. Following these discussions, priority sites for enhancing this work were identified.

The pilot project brought together customary and commercial fishers from around the country who built stronger relationships with each other through improved respect and understanding. There is a strong desire to continue this journey of assessing the on-going health and management of eels.

Ngati Hine provided information to the international panel reviewing the state of eels, which assessed its monitoring information. Since the review, the Ministry for Primary Industries has contracted Ngati Hine to carry out a national inventory of indigenous communities’ monitoring of eel stocks and has discussed whether we would be interested in adapting a common methodology so that we can contribute to national reports on the status of eels. The results and any future work on this inventory will ultimately influence regulations surrounding sustainable fishing in Aotearoa.

Children of the water: Plan de Vida (Life Plan) of the Misak people, Colombia

We, the Misak, are located in the Southwest of the Republic of Colombia, and have a population of approximately 25,000 inhabitants, with ancestral and autonomous authorities managing and regulating the territory.

We created the “Plan de Vida” (Plan of Life), which is a political strategy to ensure the existence of community life and spirituality linked to Mother Nature and countervailing the country’s own laws and regulations. The “Plan de Vida” is Mother Earth’s path to a comprehensive life with the mission of preserving moors, water resources and wetlands, all of which are alive and enjoy their own natural rights with no economic attributions. But we humans cannot see them as living beings. The Plan of Life is ancient and was passed on through oral tradition until it was systemised in 1992.

We, the Misak People, based on our Plan de Vida, protect life in our territory. We safeguard the moors, which are sacred places, and plant trees to safeguard water sources, manage watersheds and riverbanks and avoid their contamination. Similarly, we restrict research activity and the collection of resources within our territories. We, the Misak, are a people consisting physically of individuals, but we have a collective mind and conscience. This collectiveness gives us the necessary measures to protect Mother Earth and its biological diversity. We, the Misak, we have lived with Mother Nature wisely without looking at economic, commercial or industrial benefits, with the conviction that exercising the right to live is not only a human right but also the fundamental right of our Mother Earth. Only then can we live well. We are not against what the Western world call “development”. But we are against dispossession, a model of extractive development, mining, or any kind of human action that threatens the life of our Mother. We support a minga3 for the life of our Mother; we want to work as brothers with all the peoples who work to protect environmental rights. We want to unify our physical and spiritual strengths to protect a sustainable life. This is the only way to stop the illness of the economic and political models that fail to ensure the life of the planet and humanity.

The Indigenous Women’s Biodiversity Network from Latin America and the Caribbean (RMIB-LAC)

The Indigenous Women’s Biodiversity Network from Latin America and the Caribbean (Red de Mujeres Indígenas sobre Biodiversidad de America Latina y el Caribe: RMIB-LAC) is an example of a network that is operating at different levels and tailors its approaches to serve and address various audiences. RMIB-LAC was founded in 1998 to create a space for a growing number of indigenous organisations, specifically indigenous women, to make their voices heard and to present their proposals in key decision-making arenas at international, regional and national levels. We focus on engaging indigenous women because women are central figures in the protection and transmission of traditional knowledge and practices in relation to the conservation of natural resources, through their teaching and everyday practices. For many indigenous peoples it is mostly the women who put spirituality into practice, by celebrating sacred rites and ceremonies.

Since its inception, RMIB-LAC has strengthened the capacities of hundreds of government representatives and indigenous peoples (mainly in the Latin American region). It has done this in various ways. Firstly, RMIB-LAC develops capacity-building activities to raise public awareness of the values of biodiversity and its sustainable use, complementing what most schools are teaching children about biodiversity. We base our activities on the principle that you cannot value what you do not know, and therefore our work has focused on explaining what biodiversity is, in order that people should be familiar with all its components and their interrelationships. RMIB-LAC also organises training workshops to engage both traditional and state authorities. We work and collaborate with universities and environmental organisations and involve young people, women and men in our workshops.

RMIB-LAC also organises “intercultural dialogues” with national governments. When government representatives from the region speak of biodiversity they tend to do so only in technical terms, which prevents effective communication. This has been overcome through intercultural dialogues in villages, where indigenous peoples connect scientific concepts to indigenous words used to describe the same concepts. This process has enabled the creation of a communication bridge to implement decisions and initiatives for the conservation of biodiversity.