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Since our beginning in 1987, CI has been committed to working with indigenous and traditional peoples worldwide, not only to protect biodiversity, but to preserve indigenous cultures and the traditional knowledge they possess. Many of the biodiversity hotspots and high-biodiversity wilderness areas where we work include indigenous and traditional peoples, and their territories cover a large amount of biologically important land in many regions of the world.
Colonial histories, modern policies, and discriminatory acts have exploited and marginalized indigenous communities, directly contributing to four principal problems:
Indigenous peoples often lack official title to lands their ancestors have inhabited for centuries, and national land-tenure policies frequently deny claims based solely on ancestral ownership. Without secure title, it becomes difficult to challenge government policies, development projects, and industry initiatives that are carried out on indigenous lands without prior and informed consent of the communities.
Such projects frequently exhaust the natural resources on which indigenous peoples depend, undermine traditional practices, and fail to generate revenues for the communities. Traditional knowledge – part of the cultural legacy passed down through generations – has also been exploited by outsiders who have failed to appropriately respect or reimburse communities, resulting in financial and cultural losses.
In 2003, CI created the Indigenous and Traditional Peoples Initiative to further support our commitments and to review and work with traditional groups at the local, regional, and global levels. In cooperation with our field programs, partners, and indigenous groups, the initiative is designed to ensure and support the development of the appropriate tools, knowledge, and resources to enable the groups to continue their efficient and effective stewardship of their land, and achieve sustainable community development.
One focus of our initiative is to ensure that our staff and partners are sensitive to the intricacies of working with indigenous peoples to better understand them, and build stronger relationships – a critical step toward building effective working partnerships.
Such severe poverty forces communities to place extreme pressure on their natural resources to meet subsistence needs. These resources are often already diminished or damaged by encroaching land-use. Human population growth compounds the problem: hotspots tend to have higher population density and faster population growth rates than the rest of the world. The result of increasing poverty and growing population is mounting threats to the habitats, resources, and species that are essential to indigenous and traditional livelihoods, and are a high priority for protection.
These circumstances demand that conservation organizations partner with indigenous peoples to collaborate in countering the growing threats to their lands, resources, and livelihoods. Conservation International remains committed to indigenous and traditional peoples through our conservation efforts and continuous engagement, not only at the local project level but through unique partnerships, grant funding, capacity building, and the tracking and development of policies that affect both biodiversity and indigenous peoples.
© Cristina G. Mittermeier
© CI, Haroldo Castro
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