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What happens when Western Environmentalists join forces with corporations? They end up creating Conservation Refugees.

Internets? I am so fucking angry right now. Why? I saw this two days ago: Thanks to GM, People Are Being Displaced So Their Forests Can Become Offsets for SUVs. and I’m thinking what the everloving fuck????? Then I am meandering about on Daily Kos and I see a book review for Conservation Refugees: The Hundred-Year Conflict between Global Conservation and Native Peoples (AMazon has it cheaper and then there are used books and the library, of course.

Since 1900, more than 108,000 officially protected conservation areas have been established worldwide, largely at the urging of five international conservation organizations. About half of these areas were occupied or regularly used by indigenous peoples. Millions who had been living sustainably on their land for generations were displaced in the interests of conservation. In Conservation Refugees, Mark Dowie tells this story.

This is a “good guy vs. good guy” story, Dowie writes; the indigenous peoples’ movement and conservation organizations have a vital common goal—to protect biological diversity—and could work effectively and powerfully together to protect the planet and preserve species and ecosystem diversity. Yet for more than a hundred years, these two forces have been at odds. The result: thousands of unmanageable protected areas and native peoples reduced to poaching and trespassing on their ancestral lands or “assimilated” but permanently indentured on the lowest rungs of the economy.

Dowie begins with the story of Yosemite National Park, which by the turn of the twentieth century established a template for bitter encounters between native peoples and conservation. He then describes the experiences of other groups, ranging from the Ogiek and Maasai of eastern Africa and the Pygmies of Central Africa to the Karen of Thailand and the Adevasis of India. He also discusses such issues as differing definitions of “nature” and “wilderness,” the influence of the “BINGOs” (Big International NGOs, including the Worldwide Fund for Nature, Conservation International, and The Nature Conservancy), the need for Western scientists to respect and honor traditional lifeways, and the need for native peoples to blend their traditional knowledge with the knowledge of modern ecology. When conservationists and native peoples acknowledge the interdependence of biodiversity conservation and cultural survival, Dowie writes, they can together create a new and much more effective paradigm for conservation.

Indeed. It appears that the book recced in my earlier post did not but scratch the surface of what appears to be widespread fuckery on behalf of white western environmental organizations, who seem to have this quaint notion that the best way to fix their society’s poisoning of the earth and sea, by practicing environmental neo-colonialism.

Radio Interview (with Partial Transcript) with Mark Dowie, author of Conservation Refugees

CLARK: I don’t want to ignore what’s happened here in the United States where when it comes to land conservation, we’ve had our stories of not treating native people so well either and I’m just thinking we’re talking on the heels of the Ken Burns’ TV documentary on the National Parks where Burns hit on the tension between preservation and use, but didn’t actually come down on one side of the issue or the other. Talk a little bit about what happened in this country.

DOWIE: He does acknowledge that native people have been evicted from American national parks. This whole model of conservation began here in Yosemite in the middle of the 19th Century, which was at the time occupied by Lewach [PH] Indians. And John Muir and the other people who were inspired to create a national park where Yosemite is, were not impressed with the Indians. In fact, Muir was revolted by them, and asked that they be removed from the Park and they were. That happened again in Yellowstone and several other American parks around the country. That became known as the Yosemite model of conservation, and was exported by the organizations that now dominate global conservation, all of which are American organizations.CLARK: You describe your book as a “good guy versus good guy story.” So is there anybody in particular to blame for how this seemingly good idea has gone wrong?

DOWIE: It is a good guy versus good guy story. MORE

(I thoroughly disagree with this description of good guy vs good guy, by the way. In fact, I’d go so far as to call it Bullshit. “Good guy”, is not how I would describe the enviro orgs who push this shit. You are by no means good when your actions fuck up people on this scale, and they have a fucking HISTORY of this bullshit, arrogant, paternalistic, onetrack minded, and racist approach to citizens of the world whose skin ain’t white)

Naturally, the people being kicked off their lands are PISSED.

Article based on the book:Conservation Refugees: When protecting nature means kicking people out

It’s no secret that millions of native peoples around the world have been pushed off their land to make room for big oil, big metal, big timber, and big agriculture. But few people realize that the same thing has happened for a much nobler cause: land and wildlife conservation. Today the list of culture-wrecking institutions put forth by tribal leaders on almost every continent includes not only Shell, Texaco, Freeport, and Bechtel, but also more surprising names like Conservation International (CI), The Nature Conservancy (TNC), the World Wildlife Fund (WWF), and the Wildlife Conservation Society (WCS). Even the more culturally sensitive World Conservation Union (IUCN) might get a mention.

In early 2004 a United Nations meeting was convened in New York for the ninth year in a row to push for passage of a resolution protecting the territorial and human rights of indigenous peoples. The UN draft declaration states: “Indigenous peoples shall not be forcibly removed from their lands or territories. No relocation shall take place without the free and informed consent of the indigenous peoples concerned
and after agreement on just and fair compensation and, where possible, with the option to return.”

During the meeting an indigenous delegate who did not identify herself rose to state that while extractive industries were still a serious threat to their welfare and cultural integrity, their new and biggest enemy was “conservation.”

Later that spring, at a Vancouver, British Columbia, meeting of the International Forum on Indigenous Mapping, all two hundred delegates signed a declaration stating that the “activities of conservation organizations now represent the single biggest threat to the integrity of indigenous lands.” These rhetorical jabs have shaken the international conservation community, as have a subsequent spate of critical articles and studies, two of them conducted by the Ford Foundation, calling big conservation to task for its historical mistreatment of indigenous peoples.

“We are enemies of conservation,” declared Maasai leader Martin Saning’o, standing before a session of the November 2004 World Conservation Congress sponsored by IUCN in Bangkok, Thailand. The nomadic Maasai, who have over the past thirty years lost most of their grazing range to conservation projects throughout eastern Africa, hadn’t always felt that way. In fact, Saning’o reminded his audience, “…we were the original conservationists.” The room was hushed as he quietly explained how pastoral and nomadic cattlemen have traditionally protected their range: “Our ways of farming pollinated diverse seed species and maintained corridors between ecosystems.” Then he tried to fathom the strange version of land conservation that has impoverished his people, more than one hundred thousand of whom have been displaced from southern Kenya and the Serengeti Plains of Tanzania. Like the Batwa, the Maasai have not been fairly compensated. Their culture is dissolving and they live in poverty.

“We don’t want to be like you,” Saning’o told a room of shocked white faces. “We want you to be like us. We are here to change your minds. You cannot accomplish conservation without us.”
Although he might not have realized it, Saning’o was speaking for a growing worldwide movement of indigenous peoples who think of themselves as conservation refugees. MORE

Fucking MARVELOUS. Western corporations fuck up the planet, western environmentalists march in an persuade, sometimes by economic might, governments that in order to fix it, the citizens of the fucked up places must give up their land. WHAT KIND OF FUCKED UP BULLSHIT REASONING IS THIS SHIT GODDAMMIT?!?!?!?!?!?!? I am so SICK of this everlasting insistence that Westerners know better and to hell with studying the local set up to see WHAT it is and WHY it has worked the way it has, no. We must import Western ideas wholesale and impose them on every damn place, completely ignoring the fuckery they bring into other people’s lives until said other people have suffered/hurt/died, in the case of Africa; according to PDF From Refuge to Refugee: The African Case MILLIONS of people; and god knows how many in Asia; and have had to raise holy hell before we back off!

(As an aside, what makes the reporter think that Saning’o might not have realized that other people were suffering the same BS as he is?)

Some people have seen the light. Take for instance William Hurd, proprietor of Native Solutions to Conservation Refugees The website describes itself as follows:

Native Solutions to Conservation Refugees’s (NSCoR) mission is to respond to Indigenous and local communities’ wishes when conservation and environmental factors threaten to displace them. NSCoR is committed to the local communities providing the solutions, when possible.

He links three more articles thoroughly explaining the phenomenom of conservation refugees:
Eviction for Conservation:A Global Overview PDF, A Challenge to Conservationists and Poverty Risks and then gives us a case study.

Mr. Hurd told his story in 2008 Burlington man helps Mursi tribe of Ethiopia retain its land and way of life

The struggle as he saw it was over land rights for the Mursi, a tribal people he had befriended in southwestern Ethiopia, and the most he hoped for as he began his campaign on their behalf, was to help them shore up their negotiating position.

What he wanted was to forestall a worst-case scenario: the Mursis’ being driven from their ancestral territory or, as he puts it, “disallowed from growing crops or grazing their cattle on their land, endangering their survival” — all to make way for a conservation park teeming with wildlife and beckoning tourists.

As the contest began about three years ago, it was a huge mismatch.

On one side was Hurd, a soft-spoken, unassuming 1995 Burlington High School graduate. He trimmed trees to support himself. He did two years at the University of Vermont. He never studied anthropology but developed a keen interest in the ways of indigenous peoples, starting with American Indians and deepening with a trip to Ethiopia in 2001.

On the other side was the African Parks Foundation (now called African Parks Network), a private, Netherlands-based organization in the business of managing conservation reserves. It was overseer of seven “protected areas” covering about 9,600 square miles in five countries. It has financial supporters including the late Paul Fentener van Vlissingen, a Dutch executive (whose contributions to African Parks exceeded $25 million), Prince Bernhard of the Netherlands ($1 million), and from the United States, Rob Walton and the Walton Family Foundation ($5 million).

At issue was the fate of the Omo National Park in southwest Ethiopia, about 1,560 square miles of savanna seasonally used for grazing, farming and hunting by about 40,000 people comprising seven ethnic groups, including the Mursi. When African Parks signed an agreement with Ethiopian government officials to manage Omo several years ago, Hurd feared this could lead to the Mursis’ eviction. He knew that dislocation had been the experience of two other ethnic groups in Nech Sar, another park in southwestern Ethiopia that African Parks had taken over.

It was during Hurd’s second visit to Mursi territory, in 2004-05, that he learned African Parks was coming to Omo. Hurd stayed on for five months, living in the Mursi villages, learning their language, traveling everywhere on foot. When he came back to Burlington, he knew he wanted to help them, but wasn’t sure the best way to go about that.

He created an organization to advocate for “conservation refugees” — people forced off their lands for the creation of nature preserves.

Here are the relevant links from his website:
The Five Local Groups in and around what was to be the Omo National Park: Mursi, Nyangatom Suri, Dizi and Me’en

The organization responsible: Information on African Parks Foundation and its funders

Relevant international laws and guidelines

Government and other maps

But its wasn’t only the Omo National Park that menaced tribes. The African Park Foundation assholes wanted to manage a Park called Nech Sar National Park. Here’s what happened to the Kore and the Guji-Oromo Scrolling down the front page gives even more info on the atrocities committed against the seven tribes who had the misfortune to be in the way of the rich corporate and aristocratic pestilences who has decided that teh remnant of diversity still left in Africa needed to be preserved. Luckily, for these tribes, the story has a happy ending. Read the press statement that African Park Foundation put out. Note the passive aggressiveness. All those hostile natives daring to raise hell about their being kicked out of their homes! The NERVE of some people! Sniff!!!!

The above example, however, is quite rare in that there was a happy ending. This is the more normal result: The Ogiek tribe in Kenya

One of the reasons why this type of environmentalism is being practised is a result of the REDD protocol. What is that? I’m glad you asked. From REDD Monitor

REDD, or reduced emissions from deforestation and forest degradation, is one of the most controversial new issues in the climate change debate. The basic concept is simple: governments, companies or forest owners in the South should be rewarded for keeping their forests instead of cutting them down. The devil, as always, is in the details.

The idea of making payments to discourage deforestation and forest degradation was discussed in the negotiations leading to the Kyoto Protocol, but it was ultimately rejected. REDD developed from a proposal in 2005 by a group of countries calling themselves the Coalition of Rainforest Nations. Two years later, the proposal was taken up at the Conference of the Parties to the UNFCCC in Bali (COP-13). An agreement on REDD is planned to be made at COP-15 which will take place in Copenhagen.


The “Bali Action Plan” calls for:

“Policy approaches and positive incentives on issues relating to reducing emissions from deforestation and forest degradation in developing countries; and the role of conservation, sustainable management of forests and enhancement of forest carbon stocks in developing countries”.

The above paragraph (paragraph 1b(iii)) is referred to as “REDD-plus”. It is worth reading closely, because so far it is the only agreed text we have on REDD. “REDD-plus” includes activities with potentially extremely serious implications for indigenous people, local communities and forests:

1.“conservation” sounds good, but the history of the establishment of national parks includes large scale evictions and loss of rights for indigenous peoples and local communities.
2.“sustainable management of forests” could include subsidies to commercial logging operations in old-growth forests, indigenous peoples’ territory or in villagers’ community forests.
3.“enhancement of forest carbon stocks” could result in conversion of land (including forests) to industrial tree plantations, with serious implications for biodiversity, forests and local communities. MORE

Click HERE for the various articles that illustrate the problem.

And the thing that is most annoying is that forests do indeed need to be protected. Take for example, this video showing the effects of tree plantations that Western companies are setting up to support our lifestyle:

Women raise their voices against tree plantations

Testimonies from Brazil, Nigeria and Papua New Guinea

By the World Rainforest Movement and Forest and Biodiversity Program of Friends of the Earth International
Produced by: World Rainforest Movement March 2009
Screenplay: Flavio Pazos
Script: WRM International Secretariat Team
Voices: Cecilia Carrère, Ana Filippini, Raquel Nuñez, Teresa Perez

Women raise their voices against tree plantations – Part 2/2

Also, In Peru, free trade policies signed with the US led to a clash between the Peruvian gov’t and the indigenous people whose land was to be expropriated for Western companies and their elite local partners. And

Activists are raising holy hell about the tactics of the World Forestry Organization which include stamping approval on genetically modified trees

The 13th World Forestry Congress (WFC) took place in Buenos Aires Oct. 18-23. The international gathering brings together representatives from the forestry industry—read: industrial tree monocultures—governments, scientific organizations, and the private sector. Numerous South American social and environmental organizations did not hesitate in expressing their objection to the congress and all that it stands for.

For the World Rainforest Movement (WRM), an organization based out of Uruguay, the manipulative semantics employed in the WFC communications are an example of everything that is wrong with this event. Case in point is the effort to refer to tree plantations as “planted forests.” “The issue of the ‘planted forests’ is one of our main concerns, given that these so-called ‘forests’ (that in reality are monoculture tree plantations) are having a major impact on the subsistence and environment of populations all over the world,” stated the WRM.

“One of the objectives of this gathering is to promote monoculture plantations of exotic or imported tree species, which seriously alter the internal relationships of natural ecosystems and with them, life itself,” declared Argentina’s National Ecological Action Network (RENACE, Red Nacional de Acción Ecologista de Argentina) in a communiqué titled “The Trees are Much More than Lumber.” “In this growing process of tree cultivation, the productive expansion occurs in an agrarian structure in which a growing economic concentration is manifested, effecting thousands of producers, principally the smallest ones. It makes the denationalization of agricultural production clear and present as well as its inclusion into an agro-industrial complex tied to monopolistic supply of input and technology—seeds and machinery. It is a complex created by and wholly in the hands of just a few foreign companies.”

One of the principle themes of the WFC was that of genetically modified (GM) trees.MORE

The World Rainforest Movement has more on GM Trees.

Another article from GRAIN magazine: Plantations, GM trees and indigenous rights

A Silent Forest -The Growing Threat Genetically Engineered Trees Part 1/5

Rest here Review here

Other links include: Forest People’s Programme,

ENVIRONMENT: Indigenous People Make Best Forest Custodians,

Indigenous Peoples. Their forests, struggles and rights,

Around 25,000 indigenous people left in the lurch as all govts ignored forest laws, their rights and

‘Non-existent’ indigenous people challenge WWF’s certified ‘model’ forest project, Komi, Russia from the Forest Stewardship Council Watch And thats just a small amount of the stuff that is out there! There is SO MUCH that needs to be done, and the fact that enviro groups are so much a part of the problem? Is a BIG problem.

14 thoughts on “What happens when Western Environmentalists join forces with corporations? They end up creating Conservation Refugees.”

  1. Sara A. says:

    I have personally seen environmentalist groups like Earth First! working with Native American groups. (They get villified, but my experiences with and observations of them have been uniformly positive.) I see Forest People’s Programme and World Rainforest Movement mentioned. Anybody else? The ones who do that tend to be the more radical groups, which means they don’t get a lot of money. I think it’s worthwhile to promote them here so they can gain support from individuals.

    And this points back to the fact that we just can’t sustain the current lifestyle of the West. I personally feel overwhelmed, even though I’m doing a number of things…walking instead of driving, buying local food, etc., being politically active…I’m often unsure where to start or what to do next. Got any good suggestions about that?

  2. Ahni says:

    Great post. A bit of an update on the Ogiek. The Mau taskforce announced a couple weeks ago that they will not be evicting the Ogiek from the forest (there are an est. 20,000 Ogieks in the forest). It remains to be seen whether there’s any truth to the claim, but we can hope.

    Also, as a general note, I think it’s important for people to consider that ENGOS, in fact, all non-profit groups are corporations. It’s just they’re motives are usually more enlightened than, say, Vedanta or Barrick Gold. But there are still some willing to make whatever concessions they need for their bottom line. Even concessions that they would otherwise find repugnant and even fight to prevent. “Selective moral disengagement.”

    The WWF is a good example of this. They’ve been known to support Indigenous rights and livelihoods, but right now they’re leading a campaign to protect the world’s salmon population…. The effort threatens more than a dozen communities around the world who depend on the Salmon for their culture and for subsistence. The WWF won’t even listen to the communities.

    It’s all par for the colonial course.

  3. Salistala says:

    Thank you abw and usualmusic,

    I am a regular reader/occasional poster at abw. I am also a First Nations/Aboriginal/Indigenous/Indian from Canada (the reason for all the names is cause the powers that be have changed the definition several times in my lifetime).

    I have experienced firsthand the ENGOs riding in on their white horses to save us poor, ignorant (noble) savages. Our forefathers had the foresight to encourage many of us to get an education and come back to the village and negotiate for our future. The ENGOs (Ecotrust, the Nature Conservancy, etc.) seek funding in our name, and without taking the time to see if we have any capacity to use this funding, they promptly give their experts a nice little salary ($100K+, 4x the local wage) to argue for us. Adding insult to injury their advocacy is slanted to their agenda, not ours.

    This is the reason I’m am so pleased to see this subject on your blogsite with all the links, so much good information that would have taken me too long to gather. I will spend some long afternoons reading and applying them to our tasks in nature and habitat conservancy.

    Again, Thank You

    p.s. Not all these NGOs are all bad. Like the links to NSCoR above we also are speaking with collaborative foundations to help us out. The more I know about them and their methods I will let everyone here know their names.

  4. Salistala says:

    unusualmusic, sorry skipped over a crucial detail.

    1. unusualmusic says:

      I’m glad this helped! $100,000K as a salary???? What the HELL!!!!! And by all means, when you have the time, it would be cool to know which are the actual good guys!

  5. says:

    Thank you so much for this!

  6. Ampersand says:

    Unusualmusic, can you please get in touch with me via email? My email address is barry (at) Thanks.

  7. osiyo says:

    we’ve had our stories of not treating native people so well either”

    Fail. So much Fail.

    Stories? Don’t think so buddy. Try fucking fact.

    And I’m sorry not treating Native people so well is a disgusting dismissal of what was done and what is still done.

    1. unusualmusic says:

      Even as he is faced with the enormity of bullshit, he still tries to duck and weave *smh*

  8. gadugi says:

    I’m so glad you also brought up the threats caused by intrusive GM plants. This is a HUGE problem in Central and South America where native people are seeing the maize they have cultivated and nurtured through their family lines for hundreds of years suddenly transformed and mutated by invasive and unstable GM crops from the US. If they can’t force people off their land one way, they uproot them by another. The spread of GM crops in the lands of our brothers and sisters to the south is far from unintentional.

  9. gadugi says:

    I just wanted to add – anyone who is interested in learning more about the spread of GM crops and plants should check out the video “The World According to Monsanto” which can be found here:

    I had a link to the full version on youtube, but that video has a habit of disappearing when it’s posted on a mainstream site.

  10. adiaha says:

    On fuckin’ point. Thank you for gathering such important information.
    I too would be interested in knowing some of the “good” NGO’s.
    Peace Sis, while I am saddened by your anger, (it is just this peace loving mama thang I got going) I respect the result of your journey and the content you spew. Keep up the good work!

  11. sideshowjim says:

    yeah, I can imagine the whole carbon trading scheme might speed this up. Nice way of pretending we’re doing something and fudging a few figures.


  12. Legible Susan says:

    Friends of the Earth International works on some of these issues. I just watched a programme on Community Channel which is a compilation of three FoEI videos: the two on this page about Energy Sovereignty, and one on agrofuels which is linked from there. They have in-vision subtitles (interviewees in various languages and forms of English) except for some of the English-language voiceover.

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