“Just Another Hoop to Jump Through?” Using Environmental Laws and Processes to Protect Indigenous Rights
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- Middleton, B.R. Environmental Management (2013) 52: 1057. doi:10.1007/s00267-012-9984-5
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Protection of culturally important indigenous landscapes has become an increasingly important component of environmental management processes, for both companies and individuals striving to comply with environmental regulations, and for indigenous groups seeking stronger laws to support site protection and cultural/human rights. Given that indigenous stewardship of culturally important sites, species, and practices continues to be threatened or prohibited on lands out of indigenous ownership, this paper examines whether or not indigenous people can meaningfully apply mainstream environmental management laws and processes to achieve protection of traditional sites and associated stewardship activities. While environmental laws can provide a “back door” to protect traditional sites and practices, they are not made for this purpose, and, as such, require specific amendments to become more useful for indigenous practitioners. Acknowledging thoughtful critiques of the cultural incommensurability of environmental law with indigenous environmental stewardship of sacred sites, I interrogate the ability of four specific environmental laws and processes—the Uniform Conservation Easement Act; the National Environmental Policy Act and the California Environmental Quality Act; the Pacific Stewardship Council land divestiture process; and Senate Bill 18 (CA-2004)—to protect culturally important landscapes and practices. I offer suggestions for improving these laws and processes to make them more applicable to indigenous stewardship of traditional landscapes.