Putting indigenous conservation policy into practice delivers biodiversity and cultural benefits

Abstract

In the midst of global species loss, Indigenous languages and culture are experiencing similar declines. Current international policies and programs advocate the involvement of local and Indigenous people in sustaining biodiversity and culture, but the anticipated benefits are not always realized or assessed. This paper draws on three objectives of current international and Australian policy to explore the biological and cultural benefits of a collaborative cross-cultural biodiversity project of Indigenous rangers and university ecologists in remote northern Australia. Policies promoting blends of biological and cultural conservation from International to national scale share the following objectives: (1) involve Indigenous Peoples in biodiversity conservation; (2) maintain and develop Indigenous knowledge and culture; and (3) recognize and promote Indigenous natural and cultural resource management and traditional knowledge. This paper reflects on the project benefits in the context of these objectives, with the aim of informing future policy and program development. Biodiversity benefits of the cross-cultural project included new public records for a relatively poorly known but species rich area that are being used to inform local Indigenous land management, as well as specimens and tissue samples with which to explore the genetic diversity and evolutionary history of the region. Cultural benefits included compiling a local field guide that contains ten different languages and engaging young people to facilitate intergenerational transfer of threatened traditional knowledge. Promotion of the work at local to national fora addressed the third objective and enhanced Indigenous involvement. We demonstrate that top-down policy directives can be implemented to deliver on-ground mutual benefits for science and Indigenous communities.

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Correspondence to Emilie Ens.

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Communicated by Peter Bridgewater.

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Ens, E., Scott, M.L., Rangers, Y.M. et al. Putting indigenous conservation policy into practice delivers biodiversity and cultural benefits. Biodivers Conserv 25, 2889–2906 (2016). https://doi.org/10.1007/s10531-016-1207-6

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Keywords

  • Indigenous biocultural knowledge (IBK)
  • Natural and cultural resource management (NCRM)
  • Traditional languages
  • Cross-cultural environmental management
  • Traditional ecological knowledge