How can Western conservationists talk to Melanesian landowners about indigenous knowledge?
|Collections||ANU Resources, Environment & Development Group (RE&D)|
|Title:||How can Western conservationists talk to Melanesian landowners about indigenous knowledge?|
|Keywords:||western conservationists;Melanesian landowners;indigenous people;conservation;development;indigenous knowledge;conservation covenants;anthropologists|
|Publisher:||Canberra, ACT: Resource Management in Asia-Pacific Program (RMAP), Division of Pacific and Asian History, Research School for Pacific and Asian Studies, The Australian National University|
|Series/Report no.:||Resource Management in Asia-Pacific Program (RMAP) Working Paper: No. 27|
[Introduction]: Conservation is one of those industries that can easily creep up on us by surprise. I’ve always had a soft spot for nature, but nature is something which anthropologists find it hard to talk about these days. On the other hand, there is no getting away from biodiversity, nor from the huge amount of time, effort and money which has been injected into its conservation over the course of the last decade. During that time, Western conservationists have been engaged in many forms of dialogue with Melanesian landowners who happen also to be the owners of the biodiversity values which the conservationists wish to preserve or enhance. This dialogue has generally been directed towards the design, management and evaluation of ‘integrated conservation and development projects’, and its central topic is therefore consyesd, by both parties, as the relationship between ‘conservation’ and ‘development’. Anthropologists have made occasional appearances as listeners or participants in these conversations, and even as project managers or technical advisers, but their own interpretations of this dialogue have not always been acceptable to the (other?) Western conservationists, whose ultimate aim is to address ‘the needs of nature’ rather than the aspirations of its local guardians. The key question addressed in this paper is the role which conceptions of ‘indigenous people’ and ‘indigenous knowledge’ have in fact played in the construction of this dialogue, and the reasons why one or both concepts might or might not facilitate the construction of lasting ‘conservation covenants’ between the two main parties. To deal with this question, I shall first put forward a dramatic reconstruction of a few scenes in what I shall call the ‘conservation policy process’ in Papua New Guinea, with specific attention to the roles played by anthropologists, and most especially the roles which I have played myself. This is not because I feel that I have played an especially significant part in the process as a whole, even by comparison with other anthropologists, but because I want to get behind the many shelves of documents which have emerged from that process, and focus on the substance of the talk between conservationists and landowners which I have had the opportunity to hear first hand or second hand. From my reflection on these snatches of dialogue, I shall try to extract some messages which might serve to advance the terms of the debate between anthropologists who have an interest in conservation and conservationists who have an interest in anthropology.
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