Aborigines and Conservationism. Land Rights and Green Activism Not Necessarily Aligned

The following article is written by Tyson Yunkaporta.  (his profile here)

 In it he covers issues that I have raised in previous articles such as “Terra Nullius and Ecology”  and “The Environment movement and Aboriginal Australia”.
I have included this article partly because it backs up controversial things that I have said in my own articles, but also because it is an Aboriginal perspective which I hope will be taken more seriously than my own non-indigenous reflections on the relationship between Aboriginal and non Aboriginal notions of the natural environment.

More articles by Tyson Yunkaporta – here 

Aborigines and Conservationism
Land Rights and Green Activism Not Necessarily Aligned
By Tyson Yunkaporta

Aborigines and Greens both have a strong environmental focus in activism. But are conservationists in reality serving a colonial agenda when it comes to land rights?
Often conservationists will integrate Indigenous groups and issues into their causes. However, while well intended, this often carries racist agendas that actually support the colonial paradigm. This undercurrent becomes viciously clear in situations like the Makah whale hunting controversy in Washington, which saw greens chanting anti-Indian slogans alongside neo-Nazis, and sporting bumper stickers like, “Save a whale – kill a Makah!”

The Wilderness Myth
The most damaging aspect of conservationist ideology is the wilderness myth, which is basically a green version of Terra Nullius. The concept of “untouched” or “unspoiled” Edens that need to be protected from people always seems to leave Native Title out of the picture. The romantic natural paradise ideal effectively removes Aboriginal people from the landscape. Our land management techniques are silenced at best, or at worst criticised as being primitive and unscientific. In green circles, you will often hear Aboriginal land management cited as a reason for species extinction. Traditional practices are only valid when they are limited to cultural exotica, and when they serve to categorise us as part of the fauna. Hunting is problematic in green politics.

Conservation As Colonisation
When “wilderness” conservation became law, this resulted in countless Aboriginal people being jailed for hunting in “protected” areas on their traditional lands. Many of these people died (and are still dying) in prison. “No camping” rules have resulted in further dispossession, as traditional owners have found themselves driven off the land by a new form of pastoralism called wilderness preservation. And when Indigenous groups or individuals have scraped together enough money to buy back their own land, the government has been able to block the purchase by declaring the areas National Parks. Thus conservationism has become yet another weapon against Aboriginal people.

Aboriginal Portrayal In Green Texts and Research
Reductionism is also a problem in green circles. Because of the monocultural use of western scientific or psuedo-scientific inquiry in conservation, many well-meaning activists fail to develop the holistic knowledge base necessary for understanding traditional land management. This prevents them from seeing the importance of an Indigenous hand in the maintenance of ecosystems. As a result traditional owners are framed as relics of the past. This can be seen in conservationist texts, which generally use the past tense when describing Indigenous knowledge or practices.

Often Indigenous “wisdom” will be used to give a bit of weight and poignancy to green texts. Other times land knowledge is stripped from Indigenous communities by green messiahs and charming researchers who come to save the land and the people (often with a patent in the back pocket for local plant knowledge). If we’re lucky, we get to be their assistants, or consultants.

Apologies to the many conservationists out there who are the exception to this rule.

This article is copyright. Thanx to Tyson  for permission to publish it.



Filed under Aboriginal, australia, ecology, philosophy, politics, reconciliation

3 responses to “Aborigines and Conservationism. Land Rights and Green Activism Not Necessarily Aligned

  1. Rachel

    Dear Tyson

    Thanks so much for your words, they gave me much to think about. And on a topic that I think needs to be explored further by the conservation movement.

    I consider myself a conservationist and recognise indigenous people of this country as the custodians of this land that managed to live sustainably as part of this country since the beginning. Environmental management without indigenous involvement is ridiculous, non wholistic, and non-sustainable.

    My experience working with Landcare and other organisations that try to facilitate a healthy connection with the land has enabled me to meet inspiring people both indigenous and non-indigenous. From my limited experience, I have found that non-indigenous people definately do want to learn and hear the indigenous view point, yet how to do that? , and beauracracy can get in the way. Basically what I want to say, is that on the ground, where I am standing, I have met people that do want to learn and hear your voices, and the people that act as bridges and facilitate that sharing of knowledge are a dime a dozen and should be supported.

    As for ‘aboriginal land management being cited for species extinction’, I hear you, and only just today was reading an article by Bob Gould:
    who lists several authors and scientists who have disputed the claims of popularist scientists such as Tim Flannery.

    I dont know if me writing a reply was necessary, as I do believe or hope, to a certain extent I am a ‘conservationist that is an exception to the rule’….But anyway, your words were powerful and mad me want to stand up and reply.
    So thanks

  2. daisk5

    Japanese whale fishing is completely lawful.
    And is completely scientific.
    In addition, it is a Japanese gastronomic culture to eat whales.
    You should refrain from the act of denying the culture of another country.
    watch this video.

    To the person who wants to know why Japan hunts whales

    [DragonBall] Freezer VS Japanese whaling


    Why do the media of australia tell a lie and censorship?
    if doubt me? Post my comment this URL.

  3. Pingback: “Living on Aboriginal Land” - background links « unlearning the problem

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