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.