Friday, August 17, 2007

Does Your Summer Vacation Impact Indigenous Peoples?

Everyone loves summer vacations. Time is spent away from the office and with family and friends, hikes to the top of new mountains are done, new lands are explored, and the overall pleasure of doing something adventurous and exciting is accomplished. For many people, summer vacation is the only time that they get outside into the wild to reconnect with Mother Earth. The last thing that people want to do is wonder how their vacation is impacting indigenous peoples' lives. The mind would rather be somewhere else.

Well, I hate to be the bearer of bad news, but what most people don't realize is that their summer adventure rafting down a remote river in Costa Rica, seeing a herd of zebra in the Kalahari desert of Africa, or spoting an elusive Orangutan in Indonesia has a huge impact on indigenous peoples.

Now don't get me wrong, tourism has passed a number of milestones, from a growing sensibility worldwide with regard to animals and the environment to a trend toward sensitivity towards nature and culture. Despite these positive points, however, there is still too little attention to the impact tourism - and its accompanying conservation efforts - have had on indigenous peoples and their traditional lifeways.

Back at the turn of the 20th century, the United States established large reserves of land that came to be National Parks. These parks, hailed by environmentalists, conservationists, and the like, were considered a model for other developing countries to follow concerning their unique natural resources. What was forgotten was that the land placed under the designation of a National Park (or some other label) used to be the traditional land of indigenous peoples - land that they depended on for hunting, fishing, gathering of plants, religious ceremonies, and much more (for a great book on the topic, check out Indian Country, God's Country: Native Americans and the National Parks).

Have you ever seen a Cheyenne or Arapahoe American Indian hunting elk in Rocky Mountain National Park? Are Maasai pastoralists allowed to herd their cattle through the Lake Bogoria Game Reserve in the Rift Valley of Kenya? Can the Dayak of Indonesia gather forest products in preserves set aside for Orangutans and other wildlife? The answer to these questions is a resounding NO!

The truth of the matter is that most places visited by people on summer vacations have had, and continue to have, a major impact on the lives of indigenous peoples. In order to provide those vacation seekers in Rocky Mountain National Park the perfect experience of elk bugeling in the fall, American Indian tribes have been denied their traditional hunting practices. To make sure that high-paying tourists see herds of zebra, Maasai pastoralists are not allowed to herd their cattle across most of their former homeland. The same goes for the eco-parks in Indonesia, Costa Rica, Brazil, Canada, and almost everywhere else.

The irony of the matter is that these parks and preserves are established often to highlight a country's unique habitat, wildlife, and ecosystem, all of which have been shaped for thousands of years by indigenous peoples. It is called symbiosis, and it is an essential component of any ecosystem. When you displace indigenous peoples and their traditional lifeways, the ecosystem they were a part of is greatly disrupted. Now there are too many elk in Rocky Mountain National Park and the park service is going to have to kill many of them. Same goes for Africa, some preserves have been so successful that they have an over population of animals for the resources available.

What we need are not large parks and preserves where indigneous peoples' are not allowed to practice their traditional lifeways, but rather where they ARE allowed to continue their practices. Think how Rocky Mountain National Park would look if American Indians were allowed to hunt elk as they did for thousands of years? One would not see the fake "pristine wilderness" of today, but rather a wilderness at its best - active, dynamic, growing, dying, changing, living. If we add indigenous peoples and their traditions back into the mix, the parks and preserves of the world will become much healthier. They will become more "natural."

So, next time you are on summer vacation and you ask the tour operator, "where are the Maasai with their cattle" hopefully they will respond, "just over the hill," rather than "they are not allowed on their homeland anymore because most tourists do not want to see cattle or pastoralists in so-called wilderness."

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Shmohawk said...

I hope you don't mind, but I've put a link to this blog on my site. I've also mentioned it in one post with encouragement for people to read.

Peter N. Jones said...

Thanks for the link!

tony said...

Please check from the Dominican Republic (mostly previous posts on Noticias del Frente Ancestral (Taino, mestizo), Historiografico, and so on.

Antonio de Moya
Social Psychologist and Epidemiologist
Council of Elders,
Guabancex, Taino Wind & Water Society

Peter N. Jones said...


Thanks for the blog url. As you may know from my profile, I spent some time in the Dominican Republic, mostly around Dajabon, Monte Cristi, Chachuey and other small campos working on various humanitarian projects for a number of years. I love the place and think about my friends there often. I put a link for your blog on Other Blogs on or by Indigenous Peoples.

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