Center for World Indigenous Studies
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Devil in Details

Published: March 11, 2011, Author: JayTaber

Marine Reserves, like biosphere reserves and other officially protected areas, are popularly associated with conservation of the environment, and thus widely supported. But in today’s world, forty years down the road from when the first Earth Day catalyzed public environmental consciousness, official pronouncements don’t always tell the whole story. As usual, the public process conceals as much as it reveals.

In Northern California, the marine reserve promoted by the state followed on the heels of a task force that excluded the coastal Native Americans, as well as omitted tribal scientists and indigenous knowledge. The proposal, funded in part by the oil and real estate industries, attempted to prohibit fishing and gathering by the Indian tribes.

In other parts of the world, conservation refugees — displaced indigenous peoples and others — were the result of reserves allegedly established for ecological reasons but later used for military and industrial purposes, after the indigenous inhabitants had been removed. Cynical observers might conclude those with the greatest claims under international law were cleared in order to avoid the media spectacle of protests and other forms of political conflict.

Indigenous coastal resources, used for subsistence, economics, and ceremonies, have long stood in the way of industrial development; isolating indigenous peoples by scapegoating them for environmental degradation is a perverted ploy to disempower them. Discrediting their leaders as uncooperative after excluding them from a faulty process may seem unbelievable to the politically naive, but industry and government agencies have a lot of experience with psychological warfare.

After stonewalling the UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples, President Obama and Secretary Clinton made a big deal of endorsing it last fall; the problem is that the loopholes in their endorsement make it meaningless. As with California’s marine reserve plan, the devil’s in the details.

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