755 - Perceiving and Negotiating Environmental Change in the Indigenous Americas

19.07.2012 | 08:00 - 13:30
19.07.2012 | 17:30 - 19:30

Convener 1: Dürr, Eveline (Ludwig-Maximilians-University , Munich, Germany / Deutschland)
Convener 2: Kammler, Henry (LMU Munich, Munich, Germany / Deutschland)

Indigenous communities confronted with environmental change are commonly found in the periphery within modern nation states and this may result in their underrepresentation in politics and the media. Nevertheless, indigenous communities are far from being passive witnesses to ecological change. Rather, they negotiate and manage environmental change through their indigenous agency. Perceiving and negotiating environmental change is therefore a challenging set of issues in the Americas, which are the focus of our panel. Environmental change encompasses both rapid and gradual transformations of ecosystems in conjunction with globalisation. This affects some communities within the span of a generation and can trigger drastic cultural change. Other communities conceptualize and experience environmental change through multi-generational collective memory. Community discourses manifest in oral history and cultural self-description are a resource for perceiving and negotiating environmental change.   Negotiation is thought of as unfolding on a variety of levels. For one, indigenous communities are often sufficiently heterogeneous to hold competing models of the nature-culture nexus and diverse concepts of personhood as spun into webs of mutual relationships with human and non-human agents. Secondly, indigenous peoples are negotiating the terms of “progress” and the recognition of territorial rights with the nation states which are the primary agents of “development”. Thirdly, they actively seek international platforms in order to respond to the weakened position of nation states vis-à-vis global players in the form of multinational consortiums and international organizations. Fourthly, negotiations are going on internally in the context of indigenous autonomy rights as to what extent the communities themselves become proponents of environmental change in the name of economic and social benefits. As evidenced especially in North America, the old, albeit partly fictitious, native-environmentalist alliances are breaking apart as “Mother Earth”-type rhetoric is progressively replaced by that of “economic development”.   Issues to be addressed will be questions of political representation and control. Who negotiates environmental change in and for indigenous communities? How are resources and territories managed and what ideological/religious constructs are at work? How is knowledge about resource use generated, shared and distributed within communities? Who defines what the benefits are and who is benefitting by modern indigenous resource management, for example through ecotourism? What is the relation between negotiating environmental change and the exertion of indigenous sovereignty rights, when, for example, it is claimed that resource overuse is in the interest of indigenous communities as long as the indigenes (or indigenous elites) are partly in control of environmental change? Papers addressing broadly these aspects, and based on empirical study or theoretical reflection are welcome.

Keywords: Environmental perception, representation, rights, political strategies, knowledge

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