Conservation Refugees

The biggest threat to the world’s indigenous people today isn’t
logging, mining, or oil drilling. It’s conservation. You read that
right. From the Maasai nomads of East Africa to the Hmong hill
people of Southeast Asia to Mayan villagers in Mexico, indigenous
tribes around the globe are increasingly being expelled from lands
where they have lived in harmony with nature for centuries or

Millions of these ‘conservation refugees’ now live in squalid
squatter camps on the edges of national parks, preserves, and other
nature sanctuaries,
Dowie writes in a shocking investigative piece in
. ‘The total area of land now under conservation
protection worldwide has doubled since 1990. … with over 12
percent of all land, a total area of 11.75 million square miles,
now protected. That’s an area greater than the entire land mass of

The unintended consequence of the global conservation movement’s
success has been mass dislocation. Worldwide estimates of the
number of people displaced by conservation activities range from 5
million to tens of millions, Dowie reports.

Indigenous leaders are hoping to stem the tide with a United
Nations resolution protecting their territorial and human rights.
The draft declaration reads: ‘Indigenous peoples shall not be
forcibly removed from their lands or territories. No relocation
shall take place without the free and informed consent of the
indigenous peoples concerned and after agreement on just and fair
compensation and, where possible, with the option to return.’

But according to Dowie, the UN resolution faces a tough uphill
battle, with the George W. Bush and Tony Blair governments arguing
‘that there is not and should never be such a thing as collective
human rights.’
Leif Utne

Go there >>

Related Links:

Related Links From the Utne

Comments? Story tips?
Write a letter to the editor

Like this? Want more?Subscribe to Utne

In-depth coverage of eye-opening issues that affect your life.