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As the ooligan came in, their fluid, silvery forms filled the glacier-blue river. I had never seen anything like it—it looked as though you could have walked up and across the water on their backs. The absolute beauty of the Unuk River is breathtaking. It’s wild and unruly, and I was in love. After we had caught what we needed and started heading for Ketchikan, we left a living river in our wake. My family has been the river’s customary caretakers for over 10,000 years. Our crests of the rising sun are seen throughout the river.

 

Seyaru’kwingumu is Co-director and Co-founder of Ofrenda A’bunna. He is helping to lead his Arhuaco community, Seykún, toward their goal to be a model of Indigenous-led conservation that can be replicated in other places. Seykún is located in the Sierra Nevada de Santa Marta of northeast Colombia, a small, isolated mountain range on the northern tip of South America. Because of its location and extreme variation in elevation, it contains almost every ecosystem found in tropical America.

 

Western conservation remains singularly focused on numbers and data. Land conversion rates. Extinction rates. CO2 emissions. Acres protected. Miles connected. While these data are no doubt important, they miss the most important point when it comes to the reality, and ultimately the resolution, of our collective planetary crisis: through Indigenous eyes, conservation is a relationship. This vital work is a devoted practice. In our ways, conservation is love fiercely expressed.

 

It’s 6:30 in the morning and dawn is just breaking. As the sun rises steadily over the horizon, I can hear the dragging of leaves on the sand, slow and consistent. I look at our hosts and they whisper, “It’s Bu Bau, she is back from the caves.” I run out to see Bu Bau, a 68-year-old woman cutting a lonely figure on the deserted beach, bent over from the weight of the pandanus leaves that she carries. Her barefoot strides are short, slow but steady, with a walking stick to aid her.

 

Nelson Ole Reiyia (Maasai) is Co-founder of the Nashulai Maasai Conservancy (NMC) based in the Maasai Mara in Southwestern Kenya. Nashulai is one of the first Indigenous-owned and run conservancies in East Africa. It challenges western colonial frameworks of land and resource management and conservation in the wake of threats of biodiversity loss, cultural disruption, poverty, and climate change.

 

For Wampanoag, like many other New England, or Dawnland, Natives, herring are sacred. They bring with their springtime migration the return of life to the land after a long winter, paving the way for planting.

 

The San and Khoikhoi Peoples in Namibia, Botswana, and South Africa have a legacy of living in close harmony with nature. Despite a history of discriminatory environmental control and exclusion from their land, Indigenous communities across southern Africa are champions of wildlife. In southern Africa, where marginalized and impoverished communities coexist with some of the world’s most iconic and dangerous species, Indigenous-led governance offers a new path for conservation.

 

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