Protected Areas in Suriname: A Voice from Suriname’s Galibi Nature Reserve

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The problems posed by protected areas are not limited to Maroons living around the CSNR. Established in 1969, the Galibi Nature Reserve covers about 400 hectares, hosts four important sea turtle species, and attracts a steady flow of tourists from the United States and elsewhere. It is also an integral part of the ancestral territory of the Lower Marowijne River Kalinya people. Ricardo Pané, village chief of Christiaankondre (also called Galibi), an indigenous community on the northeast coast of Suriame, has seen the consequences first-hand.

Galibi is one of the largest indigenous villages in Suriname and I am the elected Chief. We are of the Kalinya people and have preserved our traditional culture. Our means of subsistence are mainly fisheries, and the women work on handicrafts and agriculture.

To understand our position, I will give you an impression of the context and history of the relationship between indigenous peoples and protected areas. The indigenous peoples are the first and original inhabitants of the country. We have a centuries-old relationship with our lands and with the environment in which we live. We have been managing nature and its natural resources for centuries. Thanks to sustainable management by the indigenous peoples we still have biodiversity and nature today. If we would have “developed” the land as did the Western countries, we would be living now in a big, dry desert. Establishing protected areas was thus necessary to protect nature, not against the indigenous peoples who live there but against the greed of companies and the consumer society that want to have more and more goods all the time.

Another important aspect of protected areas is that they have been established without our consent. In case of the Galibi protected area, a governmental delegation came to Galibi for a few hours. They cheated and tricked the village leaders of the time, by saying that they intended only to do some research in the area. When they returned three months later, the area already had been declared a protected area by the government. The indigenous peoples had to relocate immediately and stop all activities in the area. The whole area was now claimed by government and the Forest Service (LBB). I saw all this happening as a young boy and saw how the LBB officials treated the local inhabitants very disrespectfully. It was a sudden and unwanted intrusion with many negative results. Although the people of Galibi strongly opposed this development at the time, and many still oppose it now and we still have to deal with the nature reserve and the problems it causes today. You have to keep in mind that the area means everything for us: hunting, fishing, agriculture, and other resources.

We see these developments as one of the numerous violations of our rights to the lands that we have been living on and using for many, many centuries. One quick meeting by government officials with the people to announce that a protected area has been established does not count as real participation in decision-making. We have different traditions and structures that must be respected by government. It is only now that we have become well aware of the impacts of protected areas and other initiatives undertaken in the name of environmental protection. In this field we are marginalized, but we are working on becoming better involved.

During the interior war in Suriname (1987-92), all activities in the area came to a halt and, in 1989, we re-occupied the protected area. After economic life was restored and transportation was reinitiated in the early 1990s, there was a renewed interest in the Galibi Nature Reserve by the government and conservation organizations. Under heavy national and international pressure we had to negotiate about the area. A number of agreements were made, including about cultivating existing agricultural plots, hunting and fishing, plant collection for personal use and building temporary camps and shelters. In the late 1990s, led by myself, the village had a continuous dialogue aimed at better cooperation between Galibi and STINASU, the governmental parastatal charged with management of some of Suriname’s protected areas. We were again subjected to heavy pressure and made a number of agreements with STINASU.

The government and certain environmental organizations have made profits and received a lot of funds in name of turtle protection. We, the indigenous peoples, were pictured as the bad guys, the people who poach eggs to sell them illegally. It is true that egg poaching was prevalent in the 1990s when the economic situation in the country was very bad and any form of income was jumped at with both hands in order to survive. But at the same time, the government did not take any measures against their military and customs officers who were buying and trading the eggs. They also did not act against local and foreign fishing companies who killed the sea turtles on sea and who drowned the turtles in their nets. At national and international podia we were the easiest group to portray as the evildoers.[1] We were and still are being competed against by government agencies with regard to tourism, instead of the government supporting local community-based initiatives.

In the meantime we have become more aware, especially the younger generation, and we have organized ourselves. There is a community organization for environmental protection, the Foundation for Sustainable Nature Management in Alusiaka (STIDUNAL), which will manage the Galibi protected area in cooperation with STINASU. Our vision is that we will have the full management of the protected area in the future and this was agreed to when we formulated the terms of cooperation with STINASU. We want to include protection of the sea turtles as an integral part in our overall development plan for the community. We cannot, however, talk about protecting animals without talking about the well-being of people at the same time.

International organizations need to take this into account. They cannot continue to deliver funding that will only benefit a small group of people and animals. On paper there are nice programs for combating issues such as poverty and environmental protection, but the community barely realizes any benefits and has no knowledge of what is happening with the money. International organizations should be responsible for good, transparent, and accountable management of environmental protection programs—an integrated, not a sectoral approach is needed. At present this is not the case.

The same is true for the issue of land rights; if our land rights are not legally recognized and secure, we will not agree to government and international organizations getting more authority and control over our lands. With support from the Amerindian Peoples Association of Guyana and international non-governmental organizations, we made a map of our lands and resources, together with seven other villages on the Lower Marowijne River, which we are using to assert our ownership rights over the protected area and other lands traditionally owned. This map also includes areas of the Wane Kreek Nature Reserve, which was established on the traditional lands of the Lokono community of Wan Shi Shia (Marijkedorp). We have presented this map and a number of petitions to the government but have yet to receive an adequate response.

We thus aim to secure greater participation, on the basis of equality and being fully informed about and involved in decision-making and in the execution, monitoring, and evaluation of environmental projects. We want co-management of protected areas and in the future full self-management in accordance with our own customs and traditions. We do not reject non-indigenous science and techniques, but we have developed management systems over hundreds of years and these must be the basis of managing the nature reserve and the rest of our lands. Environmental protection and protected area management must be an integrated approach that includes environment, development, and recognition of and respect for the rights of the indigenous peoples, including our ownership rights over our traditional lands, territories, and resources, and our knowledge systems. We want direct support from donor and environmental organizations instead of support through other agencies that keep these resources for their own benefit and which are not transparent. We, the indigenous peoples, are willing to cooperate on basis of mutual respect and equality, we ask only that others do the same.

1. In 2001, the Director of STINASU was quoted as saying that “It is true that the Kalin’a are scape-goated, but that is the way it is. Monitoring the beach is after all easier that patrolling the sea.” Kambel, E.R. (2002). Resource Conflicts, Gender and Indigenous Rights in Suriname. Local, National and Global Perspectives. PhD Thesis, Leiden University. P 146.

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