RESOURCE AND SANCTUARY: Indigenous Peoples, Ancestral Rights, and the Forests of the Americas

RESOURCE AND SANCTUARY: Indigenous Peoples, Ancestral Rights, and the. Forests of the Americas

The Celebrated "Earth Summit," the 1992 United Nations Conference on Environment and Development held in Rio de Janeiro, is fast receding, but the UN is helping keep our vision in focus by declaring 1993 the Year of the World's Indigenous People. During this year, the "developed" world has a further opportunity to sharpen its appreciation of the crucial role of rindigenous peoples in managing the global environment and to gain a fresh start in how we relate to both the planet and indigenous peoples.

One way to profitably mark the year is with a return to a key Earth Summit document, the Forest Principles statement. This document reaffirms a basic value, a central conviction shared by the environmental, development, and indigenous peoples: the systems, practices, and participation of local communities is essential to both global ecological equilibrium and social justice. Indeed, the very concepts by which it has become possible to perceive a new relationship to the earth derive largely from perceptions of indigenous traditions. In particular, animism - the belief that natural objects have a non-material dimension - provides the historical grounding for what Vice-President Al Gore, in Earth in the Balance, calls an "enviornmentalism of the sprit."

This citation of Gore is neither casual nor opportunistic. Granted, there have been ample reasons to be cynical and despairing about the potential for the U.S. government to take positive actions on behalf of indigenous peoples or the environment; to the contrary, Washington's polices, both directly and via multilateral agencies, bear responsibility for enormous human and ecological damage. Yet as of January 20, 1993, it is startling to realize that the religious, organizational, and intellectual energies of indigenous peoples are key to the future of the planet.

Nonetheless, the fervent desire that indigenous peoples be "better" than the rest of humanity must be tempered with the realization that they struggle with specially heavy burdens of discrimination and a threatened resource base. Poverty and the rising corporate interest in once remote and isolated homelands undercut many of the environmental and spiritual values that indigenous peoples bring from an ancestral relationship with their habitats.

These threatening conditions must change to reverse the increasing degradation of forest resources and for the forests under indigenous stewardship to thrive. While the values of indigenous peoples clearly embody a strong identification with the respect for natural systems, such values don't automatically lead to sustainable use of the forests. Undercaptialized indigenous people with precarious rights to the lands they inhabit are the overwhelming norm in the modern world. The challenges the rest of us to help indigenous people maintain their essential values, even as we seek to adapt their principles. Together, we can find new ways for forests to serve their material and spiritual needs, while also serving the needs of the forest. We are at a crossroads where forest spirits, sustainable silvicultural practices, the marketing of forest products, indigenous organizations, and the rest of us must combine forces and go down the path together.

"Resource and Sanctuary" combines case studies of indigenous peoples and forest management in the Americas with a overview of indigenous forestry-management efforts and a roster of indigenous forestry-management efforts from Canada to South America. By focusing on one natural-resource issue and one hemisphere - still a vast domain - we hope to reveal some of the conditions the lead to successful endeavors to use forests sustainably. At the same time, we take a critical look at some of the many factors that still yield failure.

The views and experiences presented here feature indigenous peoples in Canada, the United States, Mexico, and South America. Conspicuously absent are cases from Central America. This is not because forests and indigenous peoples are not intimately interdependent there. Quite the contrary: a recent map produced by Cultural Survival's Central America programs demonstrates the coexistence of indigenous peoples and forests in the region. But the cases included show indigenous peoples taking steps to retain or assume control of their forests with the explicit aim of combining the value of the forest with the explicit aim of combining the value of the forest as resource, a production system within a market society, and as sanctuary, a haven for religious value and biodiversity. Unfortunately, such cases are rare, immature, or even non-existent in Central America.

That said, the experiences from the Americas appearing in these pages span a wide range in maturity and scope and provide grounds for optimism and deep concern at one and the same time.

In Canada, indigenous peoples and forests are central to a wrenching national debate over ethnic sovereignty and the integrity of the state. In October 1992, Canadian voters said no to a proposed constitution that would have given "First Nations" far-ranging authority to govern themselves. But the measure also would have extinguished unresolved indigenous land claims, confining self-governance to currently occupied lands. With the referendum's defeat, Canada has entered a period of profound political and social uncertainty.

Within this context, as well as amid an overwhelming corporate interest in Canadian forests, First Nations have had to struggle on many fronts to become a presence in managing the extensive forests they inhabit. In British Columbia, where logging may be occurring faster than anywhere else in the world, and where 60 percent of the most productive ancient coastal forests have been cut in just a few years, indigenous people may have no forests to manage in 15 years. As the article by Harry Bombay, director of Canada's National Aboriginal Forestry Association, indicates, inspiring advances and overwhelming obstacles exist said by side as indigenous people enter into the process. Jon Kosek's interviews with Simon Lucas, Richard Leo, and Edward John, Native American chiefs in British Columbia, echo this theme.

The United States is witnessing a parallel revolution as indigenous people reassume control of their forests, both on and off their reservations. some reservations have a century-long history of managing timber resources, and some of the best financed and most extensive indigenous forest products industries in the hemisphere number among our U.S. examples. Shelton Davis documents the overall return of forest management to tribal control over the last 20 years, while case studies examine particular experiences. Marshall Pecore and Larry Nesper document the astonishing precocity of the Menominee in Wisconsin, who built their first sawmill in 1886 and have remained in the vanguard by achieving certification for sustainable harvesting practices. Looking at technology, Renee Meryers reports how the Nez Perce of Idaho apply satellite imagery and geographic information systems to managing their forest. And LeGrand Einbender-Velez shows how the Navajo Nation is dealing with an intense conflict between the economic demands of production and commitments to preserve sacred lands.

In Mexico, agrarian reforms wrought by the revolution of the early twentieth century laid the ground for the major achievements in indigenous forest management within the context of an underdeveloped country. Grassroots mobilizations to protect the forest patrimony, along with intermittent support from national and state governments, have, in the last decade, led the Purépecha, Zapotec, and Maya, among others, to show anew how forests can serve as both resource and sanctuary.

However, the Mexican experiences are deeply vulnerable to changes being wrought by the North American Free Trade Agreement. That NAFTA accords neither indigenous peoples nor forests any special standing is a serious omission. As all three articles from Mexico illustrate, the experiences from that country are rare examples of successful forest management in tropical countries, but NAFTA could render the timber in Mexican forests valueless in the face of far cheaper imports from the North. This could further stimulate the conversion of Mexican forests to agriculture and drive indigenous peoples out of traditional habitats to swell the ranks of marginalized workers in Mexico City and undocumented workers in the United States. For Canada, new markets opened in Mexico could fuel an industrial expansion that tramples the rights of indigenous peoples.

In South America, indigenous people have a long history of forest use and conservation, and this tradition of forest management can contribute greatly to the development of integrated-use models for tropical forests. Yet this tradition is in stark contrast to the absence of a history or practice of professional forest management. Rather, South America's timber industry has mined forest resources, with little incentive for market-oriented forest management in local communities.

The South American initiatives describes here represent quite recent efforts tied largely to indigenous organizing over the last 20 years. These efforts portend the growing role indigenous people can play in the emergence of a New World culture of forest stewardship. For example, the case of Project PUMAREN in Ecuador emphasizes the critical role of indigenous organizations in developing and spreading new models of forest use. PUMAREN also points to the ways that strengthening indigenous capacities for land-use planning and management validate long-standing claims to traditional territories.

The evolution of the Yanesha Forestry Co-op in Peru suggests how indigenous people can effectively work with forestry technicians to advance a silviculture method that combines traditional knowledge and practice with Western science. On the other hand, the Yanesha Co-op, like the Lomerio Project in Bolivia described by Richard Chase Smith, shows that merging the two systems in insufficient in itself. Many factors - including issues related to scale, organization, and marketing - make forest management for the benefit of local people can elusive goal.

The South American examples in "Resources and Sanctuary" come largely from Upper Amazonian countries, but as the roster of indigenous forestry illustrates, the indigenous peoples of Brazil are nurturing a unique contribution to forest management. In that country, the market for non-timber forest products is more highly developed than elsewhere in the Americas.

Finally, the forests of the continent, vary tremendously and still hold vast stretches of boreal, temperate zone, and tropical forests. Indigenous peoples live in all of them, and have special claims on an knowledge of them. But indigenous peoples also need capital, a knowledge of contemporary ecology, scientific silviculture, and sophisticated marketing, and a host of skills to maintain their cultural autonomy, increase their income, and maintain the forests.

A sympathetic presence at the highest levels of the U.S. government can surely contribute to these goals, but just as surely powerful fores will work to continue the drive toward degrading the earth and indigenous rights. In the Year of the World's Indigenous Peoples, let us redouble our support for the efforts of original Americans to make the forests a resource and sanctuary for all of us.


Forests are often worth more cut than standing. As a result, large areas are deforested every year, from the Amazon to the Pacific Northwest. To change this, a number of strategies could reduce pressure on forests by promoting the sustainable use of forests both for timber and non-timber products. 1 What is "Good Wood"? To make a wood a truly renewable resource requires promoting the sustainable management of forests. Several organizations educated the public on the impact of wood consumptions on forests, the true value of wood and forests, and appropriate sources of wood for consumer purchases.

Woodworkers Alliances for Rainforest Protection: WARP, a nonprofit organization, educates and mobilizes people who work with wood to support sustainable forestry. WARP brings together woodwokers craft guilds architects, importers and suppliers, journalists, and ecologists.

WARP programs included shop-testing lesser-known tropical and temperate tree species and a public-education campaign to reduce consumption of rare species. WARP produces an information-packed newsletter, "Understory: Developments from the Sustainable World of Wood." Contract WARP, 1, Cottage St., East Hampton, MA 01027 (413)586-8156.

Forest Resource Information System (FORIS): Tree Talk, Inc., is developing FORIS, a computer database on over 8,000 species of trees. Due out in 1993, FORIS will help consumers make appropriate wood-use decisions by providing information about the sources and conservation status of each species, the physical characteristics of the wood, and the impacts of harvesting. Contact FORIS, 431 Pine St., Burlington, VT 05401 (802)863-6789; fax (802)863-4344. 2 A growing number of alternative timber traders provide markets and true-value prices for sustainable wood from indigenous and other community-forestry projects. Calls these traders or ask wood retailers to contact them to locate a distributor. Be sure to ask retailers whether any of their wood comes from indigenous peoples.

Ecological Trading Company, 1 Lesbury Rd., Newcastle upon Tyne, NE6 5LB Great Britain (44-91)276-5547; fax 265-4227

EcoTimber, 350 Treat St., San Francisco, CA 94110 (415)864-4900; fax: (415)864-1011;

The Forest Partnership, 431 Pine St., Burlington, VT 05401 (802)865-1111; fax (802)863-4344

Milland Fine Timber, Milland Pottery, Milland, near Liphook, Hants GU30 7JP, Great Britain (44-42)876-505; fax: 876-698

Sea Star Trading, P.O. Box 513, Newport, OR 97365 (503)265-9616 (for orders only, call 800-359-7571); fax (503)265-3228

Wild Iris Forestry, P.O. Box 1423, Redway, CA 95560 (707)923-2344

Wild Woods Co., 445 I St., Arcata, CA 95521 tel/fax: (707)822-9541 3 Starting in 1989, Cultural Survival Enterprises began developing markets for non-timber forest products. The aim is to increase the value of standing forest products. The aim is to increase the value of standing forests by providing both a market and a better price to local people for such forest products as fruits, nuts, and oils. The program has since expanded from the rain forests of the Amazon to the forests of Indonesia, the Philippines, Zambia, Honduras, Botswana, Namibia, and North America.

CSE began by importing Brazil nuts and cupuacu from Brazilian rain forests for "green companies," including The Body Shop and Community Products, Inc., a venture of Ben Cohen (of Ben and Jerry fame). CSE now also markets to "mainstream companies" - including Dare's in Canada and two subsidiaries of Smuckers - to diversify the market and broaden public acceptance for forest products. All arrangements specify that a percentage of the final product price be returned to the producers.

Recently, CSE has begun to promote a variety of other forest products - ranging from honey and beeswax to copaiba oil - from Africa, North America, and Southeast Asia. For example, Wabauskang Wildfruits, an Ojibway women's co-operative in Ear Falls, Ontario, makes jam and fruit bars from wild blueberries. The Confederated Tribes of Coos Bay, Oregon, is marketing brandied cranberry sauce and berry bars and assembling Native America Gift Baskets sold to The Nature Company. In addition, Spring Tree Corp. of Verment is developing a line of native maple products with assistance from CSE.

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