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‘Conservation Refugees: The Hundred-Year Conflict Between Global Conservation and Native People,’ by Mark Dowie

Conservation Refugees” should be required reading for any course of study that even touches on the environment and conservation. It should be known to every tribal college student, whatever the course of study, and to every Native person or ally.

Befriending genocide is a subtle procedure nowadays, nothing like the populist propaganda a Riefenstahl indulged while Hitler raged.

Dowie emphasizes that foundations and their money have enormous influence. Nonprofits that turn to them are often expected to “protect their investment;” and, in the case of organizations disengaged from people on the ground, groveling before “global management systems” and threatened by local control, to protect the investment is to buddy up with governments in the name of “national sovereignty.” These include non-governmental organizations like Conservation International, World Wildlife Fund for Nature, The Nature Conservancy, Wildlife Conservation Society and African Wildlife Foundation

Otherwise, Dowie says, they couldn’t compete as well for foundation money because the government would hinder their access to indigenous people and territory. Mollified governments proceed to drive indigenous people from their ancient homelands, often at gunpoint and with a charade of “law” arrayed against them.

That accomplished, governments and conservationists create nature parks that exclude indigenous inhabitants. Their ancient pantry is closed to them, ancient habits defined as poaching, encroaching or trespassing, their culture downtrodden and left for dead. They are often forbidden the “basic quest for food security.” Nomads are said to have dispossessed themselves from their ancient places because they travel among different places.

Conservation eviction is happening today in Thailand, Africa, India, Brazil, New Guinea, the Americas and elsewhere. The victims number in the millions. The cost to the environment is incalculable. American Indians will recognize their own 18th and 19th centuries, once they see it. They are fortunate Dowie has shredded the fig leaves of elite foundations and ultra-sophisticated nonprofit organizations, all operating against indigenous peoples from within their own arrogant silos of so-called civilized mission in the name of “conservation.”

Dowie tracks the demented genesis of modern indigenous dispossession, through its palace guard of circuitous arguments and excuses, to its deadly lair: “Westerners still revere nature as a place, rather than a cultural concept.” It’s a hostile place until it’s converted into a nature conservancy park. For that to happen, indigenous people who have been embedded in their nature for centuries must be evicted. The planetary threat in this thinking is that without indigenous peoples and their traditional ecological knowledge, without true caretakers, the biodiversity of protected environments withers on the vine, as at Yosemite. Evidence for all this is mounting, and big-money conservation doesn’t like it.

But a handful of dedicated professionals are working from within the belly of the beast to change the very mindset and philosophy of conservation, to insist indigenous people are the guarantors of nature, not its enemies. Dowie profiles a number of these Western scientists, but not so many of the Native people who make up the permanent indigenous resistance.

Rebecca Adamson, First Peoples Worldwide founder, recruited Dowie to write the book, raised the funding that sent him on his early researches, and continues to fight indigenous evictions on every front. She has a voice in the book, but isn’t featured; is Dowie perhaps overly devoted to Western, university-trained male scientists, naturalists and academics as informational figures, Native practitioners and women as aspirational ones? If so, it would surely be one of the few disappointments in such a timely, powerful, detailed expose.