Native lands issues to be highlighted at 8th World Wilderness Congress

06/02/05

As many as 30 indigenous groups from five continents to participate in congress

June 1, 2005 (Washington, DC) – Over the past few months, numerous high-profile news organizations have featured stories about the plight of indigenous groups. The reports tend to focus on the removal of indigenous groups from their own traditional lands and the destruction of the natural resources they depend upon for their livelihoods and cultural survival.

This centuries-old problem is indeed a major concern. But some indigenous groups, despite threats to their heritage from oil and gas development, mining, uncontrolled logging and settlers, have enjoyed the opposite experience.

Groups like Brazil's Kayapo Indians, Australia's Caring for Country initiative (made up of several aboriginal groups) and Northern Mexico's Seri, have responded to those threats successfully, and have experienced the benefits of managing their own lands, protecting the environment and maintaining their traditional ways of life.

In light of these diverse and positive experiences, the 8th World Wilderness Congress (WWC) will, for the first time ever, bring together as many as 30 indigenous groups – from the United States, Canada, Central and South America, Asia and Africa – with the goal of forming an international Native Lands and Wilderness Council.

The Native Lands and Wilderness Council will help indigenous groups better manage their territories in the face of continued pressures by establishing a forum in which they can learn both how to replicate one another's successes and more effectively cope with threats.

Participating groups will present case studies of indigenous conservation initiatives, and groups that have developed or are developing conservation projects on their traditional wild areas will share their experiences.

"The World Wilderness Congress has always integrated indigenous participation into its sessions, and in this respect, the 8th Congress is no different," said Vance Martin, President of the WILD Foundation. "But what is different this time is the scale. Native lands management is critical to conservation efforts, and we will do everything we can to ensure that indigenous groups are full partners at the table during the Congress and that their knowledge and centuries old expertise as land stewards is recognized."

A United States indigenous group, the Confederated Salish and Kootenai Tribes (CSKT) of the Flathead Indian Reservation in Montana, will co-convene the Council with the Deh Cho First Nation from Canada. The only Native American tribe to designate part of its territory as a wilderness area, the CSKT has a management plan that protects both the ecological integrity and cultural values of their tribal lands, while opening up the area for strictly managed, low impact tourism.

The theme for the 8th WWC is Wilderness, Wildlands and People: A Partnership for the Planet. It will generate the most up-to-date and accurate information on the benefits of wilderness and wildlands to contemporary and traditional societies, and will review the best models for balancing wilderness and wildlands conservation with human needs.

In addition to the Council, the 8th WWC will integrate indigenous participation throughout its entire agenda. This will range from testimonials on climate change to discussions on landscape and marine conservation to cultural programs.

The 8th World Wilderness Congress (WWC) will convene from September 30 – October 6, 2005 at the Egan Convention Center in Anchorage, Alaska. The Congress is expected to attract more than 1,000 experts from 40 countries, including numerous high-profile and senior-level political and corporate speakers.

Source: Eurekalert & others

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