The Conflict between the Sustainability of the Environment and the Survival of Indigenous Cultures

A common conservation cliché is People have created biodiversity, so they are essential to its survival. The survival of both the environment and the indigenous culture depend on a strong balance between their traditions and the environment. However, many indigenous are left in the shadows when discussing environmental conservation practices. Indigenous groups such as the Kalinya and the Onondaga have been victimized and are deemed as incapable of conserving their land.

They represent a common situation for many indigenous communities facing discrimination from outsides forces.

While many governments and environmental organizations are taking conversation initiatives, a mutual partnership between the agencies and indigenous communities must be established in order to preserve the sustainability of the environment and the indigenous culture. The livelihood of the indigenous culture is embodied in their land.

The indigenous group of the Kalinya people is an example of indigenous fighting for land sovereignty and cultural survival. In the article Protected Areas in Suriname: A Voice from Suriname’s Galibi Nature Reserve, by Ricardo Pane the Kalinya people have been banned from their own land and demand a formal agreement with the Suriname government.

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They ask the government to honor their land rights and establish protected areas. The Kalinya people want the government to establish protected areas to protect it from exploitation, but not from the indigenous. The Kalinya people emphasize how their lands were cultivated through their culture and they are dependent from one another.

They voice their performance on sustainable management and how that has contributed to the protection of biodiversity and the environment, shielding it from Western influence.

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The Kalinya people are guarded from the government, because the government has deceived them by relocating them after establishing protected areas without their consent. When internal conflicts struck the Suriname country, the Kalinya people reoccupied the land. New interest emerged once again and the Kalinya people had to negotiate with the Galibi Nature Reserve and the STINASU, “governmental parastatal charged with management of some of Suriname’s protected areas” (Pane 2).

Their traditions such as “cultivating agricultural plots, hunting and fishing, plant collections for personal use and building temporary camps and shelters,” were agreed to be protected (Pane 2). The indigenous face several problems from the government such as accusations of harming the turtles. Their people did play a role in the poaching turtle eggs, due to the economic downfall, but government officials were also engaged in the activity and were gone without punishment.

The blame was directed towards the indigenous and not the government officials. They demand support from the government and not to be blamed for poor behavior. They expect to have full management of the protected areas through the Sustainable Nature Management in Alusiaka (STIDUNAL) and the STINASU as was agreed upon (Pane 2). Many organizations are donating money that only certain groups benefit and others are not.

Funds should be disbursed equally, integrating all aspects of the environment, including the indigenous. The recognition of land sovereignty and support for indigenous management is needed for mutual compromise with the government and environment conservation. Referring to Conservation, a key component for successful land management is based on a communal integration of the indigenous and the government, co-management. Co-management allows to “blend the strengths of the state and communal property regimes” (288). The Kalinya could use their traditional practices and incorporate government resources to manage and protect the land.

Kalinya land rights could be recognized, but they should also work in conjunction with the government. By co-managing, disputes can be settled through negotiation, hence protecting each other’s interests. The benefit in joining is that the government can bring assistance; there can be local resource users and scientists (Mulder, Coppolillo 288). The Kalinya people have emphasized how they want support from the government to establish local community based initiatives and the government support tourism, hindering any possible local initiatives. In Conservation, it suggested that community-based protected areas are effective for several reasons.

First, it protects non-hunted areas so the population can reproduce, possibly reaching “10 percent goal of global protection to be reached” (Mulder, Coppolillo 280). In this case, the sea turtles can be protected. However, the community base protected areas will only work if strict regulations are set in place. Punishment has to be given to whoever disturbs the area. Secondly, it is cost effective. The article discussed how the funds from the organizations for the protection of the sea turtles are not being used for the cause, but rather for government and other organization self-profit. There’s an advantage to protected areas, by having locals managing the area, it becomes “less expensive than state-run protectionist programs” (Mulder, Coppolillo 279).

However, with all the benefits, implications can occur. For instance, in Conservation it explained a case in Peru where a zone was “people-free.” This zone left the area to “maintain ecological processes,” where in fact the people did not disturb the area but an oil company did (Mulder, Coppolillo 280). If the local communities and the government co-manage, then the locals can receive training on technical assistance to protect the area. Traditional knowledge can only do so much; with a combination of traditional based knowledge and new technology, a local community based protected area can be a success. The Onondaga people are another marginalized community, who are also fighting land sovereignty to keep their culture alive. The Onondaga are taking legal action to solve their dispute with the state.

Their situation is described in Onondaga Nation Files Land Rights Action: Covering Swath of the New York State by Lisa Matthews. The Onondaga nation accuses the state of New York of unlawfully ceasing their land and demand ownership rights. If they would to win the case, the Onondaga would have equal part in deciding the “nearly 100 contaminated Superfund sites” (Matthews 1).

Land that once belonged to the Onondaga people are now labeled as superfund sites under state ownership. According to the article, superfund sites “are lands that have been contaminated by hazardous waste to the point that the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has deemed them dangerous to human and environmental health and has called for their cleanup”( Matthews 1). It also declares that “46 different types of toxic chemicals pollute the Onondaga Lake” (Matthews 1). The idea of co-management has come into conflict with the Onondaga and the government. The Onondaga has tried to work with the State of New York, but the State has not acknowledged them. Companies, such as Honeywell and Allied Chemicals have taken part in devastating the Onondaga land. They are to blame for pouring 165,000 pounds of mercury into the lake from 1884 and 1986 (Matthews 2).

The article then focuses on the Great Law. The Great Law was based on oral tradition conveying an agreement of peace declared by the Haudenosaunee people to recognize people as all related and emphasize on negotiate disputes rationally. The Great Law also identifies the Onondaga land as theirs. Pursuing this further, according to the Onondaga the State has violated the Indian Trade and Intercourse Act six times. Ironically, the Act was to protect the Indian land rights from private sales. Under the state, the land is being exhausted and dangerous for contamination for the surrounding areas.

The state should allow the Onondaga to have land rights, since there is a violation to the Indian Trade and Intercourse Act in order to exterminate the chemical damage. Community-based protected areas, co-management, participation and capacity-building are three possible solutions given by Conservation that can provide an agreement between the Onondaga people and the state of New York. Community-based protected areas could be established so the state of New York can have the indigenous preserve the land and it will be less expensive for the state because the indigenous will be managing the land.

Superfund sites could be co-managed by the Onondaga and the state if the state could invest on training skills that could help restore the land. In this sense, the traditional knowledge that the indigenous have could be used to find techniques to restore the land. Once the land is to its healthy state it can be institutionalized to preserve the land and indigenous rights. Another method would be participation and capacity-building, specifically citizen science. This method is centered on environmental health. Citizen science “questions who has the legitimacy to identity research questions, and how these should be answered” (Mulder, Coppolillo 294).

It indicates that the “right is not confined to the specialists, laboratories, or development programs, but should be open to public participation” (Mulder, Coppolillo 294). Citizens, being the indigenous could take part in the development of the conservation methods being developed. This method is widespread in the developed countries, but in the developed world initiatives are taking place. For instance, Participatory Action Research (PAR) has incorporated the indigenous in their work. It is made so the “local communities define research questions, collect data, use data for management decisions, and present findings to a broader public” (Mulder, Coppolillo 294).

Not only are indigenous groups marginalized by the government or environmental organizations, but also by religious groups. In the article Seeking Environmental and Social Justice, by Ian S. McIntosh the indigenous are not taken into account by religious conservation groups such as the Alliance of Religions and Conservation (ARC). The ARC stated that 11 of the world’s major faiths are collaborating in conservation projects in 60 countries. Two-thirds of world’s population is comprised by Christianity, Islam, Hinduism, Daoism, Baha’i, Jainism, Judaism, Shintoism, Buddhism, and Zoroastrianism, in which they own about seven percent of the land (McIntosh 1).

Local people are finding solutions to environmental issues through their traditions and are reaching out to these religious groups to enforce their practices. McIntosh gives an example of the Sikhs who have dedicated the next 300 years, starting from 1999 to the care of the environment (McIntosh 1). The indigenous traditions are playing an important role in conservation practices, but co-management needs to be established to create effective conservation projects.

As mentioned previously, the faith groups possess only seven percent of the land, while the indigenous own 20 percent of the land (McIntosh 1). The indigenous are at a disadvantage with no political power or influence and are at long distance from any major religious group to reach for support. One concern however, should be at of interest to the religious groups and that is the unjust treatment that the indigenous receive from the government. They are given no rights and are constantly being relocated. As insisted by McIntosh, “states are sacrificing cultural diversity” losing valuable conservation information (McIntosh 2). Therefore, it is important for the indigenous to have land rights in order to conserve their culture for useful conservation information that could be used.  The environment is being exploited rapidly and as a result the indigenous are losing strength in their culture. Governments and organizations are taking responsibility for conserving the environment and banning the indigenous from their land rights, affecting their culture.

Cite this page

The Conflict between the Sustainability of the Environment and the Survival of Indigenous Cultures. (2022, Nov 08). Retrieved from

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