A GEN In Conversation event
The fortress conservation model persists in many parts of the post-colonial world, and carries with it a belief that biodiversity protection is achieved through creating ‘pristine’ ecosystems free from human disturbance. This top-down conservation agenda, created, funded and heavily lobbied by the Global North, rarely involves meaningful community consultation and traditional knowledge practices, which only intensifies power imbalances. On the ground, this results in a heavily militarised form of conservation, driven by destructive ‘guns, fines and fences’, where communities pushing back against this neo-colonial model are conceived as ‘anti-conservation’ and are further disempowered and in many instances, demonised.
Indigenous Knowledge continues to be demonised, and working on the land is associated with poverty. Multiple interlinked social issues emerge due to a lack of connection to the land, with younger generations moving further and further away from Indigenous education and nature connection.
On 25th August 2021, Kendi Borona, Milka Chepkorir, Suzanne Dhaliwal and Ashish Kothari shared their first-hand experiences of the ways Indigenous Knowledge and community-led education can revitalise our human connection to land and build resilient, thriving societies.
Hosted by GEN, we explored economic development and political governance in the context of indigenous land rights, whilst challenging the notion of ‘development’. What tangible examples offer robust antidotes to neocolonial conservation, extractivist models and so-called nature-based solutions? What are the radical alternatives and what radical imaginings can we invite to sustain our earth? How can we use creative strategies through art and activism to amplify these messages? We considered the practices and rituals – both old and new – on an individual and community level that can revitalise our connection to land, spirit and community.
Milka says, “Let the change start from the communities to reignite their relationship to these lands, resources, water. If we have the success from one, then we can work towards a prosperous conservation paradigm.”
Kendi was born and brought up near a forest in the Kenyan highlands. It was because of the waters flowing from this forest that she did not have to walk for long distances to fetch water – a task expected of girls in her community. This forest and its critical watersheds was and is protected by elders through the application of Indigenous Knowledge Systems, providing water for community needs downstream.
Kendi obtained her PhD from the University of British Columbia’s Faculty of Forestry. She is a firm believer in the application of Indigenous Knowledge in the furtherance of just conservation regimes and sustainable community livelihoods. Over the course of her career, she has worked towards the integration of natural and cultural heritage into a concrete whole, and to locate communities firmly in their landscapes. She is a firm supporter of conservation that is geared towards creating a just society for all beings.
More about her work can be found in her website.
Milka Chepkorir is a young Indigenous lady from the Sengwer peoples in Cherang’any Hills, Kenya. She has been working with her community on land tenure issues in Embobut and Kabolet forests, their ancestral lands. Due to a lack of recognition of her community’s land rights, they have faced human rights violations through evictions by the government of Kenya. These violations include loss of life, livelihood, and shelter (as the evictions are through the burning of houses) and constant cultural erosion as the community can no longer practice their culture. All this is in the name of forest conservation. Milka has a special interest in gender issues and has been working with women and elders in her community to include women in community land rights struggles. They have developed a cultural centre for education and cultural revitalisation of Sengwer Indigenous Knowledge for the youth and children of her community. She is completing her Master’s in Gender and Development Studies at the University of Nairobi. She is also the Coordinator of Community Land Action NOW! (CLAN), a Kenyan community land registration movement, and coordinates the “Defending Territories of Life” stream of work at the ICCA Consortium.
Suzanne Dhaliwal is a Climate Justice Creative, Campaigner, Researcher, Lecturer in Environmental Justice and Trainer in Creative Strategies for Decolonisation.
Voted one of London’s most influential people in Environment 2018 by the Evening Standard. In 2009 she co-founded the UK Tar Sands Network, which challenged BP and Shell investments in the Canadian tar sands in solidarity with frontline Indigenous communities, spurring the internationalisation of the fossil fuel divestment movement. She continues to serve as director and campaigner for the organisation.
Suzanne has led campaigns and artistic interventions to challenge fossil fuel investments in the Arctic and Nigeria that violate the rights of Indigenous peoples, and of those seeking justice in the wake of the BP Gulf of Mexico disaster. Her corporate and financial campaigning spans over a decade. She went on to complete a Master of Arts in Social Sculpture in Oxford, to develop creative strategies to address the lack of representation and on-going white supremacy in the UK climate justice movement. She recently completed a Research Fellowship at the Centre for Research in Spatial Environmental and Cultural Politics at University of Brighton and is currently practice tutor in Ecology Futures at the St. Joost School of Art & Design.
Ashish Kothari is a founder-member of Kalpavriksh, a 40-year civil society organization in India focusing on environment and development issues. He taught at Indian Institute of Public Administration, is Professor of Practice at National Law School and University (Bengaluru), and guest faculty in several other universities in India and abroad. He coordinated India’s National Biodiversity Strategy & Action Plan, served on Indian government committees to formulate the National Biodiversity Act and National Wildlife Action Plan, and served on boards or steering committees of two IUCN commissions, Greenpeace International & India, and the ICCA Consortium. A long-standing member or supporter of several people’s movements, he helps coordinate Vikalp Sangam, Global Tapestry of Alternatives and Radical Ecological Democracy processes. He is (co)author/(co)editor of several books, including Birds in our Lives (2007), Churning the Earth (2012), Alternative Futures (2017), and Pluriverse: A Post-Development Dictionary (2019).
The GEN In Conversation Series is an ongoing online programme of talks and interactive workshops designed for the curious mind. Beginning in June 2020, we have been bringing together activists, academics, community practitioners, artists, writers, dancers and researchers to share their insights and lived experiences on a range of topics, including regenerative justice, land rights and colonisation, food sovereignty and agroecology, alternative economics and the conservation revolution, and much more in between!