Part II: The Sun Magazine and “Conservation Refugees”
A few months ago, a colleague shared the 2005 issue of The Sun magazine with me. It’s a great publication and its long-time (and I mean long, as in over 30 years) editor, Sy Safransky, seems to have limitless energy and enthusiasm for tackling tough issues all over the globe including, human rights, the environment, religious and cultural traditions, and personal/social responsibility [http://thesunmagazine.org].
The editorial notes in this issue included heartfelt commentaries on the 2004 Indian Ocean tsunami and its aftermath; specifically Mr Safransky was remarking on the fast ebbing of interest in the recovery of those southeast Asian communities hardest hit, Aceh in particular. The aftermath of the tsunami and how it affected him personally kept appearing in his writing throughout the magazine. He acknowledged the existence of the Multi-Donor Fund but found it disturbing that the majority of the global community felt that reconstruction funding alone would make the area’s long-term political, social and economic issues miraculously evaporate. So as early as late 2005 the Sun was noting the waning public interest in the people of Aceh, the devastation caused by the 30-year civil war that was curtailed only because the central government calculated that the tsunami had done what the Indonesian military could not, and the further marginalization of an already struggling population.
I was wondering if we should write to Mr Safransky now, since he had been so empathetic regarding this event, and ask if he’d be interested in doing a follow-up story on Aceh 10 years after the tsunami (which will be 2014). I’d been interviewed by ABC Australia and the New York Times in 2010 regarding the province’s progress, but I didn’t know currently of any media outlet that would be packing its travel bag to find out how, 10 years later, all those millions in aid had helped locals rebuild their lives.
I thought that the Sun could write an article from the viewpoint of a teeny NGO nearly crushed from the weight of post tsunami “assistance,” that spoke to the inability of local NGOs to survive or be supported by the government in the face of international NGO “competition,” the continuing effects of the internal conflict and the miniscule assistance those victims received, etc.
But I procrastinated a bit. Then, a couple of weeks ago, intent on looking up poor Mr. S before he joined that great editorial board in the sky, I went online to get his contact information and came across one of the main articles in this month’s issue, called “Keep Off The Grasslands: Mark Dowie On Conservation Refugees” by Joel Whitney.
What Dowie is saying (and it would be interesting to see if his book has anything about the rainforest in Aceh in it) is that true conservation includes conservation of the people who live in the area to be conserved, and that “wilderness protection” is mostly a western construct dreamed up by the wealthy and powerful to enjoy “nature” all by themselves. He argues that conservation groups have grown even more conservative than they started out, and in order to attract “easy” donations they get in bed with corporations who promise to conduct “environmentally friendly” activities that have no place being called anything but what they are: mining, oil drilling, clear-cutting, agribusiness. In this way, the big NGOs “greenwash” the corporations’ involvement –they get big $$ from the corporation in exchange for brokering deals with this or that international or national government entity, and then the corporation gets to do whatever it likes. But at the same time they operate in a backwards conservation mode: the people who once survived in the “wilderness” are now not permitted to enter it. They are disenfranchised, angry, and more likely to commit ecological crimes (both to sustain themselves and out of anger at the new rules).
So I started thinking about the Leuser Ecosystem and the protected forests in Aceh. This is, after all, the vast green backdrop for our work and our involvement with people in Aceh. If we want to know about people/youth living there, I think we have to know their contexts. One of the contexts is the conflict, to be sure, but the other is their environment. And their environment is now not their own. This is a very, very big deal.
So as I was reading this article, I started to ask questions (some I used to know the answers to, some I have the information for but will have to look it u again and post it during this posting series):
· Who founded The Leuser Ecosystem?
· Do Leuser and other organizations have “deals” with the Indonesian government in which “ecologically friendly” palm oil farming and mining are allowed to take place in exchange for big donations to their agencies?
· Would Fauna & Flora International, with whom we almost implemented a Community Ranger Initiative in 5 districts know anything about this?
· When is the line drawn, and by whom, between subsistence hunting/farming and excessive/harmful use of the resource by local residents?
· In Aceh Timur, should people who live on the buffer be allowed to hunt and get wood from the forest? And how much? Can each family get, for example, one tree per year? One elephant? Can you protect your family from a tiger? If you kill the tiger to save your child, can you sell it to a foreigner for a lot of money?
· What are the rules currently for the use of the forests in Aceh Timur and Simpang Jernih sub-district?
· Who is supposed to enforce these rules?
· Who made up the rules?
· Who are the large concerns (oil, mining, agribusiness) operating in that area? With whom do they have agreements (conservation NGOs, givernment/provincial agencies, etc) and what are these agreements for?
· If “Ali Citizen” in Aceh Timur is seduced into poaching, cutting trees and growing marijuana in the rainforest for money, who is he doing it for? A big company? A private rich guy? A GAM supporter who is planning “the revolution” and uses the $ to stock up arms and train the new army?
I just don’t know any of these things and it seems that if we are trying to figure out how East Aceh ticks, this backdrop is one of the places to start. The scenery for our play is the jungle. It’s what gives everything and everyone life and purpose. And I don’t think we understand it all that well.
I then started on a hunt for this information. I put the word out to JMD’s staff that I’ll be asking a lot of questions to which they probably know lots of answers but which they never usually get asked.
“Let’s protect the wilderness” is a lot different, as this author points out, than “Let’s protect and improve the quality of life of people who have always lived here, who are probably the best stewards of the land when they are not starved into hurting it.”
I’m still thinking of writing to the Sun, and seeing if Mr Safransky is interested in doing a 10-year follow-up in Aceh Jaya, which is where JMD has implemented of its post-tsunami initiatives. I’ve also got to ask him permission to use some of Joel Whitney’s interview on this blog. In the meantime, I highly recommend that you read the Sun, especially this article (most of which is available to read online). Below is its synopsis.
Conservation Refugees: The Hundred-Year Conflict Between Global Conservation and Native Peoples
By Mark Dowie (MIT Press (MA), Paperback, 9780262516006, 341pp.) Publication Date: February 2011
Since 1900, more than 108,000 officially protected conservation areas have been established worldwide, largely at the urging of five international conservation organizations. About half of these areas were occupied or regularly used by indigenous peoples. Millions who had been living sustainably on their land for generations were displaced in the interests of conservation. In Conservation Refugees, Mark Dowie tells this story. This is a "good guy vs. good guy" story, Dowie writes; the indigenous peoples' movement and conservation organizations have a vital common goal--to protect biological diversity--and could work effectively and powerfully together to protect the planet and preserve biological diversity. Yet for more than a hundred years, these two forces have been at odds. The result: thousands of unmanageable protected areas and native peoples reduced to poaching and trespassing on their ancestral lands or "assimilated" but permanently indentured on the lowest rungs of the money economy. Dowie begins with the story of Yosemite National Park, which by the turn of the twentieth century established a template for bitter encounters between native peoples and conservation. He then describes the experiences of other groups, ranging from the Ogiek and Maasai of eastern Africa and the Pygmies of Central Africa to the Karen of Thailand and the Adevasis of India. He also discusses such issues as differing definitions of "nature" and "wilderness," the influence of the "BINGOs" (Big International NGOs, including the Worldwide Fund for Nature, Conservation International, and The Nature Conservancy), the need for Western scientists to respect and honor traditional lifeways, and the need for native peoples to blend their traditional knowledge with the knowledge of modern ecology. When conservationists and native peoples acknowledge the interdependence of biodiversity conservation and cultural survival, Dowie writes, they can together create a new and much more effective paradigm for conservation.
Next: Answering the questions above, one by one, is not as straightforward as it seems