Geographer Stan Stevens Launches Book at World Parks Congress

At the World Parks Congress (WPC) held Nov. 12-19 in Sydney, Australia, human geographer Stan Stevens of the geosciences department, officially launched his new book, “Indigenous Peoples, National Parks and Protected Areas,” during a special session he organized and led on the topic.

The International Union for Conservation of Nature’s WPC is a global policy and planning forum convened every 10 years for conservation leaders, heads of United Nations agencies, national park officials from around the world, representatives of indigenous peoples and others concerned with wilderness, protected areas and parks to discuss best practices and policy.

The event drew 6,000 delegates from 170 countries, Stevens says. Its organizers consider promoting effective and equitable governance and management of protected areas to be critical to global conservation, sustainability and social justice, he adds, given that the world’s 200,000 protected areas encompass more than 15 percent of the land area of the earth and 3 percent of its oceans, many of its most intact ecosystems and the territories of thousands of Indigenous peoples and local communities.

In a case study he presented at the world congress, Stevens outlined the experience of the Sherpa people in Sagarmatha (Mount Everest) National Park and World Heritage Site, with whom he has worked for more than 30 years. He pointed out that in this and many other protected areas worldwide, rights are being violated and important opportunities for conservation synergies and effectiveness are being lost because of inadequate recognition and respect for the importance of indigenous peoples’ and local communities’ conservation institutions and practices.

He notes that in recent years, indigenous peoples “have made some very powerful statements about being dispossessed in the name of conservation, they are more aware of rights issues than ever before, and there is much greater appreciation of the contributions they make to conservation through their knowledge, institutions and practices.”

His book presents the latest original research and surveys new approaches now being considered to enhance the rights of indigenous peoples worldwide to have a stronger voice in shaping conservation and park management policies that affect their traditional lands.

Published by the University of Arizona Press, the 380-page volume documents past practices, presents case studies from North and South America, Asia, Africa and Australia, and outlines new directions for an expanded future role for indigenous communities in the management of national parks and other conservation lands and cultural heritage sites.

Stevens observes that the book’s themes and case studies stress the importance of indigenous peoples’ knowledge and conservation contributions as well as the urgency to establish new kinds of protected areas that redress the tragic legacies of protected areas that have excluded and marginalized people and violated rights. 

The session organized by Stevens featured presentations by distinguished speakers, most of whom are indigenous people, who discussed their experiences and lessons learned. They included Peter Lantin, president of the Haida Nation and Joe Martin, elder of the Tla-o-qui-aht Nation, both of British Columbia; Giovanni Reyes, head of KASAPI, the largest indigenous peoples’ organization in the Philippines, who with his colleague Glaiza Tabanao, spoke about Mount Kalatungan Natural Park; and Cristina Eghenter, an anthropologist who has worked for many years with World Wildlife Fund Indonesia on the island of Borneo in Kayan Mentarang National Park.

The recent World Congress culminated in a statement of resolutions and commitments known as “The Promise of Sydney,” which included a set of best practice recommendations that emerged from the session led by Stevens. He says a highlight of the Congress was a $100 million commitment by the German government for work to be carried out with indigenous peoples’ and local communities’ conserved areas (ICCAs) in 50 countries by the U.N. Development Program, the U.N. Environment Program and the ICCA Consortium, an organization for which Stevens serves as treasurer and steering committee member.