Protected Areas and Indigenous Peoples


Different classifications which restrict access to areas are significant influences on the present & future condition of many indigenous peoples

The relationship between parks and people seems clearcut. But everybody interested in conservation issues in specific countries is aware of a number of forms of protected areas other than national parks.

The IUCN, a renowned non-governmental organization in the field of environmental conservation worldwide, linked through many cooperative efforts with some United Nations special organizations (FAO, UNESCO, UNEP) counts "140 or so names...provided for various sorts of protected area" (IUCN Directory 1982:xviii). The matter has become extremely complex due to the number of different terms used throughout the world; sometimes the same term refers to divergent objectives or legal scenarios. The resulting confusion, deadly for comparison or coordination on an international scale, was ripe for the type of clarification offered by an IUCN "task force" in 1978. In a paper entitled "Categories, Objectives, and Criteria for Protected Areas," the group divided the scores of names into ten types of protected areas based on management classifications.

Since 1979, IUCN-appointed "coordinators for the various biogeographic provinces of the world"(1) (DIR:xvii) have been gathering data about protected areas in their respective regions. Their task is to periodically complete standard "data sheets" which contain twenty-one "data categories," one of which is the identifying management category. This standard data collection is undertaken for every protected area inside a biogeographical province(2).

It must be said, however, that, either conceptually or practically, many states do not yet conform management practices to this 1978 scheme. Nevertheless, a basis has been provided for the discussion of many practical questions as, for instance, the important relationship between peoples and protected areas.

The 10 categories identified by the IUCN are:

I Scientific Reserves Strict Nature Reserves 4(3)

II National Parks Provincial Parks 14

III Natural Monuments Natural Landmarks 2

IV Nature Conservation Reserves Managed Nature Reserves Wildlife Sanctuaries 6

V Protected Landscapes 2

VI Resource Reserves (Interim Conservation Unit) 1

VII Anthropological Reserves Natural Biotic Areas

VIII Multiple Use Management Areas Managed Resource Areas

IX Biosphere Reserves 5

X World Heritage Sites (Natural) 1

In general, these management categories are applied exclusively. There are, however, exceptions. Especially Category II which often combines with Categories IX and X. Further, Category II may comprise several others like I, IV and VII as its integral parts, which then are zones for different specific purposes. Conversely, one of these three categories alone would never fulfill the requirements for National Parks (Cat. II).

Two immediate questions arise from these categories: 1) Are indigenous claims to land, resources and cultural survival threatened or safeguarded through the establishment of protected areas on or near their homelands? 2) Under what circumstances could they benefit from living on this or that type of protected area?

Category I - Scientific Reserves/Strict Nature Reserves

These are areas which possess outstanding and "fragile ecosystems or life forms, areas of important biological or geological diversity, which are of particular importance to the conservation of genetic resources (e.g., wild species of domestic plants)" (DIR:xviii).

In these areas, even "natural acts" of catastrophic dimensions that may significantly alter the ecosystem are allowed to take place. This type of protected area is "generally closed to public access, recreation and tourism," and "necessarily exclude[s] man-made disturbances" (loc. cit.). The only human interference accepted in these regions stems from field trips to obtain "scientific knowledge."

Indigenous peoples' claims are often endangered where it is recommended that "land-use control and ownership in most cases [to] be by central government." In some cases, "exceptions may be made" in case "long-term protection" may be safeguarded through any other "adequate" - by local population? - control, but always by government approval.

Even "traditional" economies like types of shifting agriculture or pastoral nomadism would not be acceptable here any more.

On the other hand, some foraging groups are the only ones with an intimate knowledge of their environment. Why not imagine Category I reserves as sites where indigenous "scientists" teach occidental(ized) scientists as students?

Category II-National Parks/Provincial Parks

"A National Park is a relatively large area" (DIR:xviii). The regulations for this type of protected area are most detailed. They explicitly name its constituent characteristics and the kinds of exploitation absolutely prohibited, describe the "management activities" necessarily allowed and specify in which way NPs can be divided into zones with different conservation objectives.

Besides being a large area, NPs distinguish through three features: (1) " or several ecosystems [must be] materially [un]altered by human exploitation and occupation", the area, like Category I, is of special interest to scientists as well as for "recreational" uses, or for its natural beauty; (2) "...the highest competent authority in the country [will have to take] steps to present or eliminate as soon as possible exploitation or occupation in the whole area..."; (3) "Special conditions" shall regulate the entrance of visitors which may come "for various, not solely scientific reasons" (loc. cit.).

These features may look dim for the claims of many indigenous populations who have undergone considerable technological and economic changes, particularly in the course of the present century. Living on and from lands that happen to be declared NP, and normally wishing to hold to their territorial rights, would mean being forced either to "re-activate" ancient forms of land-use (and associated ideas and institutions) or to settle outside the park limits.

A closer look at the specifications, however, reveals that under certain conditions something could be gained in this situation.

Groups seeking refuge from the destroying effects of certain forms of ill-adapted development, at least, legally, could win some protection for themselves. Holding territories inside NPs, they would be safe from the impacts of the extraction of "mineral resources, timber and other vegetation" (DIR:xix) and the removal or depletion of their protein base, as well as from "the development of dams and other structures for irrigation or hydroelectric power," since all these forms of "exploitation" are prohibited "in an be considered a National Park" (loc. cit.). Although the prohibition is recommended to be extended to "agricultural and pastoral activities, hunting, fishing" likewise, "certain exceptions...may be permitted" as far as "zones have been established to protect a cultural heritage" (loc. cit.).

Under the precondition of "de facto zoning" having taken place, cultural heritage includes "existing villages," and applies to rights of residence and usufruct as well, if they "existed before the reserve [park] was created" (loc. cit.). "De facto zoning" means that (special purpose) zones are established not only on paper but are provided with the appropriate minor infrastructure(4) and staff to grant for an effective control of park boundaries and prevent transgression of the designated zones within. IUCN proposes "various combinations of zones [for NPs:]

* Wilderness zone only;

* Wilderness zone combined with Strict Natural zone [Cat. I], Managed Natural zone [Cat. IV] or both;

* any or all of the above zones combined with a tourist/administrative zone;

* any or all of the above zones combined with one or more zones classified as anthropological [Cat. VII], archaeological or historical" (DIR:xx).

Obviously, Anthropological zones (see Cat. VII below) may imply a substantial contribution for those groups seeking least outside contact.

Intermediate positions (between contact avoided and fully integrated) should prove feasible too, regarding, for example, the occupational possibilities offered by various "management activities" ranging from "actual administration" to "maintaining the desired flora or fauna" (DIR:xix).

Though not yet definitely zoned, the Parque Nacional Natural Sierra Nevada de Santa Marta seemingly demonstrates the compatibility of Indian - in this case Arhuaco - territorial rights and the objectives of nature conservation; there are, at least, some indications for that: land tenure ruled, staff almost entirely Arhuaco, ecodevelopment project in planning stage (DIR:127-28).(5)

No less than fourteen cases with native human population residing within NPs' limits exist in the neotropics - by far the highest figure of all ten categories.

Category III - Natural Monuments/Natural Landmarks

These are relatively small protected areas of national importance created to preserve outstanding "natural features...such as gelogical formation, a unique natural site, animal or plant species or habitat" (DIR:xx). Indigenous populations' land ownership need not be menaced, for these groups would found "corporations" and perhaps manage by themselves while guaranteeing the objective of protection for the long term. (Although not exactly falling within this category, Udirbi Forest Reserve stands as an example for indigenous-run protected areas (Cuna of the Comarea San Blas, Panama).) Touristic activities would also be kept to a low degree of interference since Category III areas should ideally be "managed in such a way that they remain relatively free from human disturbance" (loc. cit.). There are two examples from Highland Peru with indigenous residence inside such areas (DIR:302/303).

Category IV - Nature Conservation Reserves/Managed Nature Reserves/Wildlife Sanctuaries

Category IV areas are especially well apt for the protection of "individual biotic species, or resident or migratory fauna of national or global significance" (DIR:xx). Reserve size depends upon "the habitat requirements or specific characteristics of the species to be protected" (loc. cit.). One particular variety of Category IV protected areas, the Managed Nature Reserve, gets managed in the sense that the habitat for the species or "vegetative community" needs "manipulation to provide optimum conditions."

Traditional hunting and gathering or livestock raising must not present insurmountable problems. Hunting may have the effect of protecting an endangered species from its predator; grazing may provoke best growth conditions for certain "grassland or heath communities" (loc. cit.).

Among the six indigenous groups reported to be living on such protected areas of the neotropics are a group (of unknown size) of Sonéne-Toromona (Panoan-Taracanan speakers). This group is very probably trying to isolate itself in the last remaining "hide-out" of the northern Bolivian Department of Pando. Until now there has been no efficient control and enforcement of the limits of the Manuripi Heath Nature Reserve inside of which the Sonéne-Toromona roam. It is thus unlikely that they will even here be saved from the adverse effects of encroaching colonization (DIR:55).

Category V - Protected Landscapes

This is probably one of the most promising categories from an indigenous people's perspective. IUCN distinguishes two sub-types, one of which represents "landscapes [which] possess special aesthetic qualities...[as] a result of the interaction of man and land." (DIR:xx).

"These landscapes may demonstrate certain cultural manifestations such as: customs, beliefs, social organization or material traits as reflected in land-use patterns...Traditional land-use practices associated with agriculture, grazing, and fishing would be dominant. The size of the area would be large enough to ensure the integrity of the landscape pattern" (DIR:xx).

Hopefully, Protected Landscapes could secure an integral indigenous land basis as an alternative to the general practice of conferring already constrained titles to single communities of only one ethnic group. Ownership, it is confirmed, must not always be with the state. "The perpetuation of both the land-use and life style" (DIR:xxi), meanwhile, may need some outside assistance. Does IUCN forsee any form of subsidization either "for external renovations" - rebuild past conditions? - "or construction to disguise improvements in standard of living" (loc. cit.) - money for façades without functional context to be erected? There seems to be some hidden difficulty already from the outset.

Perhaps some insight might be gained from studying the only two cases in all of the neotropics from Andean Peru (DIR:305/306).

Another category directly addresses itself to the "traditional" life circumstances of native populations, Category VII, which is not represented at all, yet it should deserve our particular interest.

Category VII - Anthropological Reserves/Natural Biotic Area

"These are predominantly natural areas of which man is an integral component" (DIR:xxi). Human subsistence needs are primarily satisfied from the natural environment. It is further expressly stated that "extensive cultivation or other modifications to the vegetation and animal life are not permitted" (loc. cit.).

Nothing is said about land tenure modalities in these often "remote" and inaccessible (without modern technique) areas. Nonetheless, this category of protected area would be especially appropriate for some human groups. If the adoption of new technologies - to a significant degree - should prove desirable at any future time, the protection status of Category VII could be changed by way of a zonification similar to any one of the Categories II, VIII and IX. In this way Category VII protected areas would be regarded Interim Conservation Units, with safer provision for their indigenous inhabitants than those of the similarly interim Category VI areas, the Resource Reserves.

Category VI - Resource Reserves

This category also comprises "extensive, relatively isolated and [un-?]inhabited areas with difficult access, or regions that are lightly populated yet may be under considerable pressure for colonization and greater utilization" (DIR:xxi).

"While under this short-term designation" studies will have to be undertaken as a prerequisite for planning its appropriate future uses. Precautions are also to be taken in order that no exploitation may occur, "with the exception of use of resources by indigenous inhabitants" (loc. cit.). In the short term, however, there will not be any land titling in favor of these groups.

The shortcomings of this interim category are confirmed in the only example of indigenous population concerned with the neotropics: the Maya of Lake Atitlan National Park in Guatemala, designated Resource Reserve by the IUCN Coordinator.

Category VI also has some similarities to the interim Interdicted Areas of the Brazilian political administration.

Category VIII - Multiple Use Management Areas/Managed Resource Areas

These will be large areas "suitable for the production of wood products, [use of] water, pasture, wildlife, and outdoor recreation" (DIR:xxi). Generally they are already partly altered by man and possess no exceptional features. The objective is management of the area on a sustained yield basis. Detailed planning should create zones which comprise either Strict Nature type areas (Cat. I) or such of the wilderness type (one of the zones of Cat. II) for all watershed forest territories. Other zones are established according to their economic potential. "Multiple considered to be the management of all renewable surface resources" (loc. cit.).

The passages bear the IUCN spirit of 1980, the year in which the World Conservation Strategy was presented to the global public. "Sustainable development" is the core concept being developed in the Strategy (WCS).

The concept behind Multiple Use Management Areas serves as a platform for ethnodevelopment ideas. Though IUCN assumes that "land ownership would be under government control," it seems conceivable that today's organized native groups will make themselves heard on the matter.

No case is mentioned in the Directory where indigenous population is present in such type of area in the neotropics.

Category IX - Biosphere Reserve

This type of protected area deserves separate treatment in detail. It is a part of a much wider program of UNESCO: "MAB" (Man and the Biosphere). The underlying concept of the Biosphere Reserve must not be overlooked to gain a full understanding. "A Biosphere Reserve is often likely to profit from existing protected areas and include a part or the whole of those within its boundaries". Where there has not been any sort of protection in an area before. Biosphere Reserve status depends on the approval of the "Man and the Biosphere International Coordinating Council" (DIR:xxii).

Among its peculiarities, selection for a B. R. "emphasizes representative samples of major ecosystems rather than exceptional ones"; combines "conservation, research [e.g., experiments in portions of the area to test the effects of certain environmental manipulations], education and training as major objectives" (loc. cit.); and attributes a specific role to "local populations." Their "social and economic activities comprise a significant management input" (loc. cit.). "Harmonious landscapes" (DIR:xxii), as a result of successful human interventions in natural ecosystems, are included in the BRs as well.

Human use within its boundaries is facilitated through a system of zones which slightly diverge from the pattern already known for National Parks (Cat. II) or Multiple Use Areas (Cat. VIII): "(a) Natural or Core Zone; (b) Manipulative or Buffer Zone; (c) Reclamation or Restoration Zone; and (d) Stable Cultural Zone" (Dir:xxii). In any or up to four zones, indigenous population groups, whether subsisting through traditional ways or having already gone through various degrees of change, should have sufficient latitude to determine the direction of their future development. At least five such populations in the neotropics may experience such a system if it becomes reality.

Category X - World Heritage Sites (Natural)

These are sites which are regularly made known to have been granted this status in the World Heritage List. The procedure to safeguard a cultural and/or natural heritage is through nomination by the country (it is an integral part of) "which is a Party to the World Heritage Convention" (DIR:xxii), i.e., ratified the 1972 Convention for the Protection of the World Cultural and Natural Heritage. The decisive criterion for a natural/cultural area to be included in the List is its being of "outstanding universal value" (loc. cit.).

One out of four necessary properties relating to World Heritage Sites make reference to "man's interaction with his natural environment" which must excel in outstanding results.

As it is not just a simple administrative act to create a protected area of this special character, one can reasonably argue that it represents a considerable long-term safeguard for a people who are appreciated for their lifestyle, (engraved in harmonious form in their habitat). There is no mention of legal titling under the description of this category.

The example of the Darien National Park and World Heritage Site (of mixed Categories II and X - is it for this reason a Master Plan proposes zoning? -) should be very instructive in the near future: "accepted as World Heritage Site in 1981;" "two groups of indigenous people within the park," Choco and Cuna; citizens of two nearby towns hold "small farms inside the park" (DIR:271-72).

In summary, the objectives of these protection categories could resolve many problems. None of these categories (excepting, perhaps, Category I) really restricts native people's claims to ancestral rights.

In some cases indigenous groups would benefit from the fact they happen to inhabit protected areas (Cats. IV, V, VIII, IX) by finding more and more acceptance for their specific cultural (and nature preserving) contribution to their country. Successful integration will depend on skillfully using the system of zoning protected areas. In all systems with clearcut functional zones (Categories II, VIII, IX) is the chance to control integral native territories.


(1) For the concept behind this, see Udvardy 1975.

(2) A "Country Sheet" also to be filled in by the coordinators presents further standardized data. Both sheets with their relative data constitute the main body of the "IUCN Directory of Neotropical Protected Areas" (from the southern tip of Florida and tropical Mexico to Cape Horn) from which I have taken my basic data. The IUCN commission in charge of the work will ensure information updates by "developing a three-year review and publication cycle" (DIR:xvii). This edition "is the first in a series of regional directories replacing and updating IUCN's World Directory of National Parks".

(3) The figures in this column give the number of groups of indigenous people I was able either to take from the data sheets for each protected area within the neotropics, or to deduce from indirect hints within the data. A lot depends on the "ethnological awareness" of the IUCN coordinator originally compiling the data. I am sure there are exceedingly more groups concerned than just the 35 cases (out of 348 reported protected areas - 10%) mentioned in the IUCN Directory for the Neotropical Areas.

(4) It is in this context only that a road network may be constructed and maintained. It would be confined to a "special tourism/administrative zone" (loc. cit.) with the accompanying structures to accommodate such activities.

(5) That even total legal protection may not suffice is actually being proven by the Peruvian government's plans with the Manu National Park/Biosphere Reserve.

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