As with the Peace & Dignity Journey that threaded its way through Texas a couple weeks back, the IUCN World Conservation Congress convened for the first 10 days of this month is an every-four-years affair. Every time the assemblage of 217 governmental agencies and over 1,000 civil society organizations from around the world gather the group brings new insights into the state of the planet and the escalating challenge to limit the damages being caused by industrial society.
This year, the group made a number of important internal improvements, including expanding its own governance to include a specific membership category for indigenous peoples.
Thanks to an engaged coalition of indigenous leaders, including the Uʻwa of Colombia and Kichwa of Ecuador, the Congress passed Motion 26, calling on private and public interests to respect sacred lands as “no-go” areas and to “give high priority to avoiding environmentally damaging industrial activities and infrastructure development that impact sacred natural sites and territories and areas conserved by indigenous peoples and local communities.”
As Hal Rhoades reports for the Ecologist:
In a statement entitled Statement of Indigenous Kahu`āina Guardians of Sacred Lands released during the congress, the group of indigenous custodians supporting Motion 26 affirm their unified understanding of sacred sites.
They describe these sites as natural places, such as mountains and springs, which are “nodal points, responsible for the harmonious and healthy functioning of Mother Earth.”
These sacred sites are “essential to sustaining the biodiversity and health of the lands, oceans, waters and air of our planet and the well-being of humanity”, say the custodians, who are responsible for the day-to-day care of their people’s sacred places.
In their statement the custodians go beyond the IUCN definition of sacred natural sites as “areas of land or water having special spiritual significance to peoples and communities.”
They argue that the cultural and physical survival of indigenous peoples, and therefore the realisation of their rights under the UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples, is contingent on the continued existence and health of sacred natural sites.
What this all means, what it ultimately accomplishes, will largely be up to how individuals in and outside of government respond to it. It also will hinge on how people today and in the years to come see the sacred. For instance, Walmart may increasingly be seeing the business case for sustainability, but what would happen if company executives were first and foremost instructed to see the sacred in the world?
This before any particular project was instructed by a federal agency, let’s say, to plan operations to avoid any designated sacred site?
As its closing statement on the gathering, IUCN issued the Hawai’i Commitments [PDF], sharing the challenges and opportunities as seen by its membership for the years ahead. The challenges will be familiar to anyone used to scanning the headlines—healing the oceans, conservation, global food resources, wildlife trafficking, climate change, etc.
And, as with such conferences, there is a call to radical change:
We must undertake profound transformations in how human societies live on Earth, with particular attention to making our patterns of production and consumption more sustainable. We must recognize that human health and wellbeing depend on healthy ecosystems. We must recognize that every form of life has value – regardless of its worth to humans.
But that’s not where the document opens. First comes discussion of indigenous and spiritual values
What chance we have for sustaining a living earth capable of sustaining the human animal (and as many of the rest of our relatives as we can bring along) is first and foremost identified by a rising indigenous cosmovision and the responsiveness of the communities of faith, many of which have been expanding and/or recovering traditions of earth care.
That is: Environmentalism, conservation, is a matter of the heart above all else.
The Opportunities Identified by the Congress
To achieve the transformation required to promote a ‘Culture of Conservation’, while respecting human rights and gender equity, we need to support and build constituencies for nature, and to address the way human societies are changing nature and our world.
Cultivating a Culture of Conservation
Linking Spirituality, Religion, Culture and Conservation
The world’s rich diversity of cultures and faith traditions are a major source of our ethical values and provide insights into ways of valuing nature. The wisdom of indigenous traditions is of particular significance as we begin to re-learn how to live in communion with, rather than in dominance over, the natural world. The Encyclical Letter Laudato Si’, the Islamic Declaration on Global Climate Change, and the Interfaith Climate Change Statement to World Leaders among many other statements from world religions, provide insights.
Solutions: To create a stronger culture of conservation, we need to look beyond mere technical means. The values and wisdom of indigenous peoples, Elders, and the world’s rich faith and spiritual communities offer a deeper understanding of our connections with nature, and help inform the necessary transformational changes in the financial, technological, industrial, governance and regulatory systems of our societies. To incorporate such insights, spiritual leaders and the conservation community need to come together to share the values that connect us. Artists, educators and innovators all can contribute to this expanded vision.
There’s a lot more there here, for those called into this sort of negotiation.