Indigenous knowledge and the shackles of wilderness

Michael-Shawn Fletcher, Rebecca Hamilton, Wolfram Dressler, Lisa Palmer

    Research output: Contribution to journalArticle


    The environmental crises currently gripping the Earth have been codified in a new proposed geological epoch: the Anthropocene. This epoch, according to the Anthropocene Working Group, began in the mid-20th century and reflects the “great acceleration” that began with industrialization in Europe [J. Zalasiewicz et al., Anthropocene 19, 55–60 (2017)]. Ironically, European ideals of protecting a pristine “wilderness,” free from the damaging role of humans, is still often heralded as the antidote to this human-induced crisis [J. E. M. Watson et al., Nature, 563, 27–30 (2018)]. Despite decades of critical engagement by Indigenous and non-Indigenous observers, large international nongovernmental organizations, philanthropists, global institutions, and nation-states continue to uphold the notion of pristine landscapes as wilderness in conservation ideals and practices. In doing so, dominant global conservation policy and public perceptions still fail to recognize that Indigenous and local peoples have long valued, used, and shaped “high-value” biodiverse landscapes. Moreover, the exclusion of people from many of these places under the guise of wilderness protection has degraded their ecological condition and is hastening the demise of a number of highly valued systems. Rather than denying Indigenous and local peoples’ agency, access rights, and knowledge in conserving their territories, we draw upon a series of case studies to argue that wilderness is an inappropriate and dehumanizing construct, and that Indigenous and community conservation areas must be legally recognized and supported to enable socially just, empowering, and sustainable conservation across scale.
    Original languageEnglish
    Pages (from-to)7
    JournalPNAS - Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America
    Issue number40
    Publication statusPublished - 2021


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