Africa African Wildlife Foundation (AWF) British Petroleum [BP] Conservation International conservation refugees Kenya Mobil Serengeti The Maasai The Nature Conservancy World Wildlife Fund Yosemite National Park
WKOG Editor: We especially like the fact that Dowie distinguishes between member-funded and corporate-funded NGOs. We also enjoyed the irony that the person who alerted Dowie to the indigenous peoples predicament was Rebecca Adamson, who, in turn, has capitalized on the indigenous rights paradigm to become a corporate broker.” [Further reading on More on Adams: The Corporate Buy-In]
Video | These people have names…
Nakuru Lemiruni sends a message to those responsible for evicting the Samburu tribe from their land. The Samburu of Kisargei, in Kenya’s Laikipia district, were brutally evicted from the lands they call home in 2010 after the land was sold to the African Wildlife Foundation (AWF). AWF, using funds from The Nature Conservancy (TNC), says it bought the land on the understanding that no-one lived there. When the Samburu protested and took the matter to the courts the land was hurriedly ‘gifted’ to the government. Police chose a Friday “market day” for their attack, when the men were away and only women, elders, and children were in their homes. Fanning out across the 17,000- acre Eland Downs Ranch, police burned the Samburu families’ homes to the ground, along with all their possessions. Identified in the Kenyan press as “squatters,” the evicted Samburu families petitioned a regional court to recognize their ancestral claims to the land where they lived and grazed their cattle The suit has been filed by the Samburu against the African Wildlife Foundation and the former President. They need money and public support to win.
Issue 452 | August 2013
Journalist Mark Dowie was speaking at an environmental conference in Ottawa, Canada, in 2004 when he was approached by Rebecca Adamson, a Cherokee and the founder and president of First Peoples Worldwide. She began telling him how conservationists were mistreating indigenous tribes around the world. Intrigued, Dowie decided to look into the subject and write about it.
He traveled for four years to remote parts of the globe, and what he found troubled him. Everywhere he went, native people were being kicked off their ancestral lands to make way for national parks or protected wilderness areas. Dowie wrote a book and titled it Conservation Refugees: The Hundred-Year Conflict between Global Conservation and Native Peoples. He estimates that over the past one hundred years there have been 20 million such refugees worldwide.
He also discovered that the large conservation organizations were partnering with corporations that wanted to build oil wells or gas pipelines or mine for minerals on these lands. Originally conservationists were opposed to drilling and mining, but, Dowie says, the lines between the conservation giants and the corporate giants are being blurred: “International conservation organizations remain comfortable working in close quarters with some of the most aggressive global resource prospectors.” These extractive projects are far more environmentally destructive than the presence of indigenous people, he says. In fact, it’s indigenous traditions that have protected these biologically rich lands, often for millennia.
Dowie was born in Toronto, Canada, and spent his formative years in Wyoming. He calls himself a “Wyoming cowboy,” and his son and ex-wife still own a ranch on the Crow Indian Reservation in Montana. Dowie worked for Mother Jones magazine from 1975 to 1985, first as general manager, then as publisher, and finally as editor. In addition to Conservation Refugees, he is the author of Losing Ground: American Environmentalism at the Close of the Twentieth Century and American Foundations: An Investigative History. During his nearly forty years in journalism, he has won nineteen awards, been nominated for the Pulitzer Prize, and contributed to the Times of London, Harper’s, The New York Times, The Wall Street Journal, and The Nation. He is currently a contributing editor at Orion and has taught environmental reporting and foreign correspondence at the University of California, Berkeley Graduate School of Journalism.
I visited Dowie at his home on Tomales Bay in Inverness, California, to discuss the fate of the conservation refugees. Inverness sits on the eastern shore of Point Reyes Peninsula, a protected national seashore. Dowie lives there with his wife — the artist Wendy Schwartz — and their yellow lab, Gracie, who welcomed me with a volley of barks as I crossed the yard on my first visit.
Dowie invited me to follow him through the reeds to his shore-side observatory, a small structure on stilts in the inlet. Six foot three and bowlegged, he stooped a little as he guided me past the poison oak. At seventy-four Dowie is silver haired, broad shouldered, and quietly assertive. When questioned, he answers quickly and without meandering. When challenged, he smiles as if appreciative of the chance to clarify his meaning. He emphasizes that the conflict between native peoples and conservationists is not a story of good guys versus bad guys but “good guys versus good guys.”
Whitney: Your book starts close to home with the story of Yosemite National Park.
Dowie: The creation of Yosemite was a long process that began with its “discovery” by white European Americans. Native Americans, of course, were already there. John Muir, forefather of the American conservation movement, is often cited as the park’s founder. He wrote and spoke lyrically about the spiritual renewal urbanites experienced when they entered places like Yosemite Valley — which he defined as a “wilderness” despite its long-standing human population. →