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The Big Conservation Lie Exposes Colonial Dynamic at the Heart of Conservation Policy

Ecologist

August 9, 2017

by Lewis Evans

 

 

Mordecai Ogada was sitting in a luxury safari lodge, admiring the view of Kilimanjaro. He could see many of Africa’s most iconic species -giraffe, water buffalo, even a few elephants far in the distance.

As a professional conservationist, with a PhD in carnivore ecology, the sight was both familiar and pleasing. He was being treated like a tourist. Someone came in and offered him a cocktail. Then, one of his white hosts and sponsors, the people whose largesse he was enjoying, said: “We’re going to have to move that Maasai village. It’s spoiling the view for tourists.”

For Dr. Ogada, this was a decisive moment. “I was a qualified black face, put in place to smooth over fifty years of exploitation.”

The Big Conservation Lie is written by people who are actually from one of big conservation’s key target countries. It dismantles many of the environmental movement’s most troubling myths: the pristine wilderness “untouched by human hands” until European arrival; the supposed lack of interest or expertise in wildlife among native conservationists and communities; the idea that brutal poaching would be endemic without foreign intervention, and so on.

A colonial narrative

Ogada and Mbaria sum up the essence of their argument early on: “The wildlife conservation narrative in Kenya, as well as much of Africa, is thoroughly intertwined with colonialism, virulent racism, deliberate exclusion of the natives, veiled bribery, unsurpassed deceit, a conservation cult subscribed to by huge numbers of people in the West, and severe exploitation of the same wilderness conservationists have constantly claimed they are out to preserve.”

To colonisers, Africa is and always has been a “wild and uncontrollable environment” – home to “charismatic” species that can be admired (or shot) from afar. The conventional narrative has generally suggested that only European and American expertise can tame or protect it. The authors argue that this has given western NGOs such as the Wildlife Conservation Society (WCS) enormous power.

It has also created space for white “saviors” (and the “saviors” are always white), such as George Adamson, Jane Goodall, and Iain Douglas-Hamilton, to step in and be seen to make the decisive difference. There’s no place for Africans in the picture.

Damaging myths

Ogada and Mbaria take aim at some of conservation’s most sacred cows. George Adamson, for example, the white British subject of the 1966 film “Born Free” is exposed as a chancer, a failed businessman who accepted  conservation donations, despite being a trophy hunter with next to no conservation expertise.

Much of the authors’ scorn is reserved for the Kenya Wildlife Service (KWS). Though it presents itself as a conservation organisation, the true face of this “service” is revealed. It is composed mostly of retired soldiers and mercenaries, heavily armed and organised much like a militia.

Run for many years by Richard Leakey, a wealthy white Kenyan of British descent, it is accused of corruption, violence, and perpetuating the appropriation of some of Kenya’s most fertile areas by the British colonials and their descendants.

As the authors point out, the KWS receives funding, equipment, and training from western powers, including the United States and Great Britain. This doesn’t stop if from profiting from the land it supposedly exists to protect, through tourism, and even ties to big mining and pharmaceutical companies.

It is revealed to have cut deals with the German corporation Bayer, and some of its most senior figures have themselves been implicated in wildlife crime, including ivory trafficking. Despite this, they and the armed operatives they command are considered “above suspicion” by the Kenyan authorities.

A failure to respect indigenous knowledge

Similarly, they expose the International Union for the Conservation of Nature (IUCN), one of the best-respected of the big conservation organisations, for having supported a project which involved evicting thousands of Maasai people from forests which they’d been dependent on and managed for millennia.

This is despite the fact that the Loita woodland that they were removed from was largely intact at the time, whereas areas of forest which had been in western hands for decades had badly deteriorated. This is typical of the “externally-defined agenda for social development” which the authors critique, and which often doesn’t involve much effective conservation.

Many western conservation charities, it’s argued, exist primarily to secure publicity for their founders. A recent example is “Space for Giants” – an initiative founded by Russian oligarch Evgeny Lebedev.

The organisation has released several high profile op-eds and photos showing “action” in the name of conservation, but has, according to the authors, done little on the ground, beyond charging over $5,000 a head (plus mandatory donation) for luxury safari tours.

What a lot of western-initiated conservation boils down to, according to Ogada and Mbaria, is “surveillance of vast areas with huge mineral potential under the guise of wildlife conservation.”

African solutions to Africa’s problems

In place of this neocolonial approach, they advocate closer partnerships with local and tribal communities, respecting and using the extraordinary, but unacknowledged, expertise about the natural world that already exists in large parts of Kenya and the wider world.

There are plenty of Africans working in conservation, but they get very little recognition for their work. Professionals like Dr. Ogada are not only experts in their field, but also provide a different perspective on the deeply flawed western approach to conservation, an approach which has failed, even on its own terms.

Likewise, there are millions of people across Africa who live largely sustainable lives and have plenty of insights to offer, if only western conservationists would be willing to step aside and put them at the forefront of the environmental movement. Only by listening to Africa’s tribal peoples – the best conservationists and guardians of the natural world – will we stand any chance of protecting the natural environment.

“The Big Conservation Lie” is highly recommended for anyone interested in this struggle, or in debunking the pervasive myths that are holding the environmental movement back. It is a bold and important book that deserves your attention.

 

 

[Lewis Evans is a campaigner at Survival International, the global movement for tribal peoples’ rights. The Big Conservation Lie is available to purchase from Lens & Pens Publications.]

 

NVDA Training Teaches White Paternalism at Camp Standing Rock

Wrong Kind of Green

September 16, 2016

oka-three-armed-warriors

What the white man seeks to destroy and what the non-profit industrial complex is financed to carry out: the destruction of the Indigenous Warrior culture. This is not news to native people, however, this reality is all but lost on today’s white “left”. Photo: Mohawk Warriors, Oka Crisis, Canada, 1990. Photograph: Armed warriors at Kanesatake during the 1990 “Oka Crisis.” / Gazette John Mahoney (CTY). [Further reading: Part II of an Investigative Report into Tar Sands Action & the Paralysis of a Movement, September 19, 2011]

The following comment is from a film director who just returned from the camp at Standing Rock. What she witnessed is the historical paternalism that is reminiscent of the ‘Indian schools’ where proper comportment was wholly identified as the ability to assimilate into Anglo structures. We thank this person for recognizing and  sharing what she witnessed. That this took place on native land – shows egotism and white paternalism still very much exists, is being taught/modeled (via NGO “training”/*NVDA dogma), has no bounds – and no shame. (*non-violent direct action)

Camp participant:

“I just returned from the camp at standing rock and I can report that this[referencing the article: All Eyes On Dakota Access – All Eyes Off Bakken Genocide] is exactly what has happened. I sat in on the first two non violent action trainings brought into the camp to help teach protestors how to “de-escalate” even to the point of pulling young men (warriors) aside and chastising them (gently of course) for their anger. They were also told not to wear bandanas over their faces but to proudly be identified. A chill went up and down me. The national guard was brought in a couple of days ago to “help with traffic” and now today protestors (called ” protectors”) were arrested by guards in complete riot gear. This will not end well.”

The following is an excerpt from the report: All Eyes On Dakota Access – All Eyes Off Bakken Genocide, published September 13, 2016:

Enter #NODAPL Solidarity

One would be hard pressed to find on any website such extensive NVDA (non-violent direct action) dogma as found on the #NoDAPL Solidarity website (created on August 29, 2016 by Nick Katkevich, noted liberal strategist who is the co-creator of the group FANG – Fighting Against Natural Gas). Especially in light of this website being meant to be interpreted as representative of Indigenous resistance. Yet, Indigenous peoples do not espouse NVDA as an ideology – this is the ideology belonging to and peddled by the NPIC. The fact is, Indigenous peoples retain a deep-rooted (and enviable) warrior ideology – deeply ingrained in the Indigenous culture. This is what the NPIC seeks to destroy. Because of the arrogance and paternalism of those within the NPIC, they even believe they will be successful in doing so. This site is sponsored by Rising Tides North America (RTNA), which can be identified under the “Friends and Allies” (North America) section on the 350.org website. Many view RTNA as a sister org. to Rainforest Action Network, with a more radical veneer, the common link being Scott Parkin: “Scott Parkin is a climate organizer working with Rainforest Action Network, Rising Tide North America and the Ruckus Society.” (see the multitude of Ruckus documents/links on screenshot below). [Source]

nodapl-nvda

Further irony arises when one takes note of the Martin Luther King quote on the “indigenous led resistance” website (see screenshot above). Ask yourself why Indigenous resistance would choose to quote MLK (a long-time favourite co-opted and sanitized icon of the NPIC), rather than a quote from their own warriors.

Leave it to white “leftists” to retain their unwavering belief they have the right and superior knowledge to manage/shape how Indigenous struggles should be led. This is the same “left” (funded by the establishment) that has failed at virtually everything except for the main task assigned by the elites they kowtow to: keeping current power structures intact.

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And yet…

Although the white left would never believe it to be true, the Indigenous Peoples have a wisdom and knowledge the Euro-Americans lack altogether. They are not part of our depraved society. So why would wise people succumb to the whims of the NPIC? There is perhaps a very good reason why the tribes standing with Standing Rock Sioux Tribe are not opposed to the white left saturation who will never fail to rush in front for the cameras: to place them in front to stop the bullets from being fired (“Don’t Shoot”). Indigenous peoples have been subjected to horrendous racism since the first European colonizers arrived, which continues to this day. The reality being white activists have no fear of being shot and killed by police regardless of their actions, whereby the same actions are opportunities for the state to kill natives, blacks and minorities.

For media sensation and photographs that will travel the globe, those at the helm of the NPIC ensure that publicly, Indigenous Peoples most always appear in the forefront – all while strategizing behind closed doors to take leadership. When they cannot do so, they vacate the movement, work to marginalize and if possible bury, the legitimate work they were unable to take over. The 2010 People’s Agreement (Cochabamba, Bolivia), led by Indigenous peoples, is an excellent example of just this. The white man has proven incapable of involvement if he is not soon in charge. He has proven himself incapable of following, learning, listening… standing behind. Keeping his mouth closed. The ugly reality is that these are racist, fascist organizations, only there to protect current power structures and count bodies. Social media metrics are far more important than disposable people.

“When the Enviros show up, their literature and banner is strung up against the wall. We are pushed into our place. Most have had a bad taste from wasicu hypocrisy.”  — Harold One Feather

Those at the helm of the NGOs that comprise the NPIC will not be joining land defenders that are willing to die to protect their land, people, culture and ancestry. For these cowards, the brand is too valuable, the price too high. The warrior culture too strong (unruly savages!) to contain. Instead they will throw a few crumbs and send their well-intentioned youth followers as the sacrificial lambs to test the waters. The Indigenous that live within the Bakken are the only credible organizers in opposition to the frack oil developments. It is an understood but unspoken reality that within this resistance, people are going to die.

“Much of the camp’s rhetoric is of the “Non-violent Direct Action” type. Lock your arm to this piece of deconstruction equipment and take a picture with a banner for Facebook. But the Warrior Culture that is so rich in Lakota memory seems to counter a lot of the liberal, non-violent, NGO types. Comrades saw what happened in Iowa, heard about the $1,000,000 in damage and got inspired. I wouldn’t say that it was publicly celebrated because the camp’s tactic of “Non-violence” is the image they want to perpetuate. Like I said, it is a tactic… not everyone thinks that is what we need to dogmatically stick to. It is one thing to use Non-Violence as a rhetorical device in corporate media to spread your inspirational actions but it is another thing to preach it as your dogma in your private circles and use it to stop material damage to the infrastructure of ecocide. I see the former being invoked much greater than the latter.” — A CONVERSATION ON THE SACRED STONE CAMP, Sept 4, 2016

One may also wonder about the Pledge of Resistance being “organized” by the CREDO corporation: “Many thanks to our friends at CREDO who organized the Pledge of Resistance against Keystone XL—the Bakken Pipeline pledge borrows liberally from their work.” Bold Iowa, Source]

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Above poster from the Keystone XL Pledge of Resistance, 2013

All eyes ON one (single) pipeline.

All eyes OFF the acceleration of genocide of Indigenous peoples in the Bakken.

All eyes OFF Bakken fracking oil.

north-dakota-crude-pipelines

Further reading:

All Eyes On Dakota Access – All Eyes Off Bakken Genocide

Obedience – A New Requirement for the “Revolution”

 

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