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Sharing power

21 January 2011

Whakatane sea and landscape with Moutohora Island Reserve in sight. Photo credit: Pedro Walpole

Pedro Walpole

What is it to share power or transform it? The world is changing not through the newsbytes on global television but by the creeping ill feeling that much is wrong in how the world is operating and that we must go deeper to find meaning and right relation.

This was the overriding theme of the recently-concluded international conference in Whakatāne, New Zealand on Sharing Power: A New Vision for Development that gathered representatives of Indigenous Peoples last 11 to 15 January 2011 for a high level dialogue with Chairs of Commissions of the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) and other conservation organizations. The IUCN, through its Commission on Environmental, Economic and Social Policy (CEESP) organized the event.

The power was interestingly shared with two Mäori (indigenous) organisations, Te Rūnanga o Ngāti Awa, an iwi (tribal authority) representing around 15,000 descendants and Te Whare Wānanga o Awanuiārangi, the local culture-based institution of higher education.

It was said many times during the meetings, “if we are not at the table, we are on the menu,” expressing how many communities experience resource management throughout the world. Indigenous peoples, local communities, and faith communities are, and can be, major actors in the conservation of nature if appropriate recognition and supportive conditions are provided is one way of summarizing the meeting.

Cooperation, not competition

Elinor Ostrom, the 2009 awardee of the Nobel Memorial Prize in Economic Sciences, reminded us of the importance of supporting “stable local common-pool resource management to avoid ecosystem collapse” and the dangerous limitations of top-down singular panacea for the breadth of complex problems in a location. “We must move away from the idea that economic relations are an autonomous and self-regulating dimension of social and cultural life.”

We need a new framework for sustainability and transforming power for greater participation. We need to recognize the narrow disciplinary boundaries of the academe and establish a common framework and language. The situation of Whakatāne or any other geographic unity of resource focus allows us study “action situations.” An integrated language is needed across disciplines and institutions of management including community.

Increasingly, Ostrom says there is acknowledgement that strong culture-based communities who have security manage well their resources. Granted that there are occasions of abuse, but self-organization and self-management are crucial to a responsive and humble use of resources that the coming generation has to make its own.

Whakatāne shares its lessons

Traditional leaders of Whakatāne gave the conference visitors a memorable welcome and sustained and intense engagement in discussions throughout the event. Hirini Moko (Sidney Mead), a traditional leader with many outstanding initiatives for his people, was grateful that there was “access to the international meeting held in our place; it avoided dividing the practical and theoretical that enabled change mechanisms to be picked up and a shift to the notions of transforming power (to be seen).” Seldom does this happen in a conference of such size and surely they hosted the world family of indigenous people who came to the shores of Whakatāne with great friendship and generosity.

Whakatāne and Ngāti Awa certainly had a deserved day in the sun; the advances in Maori relations and responsibility in conservation management are a lesson for the world. We do well to respect the culture of where all have come from in seeking a new paradigm for sustainability that can no longer have the simple global framework of the current development model.

Whakatāne, New Zealand’s yellow-fin tuna capital, had its International Tuna Tournament last year but never turned up a tuna so has had to change the tournament name. What can the seas do? More than a name change is needed. With a history of dairy farming and a pulp industry, the environment though looking beautiful calls out for a much deeper justice and reconciliation. We are all challenged in this.

Pedro Walpole (center), Ashok Khosla-President of IUCN (far right) with other IUCN representatives. Photo credit: Javier Claparols

IUCN’s commitment to communities

IUCN president Dr Ashok Khosla spoke of the enormous threat to life in the world, but not without acknowledging greater collaboration and hope. He spoke of the two terminal diseases “povertisis” and “affluencia,” the best treatment for both being a homeopathic prescription of behaving better.

It is a conference of significance also for IUCN that in part is highly administrative in its organization and misses the cue for community participation in some area conservation engagements. The message is clear from members present and Dr Ashok Khosla confirms the IUCN commitment to communities first. “Putting a fence around species is not going to work; we have to destroy the fences in our mind and deal with poverty” or there will be no world left for any of us. Human rights and the basic response to humanity are first.

IUCN wants to work at a higher level of finance and with insurance corporations and governments who should impose their regulations. Two hundred governments are members of IUCN. If this collaboration were to kick in, with support from IUCN and from these governments, conservation with empowered people would be a different reality.

The VIth IUCN World Congress on Protected Areas or IUCN World Parks Congress scheduled in 2014 will surely draw from this experience in Whakatāne and support greater numbers of Indigenous Peoples. It is hoped that their contributions are integrated as much as possible in ensuring the cross-cultural and cross-paradigm dialogue and not isolate them in a dedicated stream.

Rapata Kopae. Photo credit: Pedro Walpole

Culture and nature brought together

The deeper human sense of connection with the physical and life-giving world around us is expressed not in terms of economic or political analyses but the sense of the sacred. Walking around with Rapata Kopae and John Hohapata-Oke on Moutohorā (Whale Island) Wildlife Management Reserve, of which they are members of Te Tapatoru ā Toi or the joint management committee, truly brought culture and nature together. Te Tapatoru ā Toi is a new approach to bicultural partnership in the management of the Moutohorā Wildlife Management Reserve and the Ōhope and Tauwhare Pā Scenic Reserves.

The peace of the island and its prosperity as a regenerating sanctuary is felt along with the cultural history and memories of their ancestors. The goats and other predators to wildlife are long gone and the vegetation has overtaken the grasses, though there is a difficult task of sustaining the kiwi to bread successfully. Management is increasingly in the hands of the local community and is a lesson for the world. Finally the Maori youth are gaining the opportunity to engage and may they draw strength from such local empowerment and responsibility and give us hope.

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