08 September 2016


Iwi Collective Partnership

At the heart of the global conservation debate, is conservation itself. An ideological conflict in the answer to the question, what is conservation.

Nowhere is the conflict more evident than in the photos that dawn the Hawaiian Convention Centre, the venue for the 2016 IUCN World Conservation Congress.

In the foyer to HCC are hundreds of photos of nature herself. Images of birds, fish and sea life. They are National Geographic stunningly beautiful! I would love to take any one of them home to Aotearoa New Zealand with me.

As beautiful as these images are there is something glaringly missing and it goes to the heart of the debate.

In every single presentation, workshop and exhibition stand involving indigenous peoples are photos too. Except the indigenous photos are contrastingly different. At the heart of their images are both people and place.

In indigenous cultures and beliefs, nature herself is human whereas the western concept of conservation seeks to divorce the human element from landscape. For a visual of what I am saying, check out the spectacular photography of local Hawaiian, Kai Markell and compare this to what you find on a typical environmental NGO website.

Also visit one of the indigenous stands at HCC and you will see and hear indigenous phrases like, "ko te taiao ko au, ko au ko te taiao" - "I am conservation, she is me". "Aina momona" - "the fat abundant productive lands". "Tangata whenua" - "people of the land". The western approach talks of saving conservation from people. For indigenous peoples, the people are conservation and the solution.
Until the ideological conflict is acknowledged by the NGOs, colonial state governments and IUCN itself, there will forever be conflict and the beliefs and practices of indigenous peoples will forever remain inferior.

The remedy is not tinkering with external policy like Motion 53. True sustainable resolution is only possible by getting down to the core of the matter. IUCN, as the global thought leader of conservation needs to look in the mirror, inside itself at the heart and bones of its founding constitution. Its constitution is fundamentally flawed. It is racist to indigenous peoples having been developed at a time when some indigenous peoples were still enslaved.

IUCN talks of the importance of indigenous peoples and their critical contribution to global biodiversity protection but it really is lip service. IUCN needs to continue to show leadership in this space by reviewing the problem least indigenous peoples grow weary and begin to look elsewhere, where their values, beliefs and definition of conservation, is truly acknowledged.


Maru Samuels is Chief Executive of the Iwi Collective Partnership, a 100% tribally owned and operated indigenous fishing enterprise in Aotearoa New Zealand. Maru is attending IUCN WCC for the first time investigating whether the indigenous tribes of Aotearoa should become IUCN members.

Motion 53 is an IUCN motion to increase global marine protection targets from 10% to minimum 30% no take areas. The motion raises concerns for the indigenous tribes of Aotearoa because implementation requires state confiscation of their indigenous property rights, without informed consent.

Email: maru@iwicollective.co.nz
Mobile: +64 21723588
Website: www.iwicollective.co.nz
Twitter: @iwicollective