Athens, Ga. – The conservation of sites that indigenous peoples hold sacred is taking on an increased urgency as globalization and population growth increase the demand for resources in mountain areas. A three-day conference April 5-7 at the University of Georgia aims to give a global context to the revivals in indigenous advocacy for sustainability that are occurring from Canada to South America and Africa.
Approximately 100 participants and speakers from nearly a dozen countries are expected to attend the conference on “Indigenous Revival and Sacred Sites Conservation.” The conference, hosted by the department of geography in the UGA Franklin College of Arts and Sciences, is free and open to the public.
“This conference puts UGA at the forefront of an important new development in the field of environmental conservation,” said Fausto Sarmiento, associate professor of geography and conference convener. “Indigenous peoples are taking a more active role in defining what happens within their territories; and this has social, environmental and economic ramifications that we will examine.”
Bolivia, for example, elected its first indigenous president in 2005, and Bolivia and Ecuador have included “rights of nature” in their new constitutions. In 2007, the United Nations adopted a declaration on the rights of indigenous peoples. However, conflicts regarding the expansion of roads, the awarding of mining rights to multinational corporations and even the establishment of nature preserves are becoming increasingly common.
Experts in several fields will participate in the conference, including:
• Constanza Ceruti, Argentinean high altitude archaeologist, speaking on “Inca Mummies on Top of Sacred Sites Help in Defining Andean Self”
• Bas Verschuuren, of the International Union for Conservation of Nature, speaking on “Guided by the Custodians: Linking Conservation and Sacred Natural Sites”
• Randall Borman, former chief of the Cofan people, Ecuador, speaking on “New Nationalism of the Cofan and the Creation of the Sacred Jungle”
The conference also marks the launch of the Neotropical Montology Collaboratory at UGA, which will be housed within the geography department. The multidisciplinary group aims to bring together researchers from fields such as anthropology, sociology and forestry to explore the transformation occurring in mountainous regions of the Americas due to the environmental drivers of climate change, which include socioeconomic factors of globalization.
Sarmiento explained that early settlement impacts in the Western Hemisphere tended to affect easily accessible coastal lands, leaving many mountain areas and communities relatively isolated.
“Now, mountains are an important interlink precisely because globalization has in the past favored lowland and harbor areas,” he said. “A better understanding of these mountain sites has implications for sustainable development, the conservation of biodiversity and the alleviation of poverty.”
The conference is supported in part by the President’s Venture Fund at UGA through gifts of the UGA Partners and other donors; the Provost’s State of the Art Conference fund; the Willson Center for Humanities and Arts; a matching donation from Barton Rice Jr. to the geography department; the Exposition Foundation of Atlanta Inc.; and the New England BioLab Foundation. On-campus organizational backing at UGA includes the geography department, the Institute of Native American Studies, the Latin American and Caribbean Studies Institute and the Center for Integrative Conservation Research.
For more details and a conference schedule, see http://geog.ggy.uga.edu/labs/.