Diversity as if Nature and Culture Matter: Bio-Cultural Diversity and Indigenous Peoples
Discussion of diversity tends to be myopic. It is either confined to conservation of the variety of biological life or to the normative agenda of sustaining the myriads of cultural mosaics of human societies. Little effort has been made to engage both biological and cultural diversity. The mutual relationship between biological and cultural diversity remains even less explored. Nature and culture are seen to be mutually exclusive. However, most indigenous communities do not perceive a division between their culture and the environment which they inhabit. Furthermore, significant challenges of the 21st century such as food sovereignty or climatic change require an integrated perspective that is sensitive to both biological and cultural diversity. Using four case studies of indigenous human ecological relations in the Russian and Alaskan Arctic as well as the Pamir Mountains of Afghanistan and Tajikistan this paper illustrates: (1) conservation of biological and cultural diversity are intertwined; (2) conservation of bio-cultural diversity requires transcending national boundaries; (3) conservation necessitates an interdisciplinary perspective embracing the physical, biological, and social sciences as well humanities; and (4) the notion of “interdisciplinarity” extends to indigenous knowledge holders. Specifically, the four case studies examine: (a) how at the turn of the 20th century, during the demise of the Soviet Union, Arctic communities act globally across national boundaries in applying indigenous knowledge of ecological diversity to achieve food sovereignty; (b) how Sami people of the Kola peninsula in Russia used their traditional livelihood, reindeer herding, to prevent ecological damage from mining activities to the tundra; (c) how Iñupiat knowledge of sea-ice is important to assessing the nature and impact of climate change; and (d) how village communities in the Pamirs Mountains have conserved sacred sites through periods of dramatic change by integrating nature and culture in a mutually reinforcing relationship.
Keywords: Bio-Cultural Diversity, Indigenous Knowledge, Traditional Ecological Knowledge, Human Ecology, Nature and Culture
Dr. Karim-Aly Kassam
Associate Professor, Department of Natural Resources and The American Indian Program, Cornell University