Hi Reddit,

We’re Mike Hurran and Rebecca Spooner, two campaigners for Survival International, the global movement for tribal peoples’ rights.

We’re really excited to talk to you about our ‘Tribal Conservationists’ campaign, in which we’re fighting the practice of illegally evicting tribal peoples from their ancestral homelands in the name of conservation. Tribal peoples face arrest, beatings, torture and death, while fee-paying big-game hunters are encouraged. The WWF, for example, funds eco-guards in Cameroon who have beaten and tortured Baka Pygmies. We’ve called for the WWF to stop funding this abuse but it's still happening.

We argue that tribal peoples are the best conservationists and have nurtured and protected their environments for generations. The best way to ensure conservation is to recognize their land rights and allow them to care for their environment.

We’d love to talk to you about the campaign and anything else that you’d like to discuss, including our personal experiences and any other tribal peoples that we work with.

We strongly believe in giving tribal peoples a voice, whilst enabling them to live the life that they want. We work closely with tribal peoples and have close relationships with a number of prominent indigenous activists including Davi Yanomami, Mauricio Yekuana, Jumanda Gakelebone, Roy Sesana and Madegowda.

Survival’s successes include securing land rights for the Yanomami people in Brazil, defending the Jarawa in India from being turned into a tourist attraction, and taking on the government of Botswana and big mining corporations on behalf of the Kalahari Bushmen.

We'll start answering questions from 1pm EST (along with Lewis, our media officer). Ask us anything!

Our Proof: https://twitter.com/Survival/status/689167964143157248

EDIT - Thanks for all your great questions. If you still have some things you'd like to ask feel free to post them and we'll answer them soon

Comments: 44 • Responses: 12  • Date: 

Empigee7 karma

Are you concerned that your campaign could be exploited by opponents of conservation to smear the environmental movement?

Also, how does the impact of conservation efforts on indigenous peoples compare to the impact of commercial encroachment on their lands?

MikeHurran6 karma

Hi Empigee,

Good questions! That hasn't happened yet. The abuses that big conservation organizations are making possible – evictions, torture, sometimes even murder – need exposing, even if that is by people hostile to conservation.

We don't think conservationists can achieve their objectives if they're exempt from criticism and if they don't work in partnership with tribal people.

In response to your second question: many Mbendjele hunter-gatherers in Congo who I've met don't actually distinguish between conservation and loggers on their land – both kick people off their land and stop them from hunting, and Mbendjele are witnessing environmental destruction across all of their lands, even inside protected areas.

It's standard operating procedure in many areas for conservationists to partner with commercial interests – e.g. WWF with various logging companies in Cameroon – and the two end up reinforcing one another.

projektmayem5 karma

Hey guys, thanks for doing this AMA!

Do you face much opposition from people who hear that you are working against a conservation project and stop listening? I'm a pretty big environmentalist, and I was very prepared not to like you before I read your whole schpeel.

MikeHurran4 karma

Thanks for reading it! I think a lot of people are inclined to believe the best of big conservation organizations – this allows some of them to get away with terrible abuse and often pretty lousy conservation. If it can't be criticized, how will conservation ever improve?

That said, we've actually got a lot of support from conservationists, often those working in areas where abuse is rife and who are tired of not seeing any change from the big conservation organizations. Many well-known environmentalists, like Greenpeace, Nnimmo Bassey and others, have signed up to our declaration for a new kind of conservation – one with tribal peoples' rights at its heart.

It's great to have you on board – have a look at the declaration and, if you agree with us, spread the word!

matsche_pampe4 karma

Hey there! I follow your group on fb and enjoy reading the interesting articles! I hear about conservation efforts now and then, and wondered about how effective they really are, or maybe can you give me an example of a successful conservation campaign?

MikeHurran5 karma

It’s really hard to think of conservation projects on tribal land that are genuinely successful – and believe me we’ve tried! Here’s an example: the Indian government says that tiger numbers are increasing in its newly created tiger reserves from which the tribal communities have been “voluntarily” relocated – but in practice the relocations are anything but voluntary. Very often huge pressure is brought to bear on the people to move out. And despite promises of compensation, they’re nearly always left in dire poverty, unable even to feed themselves.

But as this example shows, if they only allowed the tribal people to remain on their land, both they and the tiger can thrive. And in South America, there’s now abundant evidence from satellite photos to show that indigenous lands are a much better barrier to deforestation than conservation zones.

Northern_One2 karma

Do you think tribal lands are a better barrier than conservation zones because the people living there have an inherent interest in keeping the ecosystems healthy because they depend on them?

MikeHurran1 karma

Hi Northern_One, thanks for your question.

Definitely! Whereas governments are often only interested in what brings them more income.

Tribal peoples have developed their own sophisticated codes of conservation. They also tend to be much more aware about what's happening on their land than big conservation organizations, which are often quite out-of-touch with what's really going on. As a result, these organizations can easily contribute to human rights violations and have a hard time implementing effective projects.

As one Baka man told me, "We know when are where the poachers are in the forest, but no one will listen to us."

OoopsIForgot3 karma

It's a known fact that human beings are crowding out nature. What conservation solution are you offering?

MikeHurran0 karma

It’s true that in large parts of the world, human economic activity is leading to the destruction of natural environments. However, there is a large body of evidence indicating that tribal peoples are the best conservationists and guardians of the natural world. Take the Amazon as an example – areas that have been designated as home to tribes and properly protected have far lower rates of deforestation than elsewhere. See here and here, for example. Likewise in India, one of the few reserves where tribal peoples have not been illegally evicted in the name of conservation to make way for tourists or so-called ‘experts’, tiger numbers are increasing at a rate above the Indian national average.

Tribal peoples have been dependent on and managed their environments for millennia. Contrary to conservation dogma, their lands are not wilderness. The evidence proves that tribal peoples are better at looking after their environment than anyone else. So from both a pragmatic conservation perspective, and in terms of protecting human rights, it makes sense to put tribes right at the forefront of the environmental movement.

archaeofieldtech3 karma

Do you engage anthropologists in your work at all?

RebeccaSpooner2 karma

Yes, we have many anthropologist contacts with whom we exchange information and ideas.

MikeHurran1 karma

Yes – there are lots of anthropologists carrying out their research in Cameroon and Congo who we work closely with.

Fearlessleader853 karma

An important component of the balance many of these tribes have found with their environment and enabled them to survive without destroying the environment is keeping their population small. Historically, population rise inevitably results in environmental degradation.

So, if tribal societies are to continue controlling their land with conservation in mind, then their population must be stable. Many of the stabilizing factors have been disease, death in childbirth, famine, and other things that modern medicine and technology can prevent.

My question is this: how do you expect balance to be maintained with the addition of modern technology, which inherently upsets this balance?

MikeHurran2 karma

Thanks for the question. Conservationists often seem to be preoccupied with population levels, but if you look at Amazonia, for example, one finds that there are many tribes who have had interaction with Western society for centuries, and whose population has increased a lot in recent decades – and their forests are still intact. In other words, the key factor as regards the conservation of tribal lands is whether tribes are in control of their lands, not what their population is. It’s where their lands are taken from them that environmental destruction almost inevitably follows.

Tribes change, the technologies they use have always been evolving – they are just as modern as the rest of us – and they’ve still shown themselves to be the best guardians of their lands.

Fearlessleader853 karma

The population increase in recent decades still hasn't yet reached the pre-Columbian Era populations, so that's not a very good example. Hawaii, for instance supported between 800,000 and 1.3 million people before Captain Cook showed up according to estimates I've read, which is virtually identical to today's population on the islands. During that time, the Hawaiian monk seal was pretty well eliminated from the main islands, having to retreat to the far Northwest islands. These were people that realized just how important the land was, since it was so scarce, but they still ended up nearly pushing a major species to extinction, and did push who knows how many others over the brink.

I agree with much of your goal, but ignoring the effects of population increase is extremely foolish, in my opinion. Humans naturally alter their environment to suit themselves. The more you put in any given area, despite their views on nature, the more they will affect the environment. I don't think it's an issue that you can just dismiss.

MikeHurran1 karma

Hi Fearlessleader85. Two points in response: Firstly, the impacts of growing tribal populations on their environment always pale in comparison to the destructive effects of industrial society – there’s simply no comparison.

Secondly, the assertion that growing indigenous populations lead to the destruction of their environment is increasingly shown to be false. Take the classic case of Easter Island, for example. As this article and this programme show, there is now no evidence that the collapse of the indigenous civilization of the island had anything at all to do with their population growth.

grubberlang3 karma

Hi there! Not to be morbid, but I was wondering if you could describe some of the awful things that are done to indigenous people. What's the worst example you've seen, and what kind of abuses are common?

MikeHurran4 karma

The main abuses – which we are trying to help put an end to – are the theft of their lands and the often extreme violence they're subjected to.

One story in particular stays with me. A band of park guards arrived one day in a Baka village in Cameroon, looking for information about hunting. All the people I spoke to had their own stories of suffering: some of the guards threw away an unwell elderly man's medicines and his food. He tried to run away but kept falling down. His daughter looked on in tears, afraid that he was dying. As his elderly wife got ready to defend herself she was pepper-sprayed by a guard, and still had trouble seeing when I met her. Others, including a mother nursing a baby, were rounded up and forced to stare into the blazing sun. And three men were tied up and beaten for two days before being left for dead on the side of the road. One of these men died a few months later, after telling his son that he couldn't go on living.

In many Baka communities people will tell you about loved ones they have lost in the name of "conservation." And yet today their lands are being destroyed faster than ever. So that's our message: only when their rights are upheld will their lands be protected.

Nooble3 karma

Have the WWF responded publicly to your supporter's letters (RE: 'eco-guard' beatings)?

Have they commented on your campaign at all?

matsche_pampe4 karma

I was just about to ask a similar question. What does Survival think of WWF?

MikeHurran2 karma

We think that conservationists should be the junior partners in the relationship with tribal people. Sadly WWF, like the other big conservation organizations, don’t see it that way, despite policies which pay lip service to tribal peoples’ rights. We’ve been talking to them for many years, but they don’t seem to have changed much.

MikeHurran3 karma

We’ve repeatedly tried to engage WWF, sending them letters and informing them of our concerns as soon as the issues in places like Cameroon have come to our attention – over the past decade or more! They’ve made vague promises they haven’t kept, or pledges they haven’t stuck to, while simultaneously trying to discredit our claims or shut us up. Rather than acknowledging that there have been serious errors in their approach to conservation in places and amending their policies, they’ve basically treated this as a PR issue and tried to protect their reputation.

We’ve no desire to start lengthy arguments with other NGOs who are doing important work in other fields. But when another organization starts violating tribal peoples’ human rights, we have to step in to criticize what they’re doing. If WWF are willing to genuinely respect indigenous land rights we’d be very happy to co-operate with them.

neekoriss1 karma

Many have made the argument that indigenous peoples have conquered "their" land and taken it from other tribes and that the lands changed ownership time and time again through tribal conquest. How do we decide who is historically the rightful owner of that land?

MikeHurran1 karma

Hi neekoriss, our focus isn't on historical debates but contemporary societies. In the vast majority of cases the conflict over land is between a tribe and non-tribal society (for example colonists or development companies). Of course there has been some historical conflict amongst tribal peoples, just as in any society. However in all the cases of tribal peoples we work with, they themselves have demarcated their land and are not in dispute over which tribe owns what.