Tools for successful conservation collaboration with Indigenous Peoples.
Far too often we allow the unspoken norms of Western culture to dictate our interactions with the rest of the world, especially as they pertain to the protection of life on Earth. This can create unnecessary and unforeseen obstacles on the road to a more inclusive and effective conservation movement, benefiting from the power of cross-cultural collaborations.
Jayme Dittmar, the award-winning storyteller, filmmaker, and dog musher behind the upcoming documentary, Paving Tundra, has worked alongside Indigenous Peoples around the world. These collaborations have helped her achieve her personal mission – truthful, inclusive, and comprehensive storytelling. Each new project demands new learning about other cultures and how to exist well within them. As a white woman from the Western world, Jayme understands that collaboration requires patience and a commitment to humility.
Below are a few of her tips for successful cross-cultural conservation collaborations:
Over one-third of Earth’s remaining wilderness is stewarded by Indigenous Peoples. This means that conservation issues are not separate from Indigenous issues. Many Indigenous Peoples live in and depend upon highly impacted natural areas. As they rely directly on the land to provide their income and food the continued degradation of nature also degrades their way of life. Their day-to-day life is extremely intertwined with what we’re all fighting to protect.
You probably haven’t noticed, but Western culture is extremely direct. Even if you sometimes sugarcoating emails and other verbal communication, skirting around hard topics, you are still probably more direct than people who live in Indigenous cultures. Many Indigenous People would be uncomfortable asking (or answering) direct questions such as “Would you like to attend this conference with me?” or “May I use your pen?” These might seem innocuous to those of us from Western cultures, but some Indigenous cultures find these types of questions abrupt and rude. Customarily they are discouraged. Learning how to make strategic suggestions is an essential skill when working with Indigenous Peoples. This also relates to the next tip . . .
We have been silencing native voices for centuries. It’s time to open our ears and take the time to seriously listen to and absorb the key information that they are providing. With this ability to listen, also comes the increased mutual respect for their vital part in the solution to saving the planet. You will also be surprised at the communication norms that you pick up on when you let others do the talking.
With differences in cultural norms comes a difference in how individuals view time and deadlines. Just because an Indigenous colleague does not respond to your email right away does not mean that they are not just as committed to the issue as you are. It also doesn’t mean that their priorities lie elsewhere. Their way of life is different, their day to day tasks are different – be patient in understanding this and recognize that there is a learning curve to the process.
Indigenous people are the protectors of over 80 percent of the world’s wildest places, we can’t assume that the Western world has all the answers. Indigenous groups have knowledge that has been acquired from thousands of years of stewarding and seeing subtle but important changes to the land. Put simply, they have the knowledge that one could only dream of gaining in the longest and most extensive field study ever done in these wilderness areas.
Awareness and open-mindedness means sometimes journeying beyond your comfort zone. It’s no secret to Indigenous Peoples that conservation has been used in the past as a weapon for colonization. Invite an iIndigenous person familiar with your project to act as an intermediary between groups. There are some exceptional organizations that run decolonization framework seminars for businesses and NGOS. Don’t be afraid to use these resources.
Want more information? Check out the links below to discover more about conservation collaboration.
About Jayme: Jayme Dittmar is an outdoors enthusiast and visual storyteller based in Alaska. She has been mushing, packrafting and traveling in the villages of the Interior for the last five years while directing her work to protect northern lands and livelihoods. She has produced short films from the Arctic to the Amazon, for the Department of the Interior, Teton Gravity Research, PBS and the outdoor industry. Jayme is also a content developer for ACHILL, the Alaska Care and Husbandry Instruction for Lifelong Living youth program, designed to use dog mushing as a tool for cultural revitalization.