Diversity as if Nature and Culture Matter: Bio-Cultural Diversity and Indigenous Peoples

By Karim-Aly Kassam.

Published by The Diversity Collection

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Article: Print $US10.00
Article: Electronic $US5.00

Discussion of diversity tends to be myopic. It is confined either to conservation of the variety of biological life or to the normative agenda of sustaining the myriad cultural mosaics of human societies. Little effort has been made to engage both biological and cultural diversity, and their mutual relationship remains even less explored. Nature and culture have been seen as mutually exclusive. However, most indigenous communities do not perceive such a division between their culture and the environment that they inhabit, and increasingly, the scholars who work with them are beginning to share their view. Furthermore, significant challenges of the 21st century, such as environmental conflict resolution, resource extraction, indigenous land claims and rights, climate change, sustainable livelihoods, food sovereignty, and dramatic socio-cultural change, require an integrated perspective that is sensitive to both ecological and cultural diversity. Using three case studies of indigenous human ecological relations in the Circumpolar Arctic, this paper illustrates that (1) conservation of ecological and cultural diversity are intertwined, especially where indigenous communities are concerned; (2) conservation of ecological and cultural diversity requires transcending of national boundaries; (3) conservation necessitates an interdisciplinary perspective embracing the physical, biological, and social sciences, as well as the humanities; and (4) the notion of “interdisciplinarity” extends to indigenous knowledge holders. Specifically, the three case studies examine (a) how at the turn of the 20th century, during the demise of the Soviet Union, Arctic communities acted 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 to the tundra from mining activities; and (c) how Iñupiat knowledge of sea ice is important to assessing the nature and impact of climate change.

Keywords: Biocultural Diversity, Biological Diversity, Cultural Diversity, Indigenous Knowledge, Traditional Ecological Knowledge, Human Ecology, Nature and Culture

International Journal of Diversity in Organizations, Communities and Nations, Volume 8, Issue 2, pp.87-96. Article: Print (Spiral Bound). Article: Electronic (PDF File; 626.966KB).

Dr. Karim-Aly Kassam

Associate Professor, Department of Natural Resources and The American Indian Program, Cornell University, Ithaca, New York, USA

Dr. Karim-Aly Kassam holds a PhD in Natural Resource Policy and Management from Cornell University (USA), an MSc in Social Policy and Planning in Developing Countries from the London School of Economics (UK), an MPhil in Islamic Studies from University of Cambridge (UK), and a BA in Economics from University of Calgary (Canada). His objective is to seamlessly merge teaching with applied research in the service of communities. The focus of this applied research is on the complex connectivity of human and environmental relations addressing issues such as indigenous rights, sustainable development, and climate change. In partnership with indigenous communities, he undertakes this research in the Alaskan, Canadian and Russian Arctic and Sub-Arctic; the Pamir Mountains in Afghanistan and Tajikistan; and the rainforest in the south of India. By investigating the relationship between biological and cultural diversity, Dr. Kassam is seeking to expand the foundations of the notion of pluralism.

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