The Royal Institution for the Advancement of Learning/McGill University

Securing Territories of Life: Wellsprings of a Future Worth Living

Lead Organization

The Royal Institution for the Advancement of Learning/McGill University

Montréal, Québec, Canada

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Project Summary

Territories of life are areas where a close association already exists between indigenous peoples/other local communities and a specific territory, area and/or body of natural resources, in combination with effective local governance and conservation, vital to planetary health and wellbeing. Erosion of cultural and biological diversity is a dual, mutually-reinforcing global tragedy, weakening the planet’s last defences against deteriorating climate and resource depletion and undermining environmental justice. We will implement a four-part solution: 1) enriched sustainable land/sea-based livelihoods; 2) self-determined governance institutions, informed by indigenous knowledges and values; 3) effective defense of territorial governance; and 4) expanding our dedicated global alliance/movement for territories of life. The ICCA Consortium-CICADA partnership supports a network of indigenous peoples/other local communities worldwide, a cutting-edge alliance of shared knowledge, values and action to withstand intrusion, marginalization and displacement, securing territories of life as vital wellsprings of bio-cultural diversity – a global resource for a livable

Problem Statement

Notwithstanding the standards set forth in the Convention on Biodiversity (CBD) and the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples (UNDRIP), local communities in territories of life under state jurisdictions face enormous challenges in choosing self-determined futures, and in maintaining the institutions, knowledge systems, cultures and livelihood practices that are integral to the health and wellbeing of both territories and communities. Separating traditional livelihoods from their natural environment and replacing them with destructive modes of development, along with historical and current injustices of colonial dislocations, forced assimilation, and disruptions of ancestral lands, waters, institutions and cosmologies, contribute directly and decisively to the twin crises of biological extinctions and cultural erosion. Failure to recognize biological and cultural diversity as interdependent, mutually reinforcing and often co-evolved, and their separation in ill-designed and inappropriate conservation and development strategies, and cross-sectoral decision-making, sets up falsely divergent and contradictory agendas. The impacts are far-reaching. Relations between elders and youth, and among genders, are frequently subject to severe strain in the face of externally-imposed models for development, eroding social organisation and identity. Almost universally, state policies dilute the standard of free, prior and informed consent (FPIC), giving way to land-grabbing, unwanted industrial resource extraction, and criminalization of defenders of territories of life. Meanwhile, local communities frequently lack the resources to actively resist or transform such conflicts. Directly supporting the stewards of territories of life is likely to be far more effective in solving these problems than relying on exogenous state or private agents.

Solution Overview

Our solution tackles multiple dimensions of the problem in a systemic, bottom-up fashion, strengthening territories of life and their custodians from within, while enhancing defensive and creative political and legal capacities vis-à-vis external threats. Progress will be marked by elaboration of collective life projects for territorial self-determination, grassroots acquisition and implementation of informational and technical tools and resources, growth in sustainable land-and-sea-based local livelihoods, mounting of successful legal defences of territory, a slowed pace of negative intrusions into territories of life, reduced violence and criminalization of defender of territories of life, and community and territorial futures increasingly determined by vibrant indigenous governance institutions, with a growing network of allies and enhanced resources. We will implement a local-regional-global system of biocultural mapping and multi-media communications to monitor and feed progress among members. The network-wide impact of our solution will come from putting each of these elements in place for approximately 42 of our members/territories of life over the course of five years. Strategically chosen constellations of 6-8 territories of life in each region (Africa, Asia, Europe/Russia, Latin America, North America, and Oceania) will constitute a secured and inspirational model and framework, reforming relations with states and other actors, and creating jurisdictional space for growing numbers of indigenous peoples/other local communities to fortify their territories of life. The benefits of this are planetary. With climate and biodiversity crises looming, secured territories of life provide both the safety-net and the necessary mitigation to withstand and recover from shocks and disruptions.

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Project Funders

  • Fonds de Recherche du Québec, Société et Culture (FRQSC) 2017 - 2023
  • McGill University 2017 - 2023
  • United Nations Development Program 2011 - 2019

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