From colonial conservation to natural capital: the green assault on Indigenous lands

The Australian Centre thanks Ashley Anderson for the careful and considerate revision of provided captions and transcript.

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This webinar is the sixth in the Australian Centre's 2023 Critical Public Conversations series: Country, Climate, Colonialism.

Scientific evidence shows that Indigenous people understand and manage their environment better than anyone else: 80% of Earth’s biodiversity can be found in Indigenous territories. The best way to protect biodiversity is therefore to respect the land rights of Indigenous peoples – the best conservationists. Nevertheless, the mainstream conservation model today is still, just as in colonial times, “Fortress Conservation”: a model that creates militarized Protected Areas accessible only to the wealthy on the lands of Indigenous peoples. This “conservation” is destroying the land and lives of Indigenous peoples. But this is where most of the Western funding for nature protection is going. Why? Because the myths that sustain this model of conservation are reproduced in school texts, media, wildlife documentaries, NGO adverts, etc. The images we have seen since our childhood about “nature”, and the words we use to describe it, shape our way of thinking, our policies, and our actions.We tend to assume these words and images are the reality, as if they were neutral, objective or “scientific”. But they are not.

Conservation has a dark history, and it’s rooted in racism, colonialism, white supremacy, social injustice, land theft, extractivism and violence. Today, the main conservation organizations (like WWF and WCS) not only haven’t questioned this past, but keep perpetuating it. Conservation is an industry, a business, often “partnering with” (i.e. taking money from) big polluting companies and turning nature into something to consume, mostly by white and rich people. This is part of a process of commodification of nature in which it is “valued”, traded and can be profited from (and now also in the name of “climate mitigation”). But our “nature” is other people’s homes. It is the basis of their way of life, the place of their ancestors, the provider of most things that sustain them. It is essential to think about the words and concepts we use when writing or talking about environmental issues. The violence and land grabs faced by millions of Indigenous and other local people in the name of conservation stem in large part from these concepts.


Fiore Longo is a Research and Advocacy Officer at Survival International, the global movement for Indigenous peoples’ rights. She is also the director of Survival France and Survival Spain. As part of her Master’s degree in cultural anthropology she carried out fieldwork with the Mapuche indigenous people of Chile. She coordinates Survival’s conservation campaign, and has visited many communities in Africa and Asia that face human rights abuses in the name of conservation.

The presenter have granted permission for this recording to be used for personal viewing and educational purposes.