Indigenous Peoples, development, spatial and environmental justice

Coordinated by : Brian Thom (UVic, Canada) with Jon Altman (The Australian University)

The aims of the axis – while centred on land issues — are two-fold, including an analytical focus on indigenous territorial justice, and a theoretical investigation of the politics of knowledge and recognition.

On the one hand research will focus on the social consequences of the mismanagement of territorial issues such as: forced evictions, resettlement and alienation; exclusive policies of conservation; non-delivery of citizenship services; and conflicts over competing or incompatible land and resource use. We will also consider the threats to indigenous territories and natural resources (accumulation by dispossession), promoted by transnational capital with state support. Our focus on territorial issues will identify reasons why indigenous people – and the youth in particular – migrate elsewhere, often to the cities, or experience marginalised living conditions on their ancestral lands. In such situations, their right to self-determination is violated and their own forms of community, economic and cultural development – their vision of good life (buen vivir) – are constrained or denied. As this represents a major source of political conflict, and results in the impoverishment of indigenous people, there is a need to undertake research to shed light on what might constitute spatial, environmental and economic justice for Indigenous Peoples.

In this regard we will not only consider the ‘special relationship’ that links Indigenous Peoples to their territory, according to the UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples and the Inter-American Court of Human Rights, but intend to specify Indigenous visions for spatial justice, and the responses of Indigenous peoples and human rights organizations to these issues. In particular, we will attend to how different experiences in the global south can be considered to analyse indigenous people’s strategies to seek justice and to defend their land and autonomy, and will consider how these concepts of spatial justice are developing on the ground beyond the Courts. New research will also be initiated on the relatively new concept of Climate Justice by, for instance, examining the role indigenous people might play in reducing greenhouse gas emissions through deploying their knowledge systems in environmental management. At the same time, the analysis will encompass the changes in land-use and land-related practices of Indigenous Peoples, as well as the links between those and the mutations of material culture and social aspirations.

On the other hand, seeking justice with respect to Indigenous peoples’ special relationship with land, territory and natural resources clearly engages with the politics of recognition and the politics of knowledge. Rendering Indigenous Peoples ‘visible’ in the eyes of non-indigenous people represents a political challenge, and having valued Indigenous knowledge systems, experiences and relationships to land are central features in combating enduring discrimination and racism. Mapping has become an essential tool of Indigenous Peoples seeking spatial, environmental and economic justice. Maps produced by, with, and for Indigenous Peoples are the centre of land and resource consultations, state efforts to meet FPIC obligations, and in working towards the recognition that the legal fiction of ‘terra nullius’ (the land belonging to no one or everyone, which validated colonial invasion) is obsolete. Participatory and community- based mapping is a crucial element for decolonizing research practice and policy. We seek to critically engage these mapping practices, and will take practical measures to share our expertise and experiences in carefully mobilizing these powerful cartographies in practical ways with our Indigenous collaborators and their research partners.