Last week, I spoke at my department’s weekly seminar about the need to situate conservation as a field within both local and historical contexts. My argument was that this context is integral for preventing conservation efforts from causing harm in the future; essentially, we need to learn from the past in order to find ways forward, rather than just continuing to repeat the same mistakes. If we don’t know the origins of conservation and the assumptions that are built into the field, we won’t be able to take active steps to address and challenge them. Unfortunately, in my experience, this is not something that natural scientists are taught to think about, and we rarely (if ever) openly discuss or engage with conservation social science. This lack of discussion and failure to critique our own practices only serves to further normalize conservation approaches that are harmful to Indigenous peoples around the world.
It was an honour to have received an invitation to talk about this, particularly because it is not the topic of my dissertation research and I do not consider myself an expert (I have lots to learn!). I received some great questions, feedback, and suggestions afterwards, and I hope the presentation will start some discussion among people in my department who are doing conservation-related work.
If this topic interests you and you’d like to watch my presentation, it was recorded and is available online at the UBC Institute for Oceans and Fisheries’ YouTube channel (I have also embedded it and the abstract below). You can also download a PDF of the slides here. As always, please feel free to get in touch if you have any feedback or suggestions! Again, I know I have lots to learn and I am grateful for anyone who takes the time to point out where I may want to spend more time or effort.
If you are interested in learning more about this topic, this blog post I wrote about the need to decolonize conservation (and the reading list it introduces) may be a good start!