On the Luddites, the Sámi, and the Maasai
That was an absolutely incredible read.
I don't even know where to start.
You touched upon deeply nuanced issues with great insight and understanding of the sweeping injustice that devastates Indigenous peoples around the world.
It is certainly an incredibly grim scene here in Australia, where most Australian's still believe that our First Nation's people are of a lower race and that their high rates of alcoholism and incarceration are of their own doing.
During your essay I was left wondering about the tragic nature of this undoing - that this devastation is not wrought from acts of evil or calculated intention, but instead from the hearts of potentially good people trying their best to do the right thing by the environment. I almost feel that this is worse than there just being a room full of bad guys that we could more easily identify and bring down.
Instead, the movement of sustainability has massive momentum of its own, even when not co-opted by insidious corporate greed.
Thanks again for the writing, you guys need to write a book.
Absolutely beautiful writing Jake and Maren! I've sent it to everyone I know in the conservation and permaculture fields in my little part of the world. I appreciate all of the sources that you provide, so I can go down a research rabbit hole!
I think in the end, the indigenous people who have been caretakers of the land for millennia ought to be valued and trusted with the continued care of that land, including decision making in future land use. Why would we pretend all that knowledge doesn't exist?
A really interesting piece. Thanks. While I agree with the spirit and much of the content, I can't help feeling your righteous indignation blinds you to some fundamental issues. Unless I missed it, for example, you never really confront the growth of Masai population and its effect on the land. I read this:
-- Yet, the governing bodies of Ngorongoro, the government, and conservation NGOs (who offer safaris and trophy hunting) point to the Maasai as the main driver of ecological imbalance, pointing to their population growth as the largest problem. In Truth, Falsity, and Mismanagement, a report written and compiled by Maasai people, they disagree with this assessment, stating:
-- “To the Maasai, the mentioned issues are just a manifestation of multifaceted problems known to exist as a result of ecosystem unconscious tourism investment.”¹¹
Huh? That mumbo-jumbo doesn't address the fundamental issue at all, does it?
According to most estimates, Masai population has tripled or quadrupled since 1990. How, exactly, is this due to "ecosystem unconscious tourism investment?" This can't be dismissed with an unintelligible quote from a report written by the Masai. Exponential population growth (ESPECIALLY with pastoral people) and no new land to spread into is the very definition of "unsustainable," is it not?
I know it's tempting to romanticize people like the Sami and the Masai (I've done it!), but when a group's population is growing exponentially, and their land isn't (and can't), there will be problems that are not caused by tourism investment. We can decry tourism, but when a cruise ship hits a rock, that's a physical reality that needs to be acknowledged for what it is.
Having just driven through the land where the exploding population of Masai live, I can testify that it is totally desertified. Topsoil is long gone. It's barren. Cross over into the park, and it's a vastly different ecosystem. To say that the ecosystem has "suffered from the exclusion of the Masai" is the opposite of true, whatever we believe about their rights and mistreatment.
Speaking of investment, it's not true that "tourism [rarely] serves the local economies." You cite a study that found that "of 548 employees of NCA, only 8 were residents of Ngorongoro." How many were residents of surrounding areas? I can tell you that the city of Arusha thrives because of tourism. Do they not count? Are the villages a few miles down the road from the crater not "local economies?" Who's guiding the tours, fixing the Land Cruisers, setting up the tents, building and working in the hotels, airports, and so on? Not imported Chinese workers. Local African people.
"In fact, most people come to this area because of the Maasai presence, yet the Maasai receive little, if any, benefit."
I don't think so. Most people go to the Serengeti and Ngoro to see animals, not Maasai.
Lastly, a nuanced look at the situation would have to include acknowledgement of some of the less savory aspects of Maasai culture, like cutting off girls clitorises at 11 or 12 years old and forcing them into marriages with men in their 40s or older. Are we in favor of this? Is it any of our business? I don't know, but I think it's worth including in the discussion.
What kind of world/life/system we are trying to create? How does it look like? What "we all" are allowed and not to do/be in that world?
I believe in starting with these questions, much before identity-based arguments.
This was quite informative reporting Jack&Maren, thanks! And i felt the lack of what these "indigenous" people want/promise to rest of the world (more than "we live with nature" slogans), beside keeping things (land mostly) that they had/have for themselves. As it is (even though maybe it isn't), it looks like people (asymetrically) fighting about who should have things, and whose faults is what. History repeating.
I dont necessarily believe a person/people being additionally and unconditionally special and/or to be "biased" for being from this or that culture. It is about what they think and even more, what they do. A white male young hetero regenerative herder-to-be without land or a climate-change dismissive And soy feeding (which may not be as naive and victimhood as portrayed) Sami who already graze quite some land? (I'm sure these people you spoke are great, just to make my point...) I may emphatize more with the first one even if it doesnt sound as of a cool "identity" (which is funny also on how we categorize people)
Enclosure (preventing someone to be and act somewhere) is bad by default, you argue and i tend to agree. And in these 2 examples, this is also what has been happening before. You simply cant graze in sami land (or have reindeer), if you are not that "blood". So, it was and is "enclosed" by them to others as well...
I'm not saying that is bad. I'm saying it may not be an obvious David vs Goliath story, even though that would make things so easy:)
So, back to beginning: can we go beyond the identity fights and talk as fellow and equally respected homo sapiens about the world we want and each of ours'responsibities/tasks?