Local Voices framing the Future. Towards a Social-ecological Transformation

30 March, 2022 /Carla Lanyon Garrido

Photo: Reinaldo Ubilla

Throughout human history, Indigenous peoples and local communities (LCs) have managed landscapes rich in biocultural diversity (Agnoletti 2015, IPBES 2019). Constantly evolving, the landscape holds multiple socio-cultural and natural relations with complex networks that interact and are mutually influenced. Governed by indigenous and local knowledge systems (ILKS) (beliefs, norms and values), this human-nature connection moderates and adapts socio-ecological dynamics (Folke et al., 2007). This cultural landscape is commonly threatened by the development of exploitation projects, affecting indigenous and local communities’ resilience and agency to sustain their knowledge systems and the ecological elements embedded within (Brondzio et al., 2021). New pathways are needed to transform the current system, moving towards a just system (IPBES, 2019).

Future: for who and by whom?

Future thinking is a tool that has been used to envision the future and move forward transformation in the international policy arena (Tengo et al., 2021). However indigenous peoples and local communities have been segregated and excluded from this process (Lam et al., 2020), despite the recognized value of integrating it within future narrative development (Pereira et al., 2019; IPBES, 2019). Consequently, the most influential voices are the ones defining the future, perpetuating power dynamics. The lack of integration of local knowledge has led to a misconception of the social-ecological systems overlooking biocultural diversity (Pereira, 2018) and underestimating demands and vulnerabilities at the local level (Sharma et al., 2020).

For instance, conservation policies perpetuate colonialism through commodifying nature, stigmatizing traditional livelihoods, and fitting native landscapes into colonial accounts (Krause et al., 2020). The Amazon and Patagonia in South America serve as examples of this. IPLCs from the Amazon have been portrayed as the main drivers of the wild-life crisis, facing policies that constrain their livelihoods and the system protected by their knowledge (Van Vliet, 2019). In Patagonia, local communities have been facing the challenges of green conservation strategies, redefining nature as a “natural museum,” affecting local communities and their traditional livelihoods (Aliste et al., 2019).

Indigenous Future Thinking

Key elements to include in transformation research are

  • integrating local and indigenous ways of thinking about future;
  • understanding transformation from local and indigenous perspectives (Lam et al 2020; Whyte 2017);
  • integrating the plurality of human-nature relations;
  • looking into the future through environmental justice lens, who needs to transform?
  • recognizing the non-tangible values (Yunkaporta, 2020) and
  • the political dimension of human and nature connection (Merçon 2019, Gorg et al 2017).

Bringing indigenous and local voices into future scenarios requires a co-production process (Lam et al., 2020). In this sense, indigenous future thinking can lead the process of social-ecological transformation, integrating different understandings of the future, better-informing policy decision-making at global, regional, and local levels (Tengö., et al, 2021). Nevertheless, several challenges related to power asymmetries, trust, recognition of colonial legacies, and racism towards indigenous knowledge are still present. There is a call to reflect on how we can co-produce without perpetuating the marginalization and exclusion of ILK to build the future (van Velden, 2021).


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