CfP POLLEN20 – Decolonizing Conservation in Theory and Praxis

The Third Biennial Conference of the Political Ecology Network (POLLEN20)
Contested Natures: Power, Possibility, Prefiguration
Brighton, United Kingdom
24-26 June 2020

Session organizers

Megan Youdelis (University of Guelph) & Justine Townsend (University of Guelph).

Please send abstracts of 250 words or less to Megan Youdelis ( and Justine Townsend ( no later than November 18th. Presenters accepted for the paper session will need to register for the conference and upload their abstracts by November 22nd.

Session description

Conservation enclosures led by states, NGOs, and industry have too often served to expand the territorial control of colonial and modern nation states while alienating and displacing Indigenous communities from their traditional territories (Agrawal and Redford, 2009; Stevens, 2014; West et al., 2006). Such fortress-style enclosures stem from colonial ontologies that understand humans as external to non-human nature with no direct positive role to play within their ecosystems (Adams and Mulligan, 2003; Cronon, 1996). In addition to entrenching poverty and negatively impacting Indigenous cultures and identities, the establishment of protected areas in territories long managed by Indigenous communities has been shown to result in adverse environmental effects, such as increased deforestation and loss of biodiversity (Armitage, 2002; Roth, 2008; West, 2006). As commercial entities, conventional conservation models have also supported an unsustainable capitalist political economy of conservation while foreclosing alternatives (Coulthard, 2014; Youdelis et al., Forthcoming).

Attempts to incorporate Indigenous peoples into conventional management models through either co-management, community-based natural resource management, or market-based approaches to conservation have also been critiqued for replicating colonial power relations and patterns of dispossession (Mabee and Hoberg, 2006; Dressler and Roth, 2011: Sandlos, 2014). In order to foster truly emancipatory sustainabilities, what will be required is nothing short of a foundational shift away from colonial conservation strategies towards conservation models and practice rooted in Indigenous knowledge systems, designed in accordance with Indigenous law and through relationships forged in Ethical Space (see Crowshoe and Ermine, 2014; ICE, 2018).

Fortunately, we have some indications of what such Indigenous-led conservation mechanisms might look like, as Indigenous communities around the world assert their sovereignty and care for their territories in ways that restore and protect ecological diversity and cultural identity. Indigenous nations around the world have been declaring Indigenous-led conservation areas in ways that challenge the colonial politics of recognition (Coulthard, 2014; Godden and Cowell, 2016; ICCA Consortium, n.d.; Murray and King, 2012). These spaces are declarations of sovereignty and may facilitate language and cultural revitalization, conservation of cultural keystone species, protection of the land for future generations, and the creation of reciprocal conservation economies.

In this session we invite papers that interrogate what decolonizing conservation will entail, both theoretically and materially. We also invite explorations into, and examples of, cross-cultural and decolonial collaborations, and expressions of allyship in support of Indigenous-led conservation. Finally, we invite critical analysis on the rise of Indigenous-led conservation within the broader colonial/capitalist political economy.

  • Relevant topics include, but are not limited to:
  • Case studies of decolonial conservation
  • Decolonial ontologies of conservation
  • Reconciliation through conservation
  • Indigenous nationhood, sovereignty, and leadership
  • Indigenous-led governance models
  • Biocultural conservation and outcomes
  • Conservation as resistance
  • Conservation economies
  • Settler allyship
  • Legislation and policy
  • Challenges to, and opportunities for, implementation
  • Indigenous law and knowledge systems


Adams,W. M., and M. Mulligan, Decolonizing nature strategies for conservation in a postcolonial era. London; Sterling, VA: Earthscan Publications, 2003.

Agrawal, A., and K. Redford, “Conservation and displacement: An overview,” Conserv. Soc., vol. 7, no. 1, pp. 1–10, 2009.

Armitage, D., “Socio-institutional dynamics and the political ecology of mangrove forest conservation in Central Sulawesi, Indonesia,” Glob. Environ. Chang., vol. 12, pp. 203–217, 2002.

Coulthard, G., Red skin, white masks: Rejecting the colonial politics of recognition. Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 2014.

Cronon, W., Uncommon ground: Rethinking the Human Place in Nature. W.W. Norton & Co, 1996.

Crowshoe, R., and Ermine, “Honoring our knowledge gifts: Aboriginal research symposium,” in Ethical space as ceremony: Between worldviews (keynote address), 2014, p. November 14.

Dressler, W., and R. Roth, “The Good, the Bad, and the Contradictory: Neoliberal Conservation Governance in Rural Southeast Asia,” World Dev., vol. 39, no. 5, pp. 851–862, 2011.

Godden, L. and S. Cowell, “Conservation planning and Indigenous governance in Australia’s Indigenous Protected Areas,” Restoration Ecology, vol. 24, no. 5, pp. 692–697, 2016.

“ICC A Consortium.” [Online]. Available: [Accessed: 10-Oct-2019].

Indigenous Circles of Experts (ICE), We Rise Together: Achieving Pathway to Canada Target 1 through the creation of Indigenous Protected and Conserved Areas in the Spirit of Practice of Reconciliation. The Indigenous Circle of Experts’ Report and Recommendations., no. March. 2018.

Little Bear, L., E. Carlson, T. Tatsey, H. Augere, P. Fox, and K. Aune, “Innii Initiative: ‘Blackfoot and Buffalo’ – Ecosystem Restoration and Cultural Repatriation.” 2014. 50.

Mabee, H. S., and G. Hoberg, “Equal partners? Assessing comanagement of forest resources in clayoquot sound,” Soc. Nat. Resour., vol. 19, no. 10, pp. 875–888, Nov. 2006.

Murray, G. and L. King, “First Nations values in protected area governance: Tla-o-qui-aht Tribal Parks and Pacific Rim National Park Reserve,” Hum. Ecol., vol. 40, pp. 385–395, 2012.

Roth, R., “‘Fixing’ the forest: The spatiality of conservation conflict in Thailand,” Ann. Assoc. Am. Geogr., vol. 98, no. 2, pp. 373–391, 2008.

Sandlos, J., “National Parks in the Canadian north: Comanagement or colonialism revisited? Indigneous peoples, national parks, and protected areas,” in Indigneous Peoples, National Parks, and Protected Areas, S. Stevens, Ed. Tucson: University of Arizona Press, 2014, pp. 133–149.

Stevens, S., Indigenous peoples, national parks, and protected areas. Tucson: University of Arizona Press, 2014.

West, P., Conservation is our government now: The politics of ecology in Papua New Guinea. Durham: Duke University Press, 2006.

West, P., J. Igoe, and D. Brockington, “Parks and peoples: The social impact of protected areas,” Annu. Rev. Anthropol., vol. 35, no. 2006, pp. 251–277, 2006.

Youdelis, M., R. Nakoochee, C. O’neil, L. Lunstrum, and R. Roth, “Wilderness revisited: Is Canadian park management moving beyond the wilderness ethic?,” The Canadian Geographer, Forthcoming.