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A Brief History of Terralingua

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Photo: Cristina Mittermeier

Photo: Cristina Mittermeier

Terralingua started in 1996 as an all-volunteer, “virtual” organization with the aim to raise awareness of the loss of biocultural diversity and the need to stem and reverse this loss for the survival of all life on earth.

We launched our activities with the conference “Endangered Languages, Endangered Knowledge, Endangered Environments”, which we organized in 1996.

Our ideas spread rapidly, and within two years we were known internationally and began to be invited to collaborate with major environmental and cultural organizations and initiatives, including WWF, UNEP, UNESCO, IUCN, the Convention on Biological Diversity, the Millennium Ecosystem Assessment, and many other international, academic and research institutions, as well as museums.

We are now widely recognized as pioneers and leaders in the field of biocultural diversity. Our efforts have been highly instrumental in putting biocultural diversity on the international agenda and in the program of work of international agencies.

In 2001, we received our first foundation support—an unsolicited, donor-initiated grant from the Ford Foundation, which allowed us to establish a long-term program of work that focuses on six areas:

Since 2001, we have received support from The Christensen Fund, the International Development Research Centre (Canada), and a variety of international organizations and research institutions.

Our research is highly respected, and our publications are widely read and judged influential in illuminating and promoting the biocultural perspective. Our work has also sparked academic interest and attracted attention from media and the general public. Our field projects focus on restoring ecological and cultural resilience at landscape and regional levels. Through our worldwide network, we provide information, documentation, and expertise to individuals and grassroots organizations seeking to strengthen their ability to maintain their linguistic and cultural heritage, restore the health of their environments, and uphold their human rights.

In 2008, in collaboration with IUCN and the American Museum of Natural History (AMNH), we co-organized a major follow-up symposium on biocultural diversity, “Sustaining Cultural and Biological Diversity in a Rapidly Changing World: Lessons for Public Policy“, which was held at AMNH in New York, 2-5 April 2008. We also were active participants in IUCN’s 4th World Conservation Congress, organizing several biocultural diversity events and co-sponsoring three biocultural-related motions, all of which were approved by the IUCN membership and will help guide the implementation of the biocultural approach in IUCN’s policy and program.

What Next?

Ultimately, we want to see a world in which Terralingua has become obsolete—no longer needed, because biocultural diversity is appreciated as vital, and therefore cherished, restored, and sustained. We have made much progress, but there still is a long way to go to promote understanding of diversity in nature and culture as an essential condition for the survival of life on earth—and to bridge the gap between that knowledge and the individual and collective actions needed to protect and perpetuate biocultural diversity.

In addition to continuing our existing, long-term lines of work, we intend to engage in a major, multifaceted educational effort to mainstream the concept of biocultural diversity among the general public, through schools, universities, professional training programs, as well as the use of the arts and media. Education will be a new, important focus of our program of work in the foreseeable future.

A Selection of our Activities and Accomplishments >>