12th International Congress of Ethnobiology

Rafaela from Sierra Tarahumara, Tania from Terralingua and Irma from Oaxaca

On May 9-14, Terralingua was in Tofino, British Columbia, Canada–in the heart of the territory of the Tla-o-qui-aht First Nations and in the Clayoquot Sound UNESCO Biosphere Reserve–for the 12th International Congress of Ethnobiology.We presented three sessions, as outlined below. This year’s congress was hosted by the Tofino Botanical Gardens Foundation. For more infomation on the congress, please visit their website at: http://www.tbgf.org/ice/home.

How Many People Speak Your Language? Data and Indicators of Linguistic Diversity and Language Vitality.

Chair: Luisa Maffi (Terralingua, Canada)

Panel Participants:

  • Luisa Maffi (Terralingua, Canada)
  • Gary Simons (SIL International, USA)
  • David Harmon (The George Wright Society and Terralingua, USA)
  • Jonathan Loh (Zoological Society of London and Terralingua, UK)
  • Alejandro Argumedo (IIFB/Tebtebba, Peru)
  • Tirso Gonzales (University of British Columbia, Canada)

Session Description: In 1988, the Declaration of Belém first affirmed the “inextricable link” between biodiversity and cultural diversity. In 1996, building on that pioneering recognition, Terralingua began exploring and researching the idea that the diversity of life is biological, cultural, and linguistic diversity—all inextricably interlinked through the nature-based and place-based values, beliefs, knowledge systems and practices of Indigenous and local communities the world over. The focus on linguistic diversity as a component of biocultural diversity turned the spotlight on the fact that language vitality is a key requirement for cultural resilience and the maintenance of the “inextricable link” between people and the environment; yet, the diversity and vitality of the world’s languages is increasingly under threat owing to the same forces that are eroding biological and cultural diversity. Over the past decade, it has become increasingly apparent that policy in support of biological and cultural diversity must include support for language vitality and linguistic diversity. Some international policy processes, such as the Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD) 2010 Targets for halting the loss of biodiversity, call for the development of indicators of the “status and trends of linguistic diversity and numbers of speakers of indigenous languages”, taken as a proxy for the status and trends of indigenous and traditional knowledge relevant for the conservation of biodiversity. Indigenous Peoples’ organizations also have begun to develop their own sets of indicators to assess and monitor their cultural resilience in the face of global environmental, social, and economic challenges. Systematic information about linguistic diversity and language vitality is crucial in such contexts, yet until recently no reliable tools existed for assessing the status and trends of the world’s languages. Several institutions including Ethnologue, UNESCO and Terralingua have developed indicators and databases to monitor and record the status and trends in the numbers of speakers of the world’s languages. This session will discuss the indicators, data sources, their reliability, applications, user’s needs and what more needs to be done in order to provide robust information on trends in language demographics worldwide. The session will also offer an opportunity for discussion of and comparison with related efforts that are taking place among indigenous peoples’ organizations, international agencies and linguists, with a goal to establish common ground for greater effectiveness in both data gathering and policy analysis.

Where to, Biocultural Diversity?

Chairs: Luisa Maffi (Terralingua, Canada),Kelly Bannister (ISE, Canada), and Gary Martin (Global Diversity Foundation and University of Kent, UK)

Panel Participants:

  • Luisa Maffi (Terralingua, Canada)
  • Andrea Pieroni (International Society of Ethnobiology, Italy)
  • Gary Martin (Global Diversity Fund, Morocco)
  • Nancy Turner (University of Victoria, Canada)
  • David Harmon (The George Wright Society, USA)
  • Alejandro Argumedo (Indigenous Peoples’ Biodiversity Network, Peru)
  • Gleb Raygorodetsky (The Christensen Fund, USA)
  • David Rapport (EcoHealth Consulting, Canada)
  • Mike Jones (Sand County Foundation, USA)
  • Levi Martin (Tla-o-qui-aht First Nations, Canada)
  • Tirso Gonzales (University of British Columbia, Canada)
  • Stephan Harding (Schumacher College, UK)

Session Description: Drawing one of its main inspirations from the affirmation of an “inextricable link” between cultural and biological diversity contained in ISE’s 1988 Declaration of Belém, the field of biocultural diversity (BCD) has been developing since the mid-1990s as an integrative approach that sees biodiversity, cultural diversity, and linguistic diversity as three interrelated and interdependent aspects of the diversity of life. Research at both global and local scales has shown that the permanence or loss of these diversities is affected by many of the same ecological, social, cultural, and economic factors. Alarmingly, this research has also shown that there is a “converging extinction crisis” of BCD. BCD as a whole is in significant decline globally, under the cumulative and synergistic effect of environmental degradation and rapid socio-economic, cultural and political changes driven by economic globalization and cultural homogenization. These changes affect in particular Indigenous peoples and local communities, who represent most of the world’s cultural diversity and are the main stewards of BCD. Efforts are underway all over the world—many of them spearheaded by Indigenous peoples and local communities themselves—to sustain and restore cultures and biodiversity, often against tremendous odds. Efforts are also underway to further advance knowledge and understanding of BCD and impart this approach in education, as well as to promote the adoption of bioculturally friendly policies at international and national levels. In short, BCD is becoming an increasingly accepted paradigm, yet the overall prospects for sustaining the biocultural diversity of life remain precarious. The very fabric of life in nature and culture continues to unravel, leaving our biocultural world increasingly fragile and the outlook for humans and all other species increasingly uncertain. What more needs to be done to foster a global shift in values toward a new paradigm that celebrates, cherishes and protects the biocultural diversity of life, in order to ensure that sustaining and restoring BCD becomes a primary societal goal and a fundamental object of political, social, and economic action? What obstacles need to be overcome, what opportunities need to be seized?

In this moderated session, a panel comprised of some of the key players in the field of BCD will be asked to “think outside the box” in addressing the question “where to, biocultural diversity”, and in pinpointing advances, gaps, and needs for future action. Brief comments by the panelists will be followed by responses from invited representatives of other germane fields, such as resilience theory, holistic science, Gaia theory, and ecosystem health, in order to identify beneficial links and synergies with BCD. Open discussion with the session’s audience will follow. Collectively, session participants will seek to envision a powerful way forward for the field of BCD.

What Have We Learned from Biocultural Diversity Mapping? A Map-Driven Review and Hands-on Discussion of Knowledge Advances and Practical Applications

Presenters: Luisa Maffi (Terralingua) and J. Rick Stepp (University of Florida)

Description: Over the past decade, a small but significant body of work on biocultural diversity (BCD) mapping has been developed. At its core, biocultural diversity is a geographical phenomenon, showing an often strong positive correlation in the distribution of biodiversity and linguistic diversity (a measure of the variety of human languages and cultures). The study of biocultural diversity involves a search for patterns across landscapes. As an inherently spatial phenomenon, biocultural diversity can readily be explored through the use of Geographical Information Systems (GIS). Research conducted by Terralingua since 1998 and at the Ethnobiology Laboratory of the University of Florida’s Anthropology Department since 2003 has resulted in the development of maps of the world’s ecoregions and ethnolinguistic groups and of a global database and a series of maps that portray the linkages between biodiversity and linguistic diversity globally as well as in a variety of regions throughout the world. The work conducted at the University of Florida has also involved the development of statistical methods for the analysis of biodiversity-linguistic diversity correlations, in an effort to identify major factors of biocultural diversity permanence or loss. These maps and analyses can serve as valuable tools for stakeholders, researchers, educators and policymakers.

This contribution will combine the format of a lively presentation with that of a hands-on demonstration and discussion with the audience. One of the presenters (Maffi) will “interview” the other (Stepp), asking relevant questions that will frame a PowerPoint presentation of the maps and analyses. The presenters will also discuss plans for the development of a BCD mapping portal, which (pending funding) will make existing maps and analytical tools, as well as further BCD mapping work, available to all interested parties. This part of the presentation will be followed by an extended opportunity for the audience to ask questions, familiarize themselves with the tools used in this mapping work, and discuss related experiences with BCD mapping and relevant applications. One potential by-product of this presentation will be the identification and pooling of other BCD mapping resources that might be included in the planned portal.

The University of Florida BCD map posters will be on exhibit during the presentation.

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