Global Diversity Foundation

GDF has a dual mission. Through our regional programmes, we support indigenous peoples' and local communities' efforts to protect their biocultural diversity, and peacefully achieve just and autonomous decision-making regarding their territories, resources and futures. In collaboration with diverse institutions, we provide support for communities to elaborate their own research, development and advocacy programmes. Areas of specific focus depend on community interests, although they tend to be community access to lands and resources, community-led conservation, advocacy and campaigning for social and environmental justice, the continuity of ethnobiological and biocultural knowledge, and he...
Jul 6, 2015

Nourishing Relations: People, Plants and Place

Dr. Henry Lickers speaks about his work
Dr. Henry Lickers speaks about his work

A Global Environments Network gathering in Northeastern North America

For four days in late June 2015, 40 Indigenous environmental leaders from Canada and the United States met on traditional Mohawk/Kanienkeha'ka territory at the Montreal Botanical Garden and in the community of Kahnawà:ke. Professionals, practitioners, elders and youth shared research, strategies and tactics, and stories of resistance, joy, tragedy, hope and transformation. We explored potential collaboration for environmentally sound solutions for critical issues facing Indigenous communities in the 21st century. A series of themes emerged from workshop sessions and conversations:

The link between Indigenous language learning, understanding and living one’s culture, and applying that to learning cultural uses of plants in-situ.

Dr. Henry Lickers (Turtle Clan Seneca) opened the workshop with a keynote address on Leadership and Biodiversity Conservation. Founding member of an environmental department that preceded the U.S. EPA and Canadian Department of Environment, he spoke on the ongoing challenges of advocacy, protection, and remediation as well as the urgency of regenerating our ability to know, nurture and marvel at the everyday nature that surrounds us – and be healed by it. Reflecting on the theme of the workshop, and the still-limited incorporation of Indigenous environmental knowledge in broader environmental work, he concluded, “The day we all declare ourselves part of biodiversity will be the day that we will have succeeded.”

The urgent need to form networks and stewardship alliances across Native nations and communities, to acquire and share information, strategies and tactics, and offer the advocacy benefits of alliance and collaborative organization.

Stemming from respect for the enormous experience and commitment present, a spirited desire for collaborative action filled the workshop. One idea that sparked plans for joint work was that of tribal parks. Eli Enns (Tla-o-qui-aht) shared the success of this context- and culturally-driven conservation model from the Pacific Northwest as a negotiating tool and path to increase autonomy and recognition of sovereignty in management of Indigenous traditional territories. He considers tribal parks as a type of Indigenous Peoples’ and Local Communities’ Conserved Areas and Territories (ICCA), and works with the ICCA Consortium and the International Union for the Conservation of Nature (IUCN) to advance recognition and establishment of such community-controlled conservation efforts worldwide.

The importance of the arts to learn, reflect upon, live, and share stories, values and cultural heritage. These processes bring people together in strength and beauty.

“The arts and creative expression are vital to the work we do in our communities,” says Monaeka Flores, Chamorro artist and activist from Guam. “Through traditional and non-traditional art forms… we revitalize, rejuvenate, and strengthen languages, customs, and sovereignty movements; restore cultural practices and life ways; give voice to lost narratives and counter narratives; educate younger generations and provide connections with elders; speak to injustices to repair our connections and relationships; and renew the spirit and provide medicine for our peoples and environments in need of rehabilitation.”

Community Exchanges like this one form part of the emerging Global Environments Network. This North American Community Environmental Leadership Exchange (NACELE) is a bi-annual, invite only workshop, co-organized by GDF staff and board members, and GESA alumni and resource people. Each convenes participants from a particular region, with additional representatives from across North America and the Pacific. The next NACELE has been proposed for Northwestern Mexico in Fall 2016.

Support from this GlobalGiving project helped us cover participants’ attendance costs, as did a Canadian Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council (SSHRC) Convening Grant, support from The Christensen Fund, Quebec Center for Biodiversity Studies, the law firm of Fredericks Peebles and Morgan, The Cultural Conservancy, and McGill Institute for the Study of Canada.

(Full) photo captions:

(above) Dr. Henry Lickers speaks about his work as Dr Nancy Turner, GDF board president, Verna Miller (Nlaka'pamux; future president of the International Society of Ethnobiology), and others look on.

(below) Monaeka Flores (Chamorro) of the Guam Humanities Council leads the creation of a collaborative art piece representing participants’ journeys and stories.

(bottom) 2015 NACELE participants gathered on the banks of the Saint Lawrence in Kahnawà:ke, Mohawk/Kanienkeha'ka territory. The Nation is working to restore its traditional shoreline, which was drastically altered by the Saint Lawrence Seaway.

Monaeka Flores leads creation of collaborative art
Monaeka Flores leads creation of collaborative art
Participants at Mohawk/Kanienkeha
Participants at Mohawk/Kanienkeha'ka territory
Jul 6, 2015

Indigenous communities suffer in the aftermath of Sabah's deadly earthquake

Dusun mountain guides help a young injured climber
Dusun mountain guides help a young injured climber

Dusun communities living in the hilly district of Ranau bore the brunt of the earthquake, measuring 5.9 on the Richter scale, that struck the Malaysian State of Sabah early in the morning on June 5th. Local and international attention quickly focused on climbers at the peak of Mount Kinabalu, trapped due to the destroyed trail caused by the earthquake. With the experience of having scaled the mountain countless times, local mountain guides emerged as heroes, braving risky conditions to lead and assist scared and injured climbers back to safety. However, alongside tales of heroism came deep tragedy. Eighteen lives perished at the hands of the quake, four of whom were Dusun guides from the nearby villages of Kiau, Bundu Tuhan and Kundasang.

Robbi, Joseph, Valerian and Ricky are among many from the local community whose livelihoods depend on Mount Kinabalu and its surroundings. As families and friends continue to mourn the loss of their loved ones, their immediate future is dismal. Livelihoods of Dusun mountain guides and porters (there are 250 mountain guides and 50 porters registered under the Kinabalu Mountain Guides Association) were crushed as climbing activities were brought to a grinding halt. While preliminary announcements have indicated that the mountain will reopen in September, the absence of climbers for three months translates to an absence of income for the community.

To the Dusun families, the natural environment is intertwined with their culture and traditions. Many of them play active roles in preserving this heritage which includes the revered Mount Kinabalu, a place deemed sacred as it is believed to be the site where the deceased rest before making their way to Libabou, their eternal resting place. Faced with disaster, this community has risen above all expectations. Those on the risky pathways put their own safety aside for others. Those at the foothills banded together to source and prepare food during search and rescue efforts. 

Adding to the immediate and severe impacts of the earthquake are the landslides and mud floods following heavy downpours of rain in the following weeks, causing further damage to property and the unavailability of clean and treated water. In the three weeks since the earthquake, the Meteorological Department recorded one hundred aftershocks. Life is, in a word, unstable. 

Earthquake affected communities are now challenged with restoring their lives and carving out a living for themselves. We channelled a modest amount of funds to support initial search and rescue efforts immediately following the June 5th incidence. We now urge you to consider making a contribution to ease the hardship felt by these communities in the aftermath of the earthquake.

* Note: All donations made to this project during the month of July 2015 will be channelled to support grieving families, families of those dependent on Mount Kinabalu who have lost their source of income, and other affected families in the process of recovering from the devastating effects of the earthquake.

* Photos courtesy of Julia Chan.

Local guides instrumental in search and rescue.
Local guides instrumental in search and rescue.
Jun 12, 2015

A tribute to Mohamed El Haouzi, pioneer of Marrakech School Gardens

Fadma speaks on supporting a community nursery
Fadma speaks on supporting a community nursery

Mohamed El Haouzi, Moroccan Projects Director for GDF, takes pride in his experience building school gardens with children in Marrakech’s public schools. The gardening activities he leads are participatory and play an important role in getting children involved in conservation efforts from an early age. Mohamed believes that “nature needs to be understood in order to be preserved” and that gardening activities serve as a platform for explaining the natural world to children. To him, gardening represents a holistic and hands-on learning experience during which students work as a team, learn skills and become knowledgeable on irrigation techniques and plant names all while having fun.

Mohamed laments the fact that gardening activities are not institutionalized and not included in public elementary school curricula. One of the challenges Mohamed has to repeatedly overcome while initiating gardening activities is the public school system’s lack of a standard procedure for implementing such activities. He has had to work with every school on a case-by-case basis, catering to the different circumstances of each administration and student body. Mohamed is also very much aware of the potential lack of maintenance threatening the gardens after the initial excitement of their inauguration wanes and the schools can no longer fund their upkeep.

Despite the challenges, lack of funds and dependence on personal initiative and volunteers, Mohamed is thankful to the dynamic and motivated school staff he has encountered during his work and their commitment to providing students with gardening activities and the green spaces these produce. He is grateful for the support of like-minded individuals who understand the educational value of gardening activities and the learning benefits associated with exposure to green spaces. Most importantly, Mohamed is happy the students and dedicated public school staff are able to find an ally in the Global Diversity Foundation, which is invested in continuing to provide children with gardening activities.

Here is a short excerpt (translated from French and edited) of some of Mohamed’s own reflections that he shared during a workshop on best practices in biodiversity conservation and local livelihoods in Morocco held from 27-29 May 2015 in the High Atlas mountains:

“School gardens are no small task! School gardening is a complex notion because it involves many factors, including students, teachers and the administrative staff, all with their own circumstances. In all schools, participants are always enthusiastic and embrace with wide open arms the creation of a new garden within their establishment or the restoration of an already existing one. However, the enthusiasm expressed when creating or restoring a school garden is one thing and the maintenance of these gardens through the regular gardening activities necessary is another!

Some teachers are very dynamic and highly motivated regarding educational gardening activities (which encourages outside partners to invest, both emotionally and financially, in activities related to the environment), but others are less so and some aren’t at all (they consider such activities more work!).

Fortunately, the administrative staff of some schools considers gardening among the institution’s priorities. In these cases, we see very clear participation on the part of both the school’s teachers and students. A part of the establishment’s budget is devoted to gardening or at least great efforts are made to forge partnerships with funders and non-profits like GDF. In these schools, we are able to establish and maintain green spaces that enhance the learning experience of students.”

Mohamed, pioneer of our school gardens project
Mohamed, pioneer of our school gardens project

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