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Rights, conservation, and governance: Indigenous peoples-National Parks collaboration in Makuira, Colombia

Rights, conservation, and governance: Indigenous peoples-National Parks collaboration in Makuira, Colombia
Julia M. Premauer


Natural Resources Institute, University of Manitoba, Winnipeg, MB R3T 2N2, CANADA.


This thesis investigates the contexts, rationales, and practices of collaborative governance between Wayúu indigenous chiefs and Parks (national parks authority) in Makuira National Park, northeast Colombia. The study looks into the Wayúu institutions for territorial governance; policies for conservation, participation and indigenous rights; and key aspects of cross-cultural park governance. The field research was based on an in-depth qualitative case study. I used an ethnographic approach with document review, semi-structured interviews, participant observation, and use of existing qualitative data. The Wayúu people have a system of customary territorial governance that comprises institutions regarding ownership, access, use, and control of territory and its resources. Wayúu sacred places in Makuira Mountains follow spiritual institutions for proper behaviour and respectful relations with supernatural beings. However, Wayúu territorial governance and autonomy is affected by broader contexts of social-political and economic processes. ―Parks with People‖ policy seeks to enhance governance in protected areas by addressing conflicts, recognizing indigenous territories, authority, and mutual collaboration. Co-government is approached as a ―signature of agreements‖ by Parks in Bogotá, as an ―ongoing process‖ by Makuira National Park staff and as an ―alliance‖ by indigenous peoples. While formal co-government process is mostly led by Parks, Wayúu institutions influence informal day-to-day practice. Most Wayúu rights are recognised however, self-determination is not fully recognised. Wayúu park staff helps facilitate cross-cultural respect and achieve more horizontal relations.

These research findings highlight the importance of collaborative approaches for conservation that address historically informed national and local contexts and conflicts that at the same time recognise territorial and self-government rights. Supporting and building upon local institutions and customary management practices are important components of a more inclusive and rights-based practice of conservation. These findings provide for a more nuanced understanding of Indigenous and Community Conserved Areas (ICCAs). While indigenous territories do have protected features; they are combined with other territorial practices that can be regarded as ―incompatible‖ with conservation by other actors. This limits ICCAs ability to leverage for full recognition of indigenous rights. This study demonstrates that such rights recognition should happen at the constitutional level and not be attached to conservation objectives.