AES 2020 Abstract: Mediating Multispecies Relations Through Western and Indigenous Conservation

Western notions of modernity have situated human society apart from nature, which encompasses those spaces and beings that are unmodified and unsullied by human activity. The Western conception of nature/society can be contrasted with that of the Cofán—an Indigenous people of Amazonian Ecuador and Colombia—who identify as tsampini can’jen’sundeccu (dwellers of the forest). The Cofán do not have a term that corresponds directly to “nature” in their native language of A’ingae and instead operate on the concept of tsampi, a flexible and context-dependent term which is both contrasted with “community” and is also the context in which Cofán people live. The ways in which Cofán people conceptualize their relationship to the tsampi mediates the kinds of relations and interactions that they have with other-than-human beings that occupy the forest. Western and Cofán conservation practices illustrate the consequences of these discordant attitudes towards the world. Western conservation endeavors to create reserves that reproduce a pristine, human-less state thus transforming organisms into static objects. In doing so, Western conservation produces a contradiction: a human-less state imposed by humans which opposes the dynamic quality of ecosystems. The Cofán employ a more flexible program in which humans are active agents in the protection of the forest. Rules for hunting and land use are discussed and voted on by community members as local knowledge of populations are assessed. I suggest that Cofán management techniques better accommodate the dynamic nature of the forest thus avoiding the same artificial pressures implicit in Western conservation.

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