Communities, Ecosystems & Governance
Over the last decade the term 'Community Ecological Governance' (CEG) emerged in our work with partners, as a means of describing the ecological principles which underpin indigenous understandings of the world. It became the term used to describe a holistic approach to working alongside communities to revive and protect indigenous knowledge; promote the passing of knowledge between generations; and help to restore and affirm confidence in traditional practices for governing communities to comply with the laws of the Earth.
The CEG approach recognises, and values, the symbiotic relationship between humans and Nature, because indigenous communities have governed themselves in compliance with the natural world for centuries. They live in accordance with Nature's Laws. For Gaia and our partners, working in a way which recognises the inextricable relationship between humans and their surrounding environment is the most effective way of ensuring that rich indigenous traditions are revived. Traditional forms of governance are strengthened because the roots of the system remain firmly grounded in the traditional context from which they originally emerged. Ultimately Community Ecological Governance (CEG) expresses a holistic understanding of living systems where everything is interconnected and interdependent.
Through this understanding it is possible to create the conditions for communities to re-weave their relationship with each other and with their ecosystem, back into a healthy and vibrant whole.
Community Ecological Governance in Practice
By working with communities in long-term partnerships, we begin to collectively understand the traditional governance systems and the intricate rhythms and customs of their daily lives. Through this process, Gaia and our partners have developed a number of principles and practices which underpin Community Ecological Governance.
Reviving Indigenous Knowledge - Dialogues and Sharing
Intergenerational learning comes through experiential learning - where elders can take the young and show them the laws of Nature and the relationship between humans and Nature. This is the basis of Community Ecological Governance. This is what we are trying to bring back. Indigenous knowledge of ecosystems is rich and it is vital. It is the Elders who hold this knowledge, and so sharing it with the young people is critical.Gathuru Mburu, Coordinator of the African Biodiversity Network (ABN)
Indigenous knowledge is the foundation of indigenous governance systems.
It is expressed and transmitted through oral traditions, in celebrations of the seasons and cycles of Nature, and in the ability to appreciate Nature's limits and live within them. It is practiced in both daily chores and unique rituals. It is the bedrock of traditional cultures. For this reason, our work with partners places indigenous knowledge at its very core.
As the guardians of the rich traditional knowledge in any community, working with Elders is critical. Community dialogues provide the opportunity for the community to reconnect with their ancestral knowledge and practices. This very process is one which inspires confidence in the Elders of a community, as they feel a renewed sense of value both personally and in the knowledge of their ancestors. Dialogues also enable inter-generational sharing which is now so vital as the gulf between older and younger generations is increasing in communities across the world.
Mapping Memory, Mapping the Land
Intrinsic to understanding and reviving indigenous knowledge is to understand the land out of which it has emerged and to which it is inextricably related. As part of reviving this knowledge and encouraging further sharing and building community cohesion, a process known as eco-cultural mapping has been used extensively in the Colombian Amazon.
Eco-cultural maps and calendars are used as a means of visually representing the landscape of a community and the meaning embedded in the land, its sacred sites, ancestral memories and critical points of activity or habitat. Whether the maps are sketches or models, eco-cultural mapping is a potent way to restore the communities' understanding of the cultural and spiritual significance of their territories - particularly for the younger generations. These landscapes are imbued with intangible elements which reflect how the ecological knowledge and the territory are inseperable.
Sacred Sites Networks and Sacred Lands
Across the planet, indigenous communities recognise that Sacred Sites are potent places within their sacred landscape. They are seen as a network of energy or acupuncture points in the territory, which should not be disturbed by human activity. Safeguarding these sites - and the knowledge associated with them - are the custodians responsible for each site. These custodians play a central role in Community Ecological Governance. These sites are places of ecological, cultural and spiritual importance. They are critical places in the ecosystem, such as sources of water, forests or breeding grounds. They are also places where the ancestral spirits reside. As such, they are places where custodians carry out the required ceremonies and rituals, and read the law in the land. They read the signs which they translate into the rites and customs of the community. This is how they comply with the Laws of Nature - which lie at the heart of Community Ecological Governance systems.
Rebuilding Resilience, Restoring the Future
Through the processes or methodologies evolved to regain Community Ecological Governance - community dialogues, eco-cultural mapping and calendars, intergenerational learning, and safeguarding sacred sites networks - communities are able to rebuild their capacity to determine their own path into the future. As their confidence grows, so they are able negotiate with local and national government, and other interest groups, to define and exercise their rights, on their own terms.
To find out more about some of the inspiring work which has emerged through the Community Ecological Governance work with communities, visit our Videos page and enjoy our collection of Stories of Change.