Here at the World Conservation Congress in Hawai’i, members of the Gaia Team are working with a twenty-strong delegation of indigenous custodians to protect the world’s oldest protected areas- sacred natural sites.

Gaia’s Director Liz Hosken and Winnemem Wintu Chief Caleen Sisk at a workshop in Hawai’i.

Sacred natural sites, which may be mountains, rivers or forest groves, are described as the ‘cathedrals or temples of indigenous people’. They are potent places of ecological, cultural and spiritual importance.

Indigenous peoples have protected these sacred places and ancestral lands through their customary laws and traditional ecological knowledge since long before the development of national parks and the birth of the conservation movement.

Yuisi; A sacred site for the people of Yaigoje Apaporis in the North Western Colombian Amazon

Today, however, sacred natural sites around the planet are increasingly threatened by industrial activities, including extractive industries such as mining that seek to exploit gold, coal, oil and other sources of natural wealth using increasingly destructive means– from mountain top removal to deep sea mining.

This is happening at a time when the Earth is suffering massive species loss, climate change and ecosystem degradation. A time at which recognising and safeguarding these areas of incredible biocultural diversity is ever more vital.

For over thirty years Gaia has been working alongside indigenous custodians to put sacred natural sites and territories on the global conservation agenda and secure some landmark practical and legal precedents.

Oil well and giraffe in Western Uganda, where oil extraction threatens human rights, several national parks and has cut people off from their sacred sites.

Here at the World Conservation Congress, we are working for the approval of an exciting new resolution (Motion 26) that will continue to build the momentum of this work. Motion 26 calls on government and civil society members of the International Union for the Conservation of Nature (IUCN) – the world’s biggest conservation group – to recognise that protected areas, sacred natural sites and indigenous and community conserved territories should be No Go Areas for extractive industries and other destructive ‘developments’.

With a final vote due on 8-10th September, we’ll keep you updated on the result!