On October 26, Bas Verschuuren moderated a side event hosted by the COMPAS Network for Endogenous Development and the IUCN Specialist Group on Cultural and Spiritual Values of Protected Areas (CSVPA). Jeffrey McNeely (Senior Science Advisor, IUCN) launched the new book entitled “Sacred Natural Sites: Conserving Nature and Culture”, which was co-edited by Verschuuren, Robert Wild, McNeely, and Gonzalo Oviedo (available here from Earthscan). Oviedo (Senior Social Policy Advisor, IUCN) spoke about the linkages of sacred sites recognition and support within the IUCN community, including through the CSVPA and various publications such as the Sacred Natural Sites Guidelines for Protected Area Managers. Nigel Crawhall (IPACC and IUCN-TILCEPA) shared two stories of Indigenous peoples’ interpretations of sacred sites in South Africa and India. Holly Shrumm (Natural Justice) described how biocultural community protocols can enable communities to assert their rights to access and serve as custodians over sacred sites. Colleen Corrigan (UNEP-WCMC) shared information about the ICCA Registry as a tool that can be used to increase awareness and support for sacred sites.
Dave de Vera (the Philippines) spoke about the experiences of the Tagbanwa Indigenous people in securing 24 520 hectares of ancestral title over Coron Island, including a large area of ancestral waters in which only traditional fishing methods may be used. They have a complex worldview and system of customary laws that includes paired sacred sites in mountain and marine areas and they utilized participatory methods such as mapping to delineate their ancestral territory. Felipe Gomez (Oxlajuj Ajpop, Guatemala) discussed the proposal for a law on sacred sites that he has been driving in Guatemala for the past 13 years, which focuses on ensuring that communities themselves have the right to manage their sacred sites. He noted that there are many ways to support sacred sites, both natural and constructed, including community-level dialogue and organization, dialogue with researchers such as historians and archaeologists, and dialogue with policy-makers. He closed by saying that if we want to change our thinking and attitudes, we need to return to the places of inspiration and spiritual support to gain the strength to do so. Discussion with audience members revolved around concerns of recognizing sacred natural sites as ICCAs and placing potentially sensitive information online on the ICCA Registry, and the need to find a transparent, equitable, and fair process for decentralization and empowerment and have funding/financing that is clean itself.