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Open Access Publications from the University of California

Parks Stewardship Forum

UC Berkeley

Cultivating sovereignty in parks and protected areas: Sowing the seeds of restorative and transformative justice through the #LANDBACK movement


Indigenous communities possess long histories of using land acknowledgments to reinforce their cultural ties with specific areas. Today, many public and private institutions use land acknowledgments to recognize the Indigenous peoples who inhabited and still live in local areas. However, an opportunity exists to move beyond institutional acknowledgments and into action-oriented frameworks that support decolonization efforts, especially within parks and protected areas (PPAs). PPAs present an opportunity for the actualization of the #LANDBACK movement, which could strengthen Indigenous land governance, conservation, and sovereignty. This thought piece uses decolonization and storytelling methodologies to demonstrate how current PPA management paradigms perpetuate harm against Indigenous communities. It also explores how these paradigms can evolve to improve the social-environmental efficacy of PPAs by highlighting three areas of change where PPAs could perpetuate the cultivation of Indigenous sovereignty: (1) addressing cultural tensions and transforming current management systems; (2) creating Indigenous Knowledge spaces in PPA-related educational settings; and (3) building decolonial futures by returning lands to Indigenous communities. This paper presents reflective frameworks with guiding questions for PPA managers to embrace the #LANDBACK movement in partnership with Indigenous communities. These frameworks provide opportunities for park managers, educators, and researchers to center Indigenous epistemologies, ontologies, and community well-being. Additionally, this manuscript provides the scaffolding for PPA managers and Indigenous communities to implement restorative and transformative justice practices within current PPA systems. Implementing the proposed frameworks within PPAs could generate monumental social transformation.

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