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Open Access Publications from the University of California

Special opportunities for conserving cultural and biological diversity: The co-occurrence of Indigenous languages and UNESCO Natural World Heritage Sites

  • Author(s): Romaine, Suzanne
  • Gorenflo, L. J.
  • et al.

Recent research indicates that speakers of Indigenous languages often live in or near United Nations Educational, Scientific, and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) Natural World Heritage Sites (WHSs). Because language is a key index of cultural diversity, examining global patterns of co-occurrence between languages and these sites provides a means of identifying opportunities to conserve both culture and nature, especially where languages, WHSs, or both are recognized as endangered. This paper summarizes instances when Indigenous languages share at least part of their geographic extent with Natural WHSs. We consider how this co-occurrence introduces the potential to co­ordinate conservation of nature and sociocultural systems at these localities, particularly with respect to the recently issued UNESCO policy on engaging Indigenous people and the forthcoming International Year of Indigenous Languages. The paper concludes by discussing how the presence of Indigenous people at UNESCO Natural WHSs introduces important opportunities for co-management that enable resident Indigenous people to help conserve their language and culture along with the natural settings where they occur. We discuss briefly the example of Australia as a nation exploring opportunities for employing and strengthening such coordinated conservation efforts.

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