by Jennifer McRuer
We are all stories … of connection, separation, dependence, interdependence, shaped by places, people, memories, perceptions, and dreams. How we connect with the places we call “home” is the essence of this photo essay — particularly, how biological and cultural relationships contribute to our well-being, and how our relationships inform common visions for a sustainable future.
Our relationships with place have never been more in need of explicit attention and expression. Climate change. Deforestation. Overfishing. Coral bleaching. Pollution. Growing inequities. Despite their origin, such issues touch all corners of the earth, all depths of the oceans, all strata of the sky, and all dimensions of the human and non-human experience and spirit. We are living in a time of dire human-driven change, causing pervasive threats to biological and cultural diversity. But there is hope. By reconnecting with place, we can forge new directions toward regeneration.
This photo essay describes the efforts of Colombian youth to share their stories of biocultural heritage, well-being, and sustainability, expressing what it means to call a place “home.” Home, for the six Afro-Colombian youth telling this narrative, is Isla Grande — a small island in the Caribbean Sea of Colombia. Over generations, the Isla Grande community has continuously shaped, and been shaped by, relations with the surrounding coral reef, mangrove lagoons, and dry forest landscapes. The community’s knowledge, innovations, and practices are thus entangled with territory, biological diversity, cultural and spiritual values — that is, people’s “collective biocultural heritage.”
Existing alongside one of the country’s largest marine national parks and protected areas, the Isla Grande community seeks to balance the rights of nature with those of their local culture. The balance has long been askew on account of government marginalization, national environmental policies that discourage co-governance with local communities, and diverse interests that value particular worldviews over others. This has led to a lasting neglect of the territorial rights of the region’s original Indigenous inhabitants, as well as those of other communities that subsequently established themselves in the area, such as mestizo (mixed race) peasant communities and Afro-Colombian descendents. In defense of their relationships with ancestral territory places, the Isla Grande community has recently mobilized sustainable development efforts to redirect its future. Youth perceptions and experiences are valued contributions to this process.
Seeking to re-imagine and re-articulate their collective biocultural heritage so as to uphold their relationships with place and one another, island youth share their stories through youth-led photography and mapping, combined with cyclical processes of reflection and action. A co-researcher team of six Island youth, a Spanish research translator, and a Canadian doctoral researcher began a project in 2015 to contribute youth perspectives on biocultural heritage, well-being, and sustainability. The group calls itself “Nuevas Voces” (New Voices).
The resultant images, maps, and voices speak to their place-interdependence. Their collaborative story has been woven into a “story map” using an online, open-source platform designed by the Environmental Sciences Research Institute (ESRI). The story map interweaves multimedia and textual elements to tell the youth’s story of place. It importantly highlights the ways in which the community’s language, material culture, knowledge and innovations, subsistence, social and economic relations, beliefs, and values are intimately connected with the biodiversity of its territory. At a time when we need to recognize and strengthen place relationships to innovate, adapt, and build resilience in the face of global change, this platform mobilizes youth’s perspectives and allows them to describe their concerns and, more importantly, their hopes for the future.
View the extended photo gallery for Story Map.
Jennifer McRuer holds an MSc in Conservation and Rural Development from the Durrell Institute of Conservation and Ecology, University of Kent, UK, and a PhD in Educational Foundations from the University of Saskatchewan, Saskatoon. Motivated by community-based conservation, she is interested in the intersections among biocultural diversity, new materialism, environmental humanities, and sustainability education.
Convention on Biological Diversity. (2014). Linking Biological and Cultural Diversity: UNESCO-SCBD Programme. Retrieved from https://www.cbd.int/lbcd/step1
Davidson-Hunt, I. J., Turner, K. L., Mead, A., Cabrera-Lopez, J., Bolton, R., Idrobo, J., … Robson, P. (2012). Biocultural design: A new conceptual framework for sustainable development in rural indigenous and local communities. Surveys and Perspectives Integrating Environment and Society, 5(2), 33–45.
Escobar, A. (1998). Whose knowledge, whose nature? Biodiversity, conservation, and the political ecology of social movements. Journal of Political Ecology, 5, 53–82.
Ingold, T. (2008). Bindings against boundaries: Entanglements of life in an open world. Environment and Planning A, 40, 1796–1810.
McRuer, J. (2017). A Story of the Places We Call Home: Buen Vivir, Sustainability, and Biocultural Heritage in Isla Grande, Colombia. Retrieved from http://arcg.is/2bITUzX
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