Sharing experiences and learning in support of Indigenous Heritage in World Heritage

Recognition of the value of indigenous heritage gained importance in the World Heritage Convention with the creation of Cultural Landscapes in 1992, and its application to Tongariro National Park (New Zealand, 1993) and Uluru-Kata Tjuta (Australia, 1994) – key areas where Aboriginal cultures had been part of the landscape for centuries or millennia. Traditional systems were at the core of conservation and management in those areas and were the basis for their inscription under cultural criteria. In Kakadu, a mixed World Heritage site of Australia, the presence of Aboriginal people dates back 50,000 years. Traditional land management practices have been recognized as effective means to maintain and enhance nature, and are therefore connected to the Outstanding Universal Values of the area.

The same is valid for many other World Heritage sites. There is no detailed information of how much indigenous cultures’ heritage is contained in World Heritage properties, but arguably a large proportion of these, either cultural, natural or mixed sites, are or have been the habitats of indigenous cultures.

In many cases, World Heritage listing has been considered detrimental to indigenous cultures because of lack of recognition of, and respect to, the livelihoods and rights of the communities, including cultural rights such as the maintenance of rituals and other cultural practices. Increasingly, however, indigenous peoples are getting interested in having their cultural areas, values and creations recognized as or in World Heritage sites. How do indigenous values and Outstanding Universal Values connect? Can World Heritage listing be a viable and beneficial option for indigenous peoples who want to conserve their cultures and landscapes? What could be done to support the links between indigenous cultural heritage and World Heritage?

Two linked events (1205 and 1206) will try to provide answers to such questions. The first event will celebrate indigenous heritage through highlights from some areas where indigenous cultures are key components of existing or prospective World Heritage Sites; the second event will discuss technical aspects of linking and recognizing indigenous heritage into World Heritage nomination, inscription and management.

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