Sunday, 29 April 2007

Gaia Foundation

London Meetings

• For the four days after the Oxford Forum I stayed in London to follow-up on connections made at the conference and to explore some other projects further.

• Ed Posey and Liz Hosken are a couple of “active citizens” and philanthropists based in Hampstead. We had last met during the New Economics conference held in Scotland in 1984. At that time, they were just establishing The Business Network, which was one of the first organisations promoting social and environmental responsibility in business.

Since then, Ed and Liz have established the Gaia Foundation, and their Hampstead home — now known as Gaia House — has become a seeding point and informal meeting place for many of the leading UK-based activists from environment and development organisations. The Foundation has taken a leading role in supporting indigenous activists including Professor Wangari Maathai (the Nobel Peace Laureate from Kenya), Vandana Shiva from India, Tewolde Gebre Egzhiabher from Ethiopia, Martín von Hildebrand from Colombia, José Lutzenberger from Brazil and Chico Mendes (the indigenous leader who was assassinated in Brazil).

• The couple invited me to attend a small public talk in Hampstead by Martín von Hildebrand, the leader of many development projects with indigenous people in the Columbian Amazon.

Hildebrand led the campaign to include significant indigenous rights within Colombia’s 1991 political Constitution. The Columbian Constitution explicitly recognises the cultural diversity of the Colombian nation and the rights of indigenous peoples to participate in the design and management of their own development, health and education programmes. It also recognizes the right of indigenous communities to collectively administer their own territories.

Over the last 17 years, these communities have developed innovative processes of self governance directed by shamans and driven by indigenous thought. Hildebrand’s COAMA programme focuses on reviving their diverse and ecologically centred collective governance systems, using elements from the western industrial world that do not compromise their autonomy. Thanks largely to these efforts, the indigenous communities in the Colombian Amazon are now self-managing a territory larger than the size of the United Kingdom.

The obvious improvements in Columbia through this indigenous self-development have become the envy of many other South American countries ... and has also inspired similar groups in Africa to follow the COAMA methods. In 1999, Hildebrand and COAMA received the Right Livelihood Award (sometimes called the alternative Nobel Prize) for this ground-breaking work.

• Meeting Martín von Hildebrand and hearing his presentation has given me quite a bit to reflect on when comparing his story to the New Zealand experience of Maori sovereignty and economic development. It is interesting for me to realise that so much of my own thinking on indigenous issues has been conditioned by our local debates on the Waitangi Treaty and the emphasis on “partnership” relationships between our majority culture and tangata whenua. This is in contrast to the Columbian Amazon story which has involved promoting grassroots community efforts to protect critical ecosystems, such as forests, watersheds and river basins, whilst working to empower local communities to take control and develop their own resources and livelihoods.

• The Gaia Foundation has been promoting the concept of “Earth Jurisprudence” based on the visionary work of the philosopher Thomas Berry. Their view is that our legal systems, and the corresponding human jurisprudences upon which they are based, continually promote the interest of the human community while affording no real protection to other species, or to the planet itself. The Gaia Foundation asks us to imagine another legal system where the planet and all of its species have rights – and they have those rights by virtue of their existence as component members of a single Earth community.
“ The dominant legal philosophies and laws both reflect and perpetuate the prevailing worldview that the Earth is merely a collection of 'resources' or objects which human beings are entitled to exploit for their exclusive benefit. A new Earth Law - or Earth jurisprudence - is essential if global human society is to achieve the radical shift in beliefs and attitudes that will be necessary to save the planet from ecological disaster.” — The Gaia Foundation
— The website for The Gaia Foundation
— profile of Coama for the Right Livelihood Awards
The Gaia Foundation’s Earth Jurisprudence website