Wednesday, March 30, 2011



Ecotourism managed right can be a boon to indigenous communities, but the decision to capitalize on conservation has to be their own. Otherwise, tourism is just another invasion of indigenous privacy.

In the United States, ecotourism on indigenous lands created our most magnificent national parks, as well as sacred site desecration and traffic nightmares. Some tribes, however, are now managing tourism in their territories in a more respectful, holistic manner.

In the Mexican state of Chiapas, ecotourism on Indian ejidos has spawned a new wave of violence by the state against indigenous collectives resistant to the hotels and freeways the industry plans for their homeland. In order to divide the indigenous communities, the Mexican government issued individual title to Indians co-opted by greed, and in turn has armed these title holders so they can attack collectives.

In the end, ecotourism is neither good nor bad per se; as usual, it's the process of deciding that matters. When the process is designed to exclude or demonize indigenous opponents, then violence and misery will ensue.

As the ejidos of Mexico struggle to conserve their identity and resources within a corrupt and violent narcostate, tourists and investors must decide for themselves what role indigenous land tenure and human rights should play in their decisions. There are no neutral positions.


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