Indigenous and traditional peoples use, manage and conserve about forty percent of Earth’s remaining naturally vegetated areas and probably most of our biodiversity. Even as they struggle to maintain their own populations and lands in the face of economic pressures and territorial incursions, indigenous and traditional peoples are faithful to philosophies, values and cultural practices that help sustain non-human organisms and natural landscapes. They tread lightly on the planet and exhibit a very small ecological footprint relative to the economically and politically dominant peoples and societies. By supporting indigenous and other traditional peoples in their struggles for their traditional lands and culture we also support biodiversity and ecosystem conservation and reduce environmental destruction.
Research designs in which local indigenous people and other nonscientists collect substantial portions of the data in research projects present a range of advantages and challenges. Our approach described in our manuals and publications, allows us to collect data of a temporal and spatial scale sufficient to test meaningful hypotheses. Researchers and managers considering the incorporation of indigenous and other nonscientists in the data-collection process should recognize that this approach implies a shifting of roles, responsibilities, and attitudes among the professional researchers away from those expected with a more conventional research design. The principal researchers will spend less time collecting data and more time building capacity among local technicians and fostering collaboration with the local leaders who help oversee data collection. The on-site presence of the project leaders at important events is essential in maintaining trust and respect in the relationship between the project coordinators and the collaborating communities. A willingness to understand and remain constantly aware of the social, economic, and political motivations of the local technicians to collect high-quality data is essential and adds an additional dimension to any research or monitoring project.
Indigenous and other traditional peoples need to be able to monitor their areas themselves in order to manage their own use of their territories. In doing so, they are in a position to share invaluable information with the decision makers charged with managing and conserving entire ecosystems and ecological function. This is why I work with participatory monitoring and develop tools that are available for local peoples to use in their own monitoring and management efforts.