Indigenous Peoples and Local Communities are stewards of natural resources and nature. We have been conserving our territories for thousands of years. Each indigenous community has its own territory. For indigenous nomadic pastoralists our territory consists of summering grounds, wintering grounds, migration routes, stopovers and mid-way stations with different ecological, social, economic and cultural assets. These assets include forests, rangelands, wetlands, lakes, rivers, coasts, seas, and many other types of ecosystems and wildlife.
A key approach available to Indigenous communities to protect their territories and strengthen their territorial rights is called Indigenous Peoples’ and Community Conserved Territories and Areas (ICCA). ICCAs were defined by the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN), an international organization composed of civil society groups and governments with observer and consultative status at the United Nations.
An ICCA recognizes the territorial rights of Indigenous communities and their role in biodiversity conservation. ICCAs do not have to be recognized by local or national governments, but getting such recognition can help communities and governments to strengthen Indigenous Peoples’ control over their territories and enable them to prohibit harmful activities such as industrial logging, monoculture tree plantations, mining, or construction in such areas.
These days, GIS digital maps are proving a really useful tool for Indigenous Peoples to delineate their own customary territories, which are often different from official maps. Many local communities are learning how to use the technology and working with experts in participatory mapping activities. Participatory GIS has turned into a sort of “counter mapping” enabling local communities to make their own maps and models, and using these for their own research, analysis, assertion of rights and resolution of conflicts over land. Such mapping exercises also motivate community members to keep on defending and conserving nature and their territories as they have done for thousands of years, in spite of the difficulties they encounter.
The Centre for Sustainable Development (CENESTA), a Civil Society Organization working in Iran and a founding member of IUCN, has been advocating for ICCAs for decades. This photo-essay captures CENESTA's experience supporting Iranian Indigenous communities in mapping out their territories.