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Tongariro National Park New Zealand The first World Heritage site to be listed for both natural and cultural values, Courtesy of the New Zealand government

The nature of our DNA: A discussion on the Nature Culture Journey of ICOMOS and IUCN

Session 3 with Diane Menzies

It is no coincidence that the first Statement of Commitment from the participants of the IUCN conservation congress in 2016 came from Hawai’i. The Statement calls for working together on integrating nature and culture, to address the urgent global challenges we face. Hawaiian acknowledgement of cultural concepts of people of the land, generosity, and care and responsibility of land and seas is resonant through the Statement. 
Indigenous peoples understand themselves as part of land and nature, it is in our DNA. For Indigenous this is a journey we/they have always taken. European cultural constructs have perceived the world (nature, land, soils, animals) as separate, and thus culture as part of the people who oversee nature. This is a particular problem for my profession, Landscape Architecture, as European cultural constructs were absorbed into the profession, without recognising and interrogating their cultural source. Last year one of the stages of the nature/culture journey was held at an International Federation of Landscape Architects conference in Singapore where a Knowledge Cafe provided by the ICOMOS Cultural Landscape Scientific Committee discussed Indigenous concepts (among other topics) with participants.

To add to this discussion, this talk will discuss a number of concepts arising from a Maori-led book that a small charity in New Zealand is producing. The Landscape Foundation are producing a Māori-led publication on whenua/landscape (the Maori term for land/landscape). Landscape has been taken in her broadest sense and so planning issues, identity, culture, creation stories and change management are all addressed. One short article is from a young Māori educator at the Auckland Zoo, who engages with students on complex environmental problems while driven by a desire to conserve and build a future for wildlife and bring people together to do that. She explains: ‘we are woven into the fabric of nature and to know our place is to live harmoniously with our seniors who are mountains, oceans, rivers, forest, and the earth.’ Another story is about braiding the rivers of geomorphology and Māori knowledge. I suggest we also adopt the braiding or weaving concept on our nature culture journey. While there is much which Indigenous knowledge can share in this journey, we need to take all cultures along in this journey with generosity of spirit so that more perceptive and innovative ways are found to address issues of population growth, pollution and climate change.

Our fourth ‘talk and discuss’ meeting of the ISCCL Working Group on naturecultures was given by Diane Menzies. She delivered a clear and concise talk that took us through the Maori understanding of landscape, and ended in three simple arguments. Nupur describes it as ‘simple, straightforward and thought provoking’, and reminds us how important it is ‘to get back to the basics and seek simple solutions’. 

The one-week email chain of short emails concerning the discussion between those who attended the meeting, is summarized here. A recording of this talk will also be circulated with this summary to those who were not able to attend this talk.


Diane Menzies (DM)

Rouran Zang (RZ)

Marike Franklin (MF)

Nupur Prothi (NP)

Steve Brown (SB)

Greg de Vries (GdV)

Brenda Barrett (BB)


Maya Ishizawa (MI)

Ana Bajcura (AB)

Darwina Neal (DN)


Diane made three arguments towards the end of her talk: 1) Different cultures have different values about nature. a) That the Indigenous contribution to our NatureCulture journey should be recognised. It is in our DNA. b) We respect and care for nature, or ignore her at our peril.2) We should consider this difference in value with generosity and inclusiveness. weave our stories together with respect.3) An interwoven understanding of nature and culture could provide opportunities for finding new and old ways to ethically tackle climate change and other global environmental impacts.DM, MF
NP raised the question back to Diane, by understanding this, how do we make a difference? NP
SB highlighted the metaphor of the braided river being effective for western and Indigenous worldviews to be interwoven so that they learn from each other. When we combine this -and highlighted by DM- with Vision and Integrity being the key factors, and the fact that it is a Process, perhaps we can derive a principle from that?SB, DM, MF
Principle (tried to give it a go!): Western and Indigenous worldviews need not be assimilated, but rather interwoven to learn from each other. When this process is adopted with integrity, and common vision we strive to be better together than apart.MF
MF referenced to the work of Prof. Nabeel Hamdi for practical examples of the trickle-up instead of traditional top-down approach, as well as encouraging change with every step of the project, even the participatory/analysis phase of a project. For reference some titles are included here:  1) Housing Without Houses: Participation, Flexibility, Enablement (London: Intermediate Technology, 1995).
2) Small Change: About the Art of Practice and the limits of Planning in Cities (London: Earthscan, 2004).
3) Hamdi, and Goethert, Action Planning for Cities: A Guide to Community Practice (Chichester: John Wiley, 1997).4) Hamdi, and Handal, eds., Urban Futures: Economic Growth and Poverty Reduction, Urban management series (London: ITDG Pub, 2005).5) The placemakers guide to building community. (Earthscan from Routledge, 2010) NP volunteered on a workshop with Prof Hamdi and SEEDS in an urban squatter in Delhi some 20 years back. NP: ‘Though it was a long time ago, this is one experience of co creation and solution finding that has stayed with me’.
NP writes from her own perspective: ‘There is a changing ethic in the world today where children are being brought up with a great clarity regarding their rights and entitlements but with little sense of their contribution or duties. I have been observing that “rights before duties” is one of the predominant reasons for an imbalanced and polarised world. On a recent visit to the Atlas Mountains in Morocco a story was narrated to us wherein a poor farmer hosting a wealthy industrial magnate and donor asks him an innocent question. He wonders how come he and his wife and children have to work hard each and every day where the tycoon and his child have the opportunity (or luxury) to travel the world and come visit them in the Atlas Mountains.’  Most traditional cultures teach that those who are privileged have a greater responsibility to supporting those who have little or nothing. Coming from a nation of 1300 million people with probably less than a million financially well off how can we progress as a nation unless our children do not focus on the wellbeing of at least 13 others. In the talk NP raised the question whether any of us work with children?NP, MF
NP mentioned seeing Patricia O’Donnell use this idea of celebrating that which is already happening by putting the logos of some of the SDG goals that’s been met on your projects (even smaller residential projects can support some of the SDG goals). NP, PD
DN worked for the National Park Service (NPS) for 44 years before she retired 10 years ago. DN started as an LA in the Design offices, working on mostly DC urban parks, and retired as Chief, Cultural Resources for the National Capital Region. She was always frustrated by the fact that the NPS had separate budgets for natural and cultural resources, as well as separate Cultural Resource and Natural Resource Management Plans and staff and described parks and sites as either natural or cultural. My contention was that we should have Integrated Resource Management, especially since, as a landscape architect, she was taught to consider all resources in a park in relation to each other.   In reality, all parks contain both natural and cultural resources and even natural wildernesses can contain trails and related support facilities. It is the balance of these resources that determined whether a park was designated as “natural” or “cultural”.DN
AB highlights the study of Ethnology and Anthropology in this discussion. The ethnologist:Societies precisely located in space and time are the object of the ethnologist. In the ideal field of the ethnologist, all men are “means” (we could say  representatives”); so their placement in space and time is easy to attain: it is the same for  everybody, and the different class divisions, migrations, urbanizations and industrialization are not there to divide dimensions or to bring confusion to our readings. Behind the ideas of society as a whole or of a localized society, there exists the idea of a transparency between culture, society and individual. The anthropological location:  It is at the same time the origin of sense for the inhabitants and the origin of intelligibility for those watching the process. The anthropological location is a varying scale. It is not surprising that the terms of the speech are voluntarily spatial, as the spatial device is at the same time expressing the group’s identity (the group’s origins are quite often diverse, but the location’s identity joins and keeps them together) and this is what the group must defend from internal and external threats for the language of identity to keep its sense. “Anthropology is the meaning humans and community give to their existence.”AB
AB expanded on Anthropology, and Ethnology, and their meanings in a document that will be included in the circulation of this summary. She also expanded on some of the action items from the previous meeting in this document. AB, MF



1. Divide of Nature and culture 

a) A summary of the history of the divide between Nature and Culture (to include as a 10 min feedback in the next talk)?

MF: In one of the readings provided by DMAdams, W. and Mulligan, M. (ed) 2003, Decolonizing Nature: Strategies for Conservation in a Postcolonial Era, Earthscan, London. The text below highlights some of the struggle of difference in world views, and the history thereof, but not yet the core of it (to be answered under b)

In terms of direct political control by European powers, colonial rule was finally brought to an end in much of the world in the third quarter of the 20th century, especially as the result of a string of anti-colonial struggles that emerged in former European colonies in the wake of World War II. In South Asia and sub- Saharan Africa, new post-colonial political structures emerged. The end of direct political control might have been expected to open the way for more independent thinking about the relations between society and nature, perhaps based on non-Western traditions and cultural fusions. This did not happen. From the late 19th century onwards, the decolonization process had involved the creation of ‘modern’ nation states that were built, essentially, on European

models and traditions, and the deep ideological legacy of colonialism endured. Smith (1999) comments that indigenous people have been subjected to ‘the colonization of their lands and cultures, and the denial of their sovereignty, by a Introduction 5 colonizing society that has come to dominate the shape and quality of their

lives, even after it has formally pulled out’ (p7). Modern European colonialism was not monolithic, and the diverse

experiences of decolonization were complicated. In parts of the world where European settlement and land occupation was either complete or very extensive (for example, Australia, New Zealand, South Africa, the US, Canada and South America), direct imperial control by European political powers ended as the settler societies progressively assumed administrative control (in a relatively painless form of decolonization). But such settler societies had established their own, internal, forms of colonialism in order to dominate indigenous minorities

(for example, in Australia; see Chapter 4), or profoundly suppressed majorities (as in the case of South Africa or Rhodesia [Zimbabwe] before majority rule). In many settler societies, indigenous peoples were herded into isolated fragments of their former terrain, on ‘reservations’, ‘missions’ or ‘tribal lands’, administered with a complex mix of brute exploitation, paternalistic exhortation and racist disdain. In such context’s decolonization has often been piecemeal and is still far from complete. As decolonization reached its peak in terms of the political independence of nation states, new forms of trans-national and global colonization – in the form of cultural and economic engagement – began to gather force, accelerating rapidly during the last part of the 20th century. The process of political decolonization was therefore overtaken by globalization and neo-colonialism,

making the transition to post-colonial societies complex and messy….

b) A list of references in environmental philosophy to reveal the deep root of Western separation (Fran, Steve?)

2. A list of principles starting from the IUCN 2016 Mālama Honua, and ICOMOS. 2017 Yatra aur Tammanah document. 

Mālama Honua: https://www.iucn.org/sites/dev/files/malama-honua-en.pdf

Yatra aur Tammanah: <https://www.icomos.org/images/DOCUMENTS/General_Assemblies/19th_Delhi_2017/19th_GA_Outcomes/ICOMOS_GA2017_CNJ_YatraStatement_final_EN_20180207circ.pdf>

3. List of partners of different perspectives that need to be part of this principle document (IUCN, IFLA etc.)

4. Collect a list of examples of some of the best practice of merging C/N from around the globe. The list should include a summary of those efforts. The focus should be on best practice, although we could learn from both good and bad efforts.

  •  West Lake, China
  • Organise a talk that covers the concept of ‘Wilderness’ – a concept many countries applied, but suffered by as a conservation model. (Fran, Jane, Nora, Brenda?). Who should we engage with for the Wilderness Congress in India in 2020?


Training for ICOMOS experts, and access to local attitudes in WH review proses (suggestion/check?) 

  • Check for available Anthropological training methods that is available (LJ)?
  • Suggest experts to have access to local attitudes?

Describe and add three principles from this talk to principles document (MF)

Description of each of these terms (AB)

  1. The recognition of the condition of Universal
  2. The regional value, special for every society.
  3. The “chronological time”,
  4. The “regional evolution time”
  5. The “maturation process of each individual from a region”  

2019/11. Do all of the above! 

Diane Menzies. 30 October 2019. 10PM GMT

The next meeting:

Maya Ishizawa

27 November 2019