Celine Tschirhart

Royal Holloway University of London
Egham, United Kingdom

In the Balance: Indigeneity, Performance, Globalisation

October 30, 2013

On Friday 25th October 2013, Dr. Céline Tschirhart represented the COBRA project at the “In the Balance: Indigeneity, Performance, Globalization” conference.


In the Balance Conference Poster

This international and interdisciplinary conference was organised by the Indigeneity research project (http://www.indigeneity.net), based at Royal Holloway University of London. With an explicit focus on performance, this conference examined expressions of indigeneity as a contemporary, politicised and vibrant cultural force in an ever increasingly globalised world. As we are using participatory visual methods as a way for indigenous people in the Guiana Shield to represent their community owned solutions, this conference was a good opportunity for us to take a step back and ask ourselves what kind of performances the North Rupununi communities were carrying out within the COBRA project.

In our paper, entitled “Performance for PES (Payments for Ecosystem Services)? The capturing and staging of sustainability within indigenous communities of the North Rupununi, Guyana”, we asked ourselves if opportunities, both in digital communications and in international financing, have galvanised and created new ‘indigenous performances’ emphasising indigenous centrality as ‘nature’s guardians’. To answer this question, we contrasted and compared short videos produced by indigenous practitioners in Guyana. COBRA videos explore community sustainability issues, while one non-COBRA video (the “UN Forests for People: International Short Film contest” video, http://projectcobra.org/rainforest-people-of-guyana/) explicitly focuses on ‘global’ forest conservation.

Our results show the adeptness of the local community to use videos as a stage from which the intended audience’s expectations are addressed and influenced. While the role of ‘stewards of the forest’ is expertly played in the UN video, a more complex and holistic vision of how communities address issues of sustainability is pursued within COBRA. The paper concludes that, in an era of increasing access to digital technologies, indigenous communities are increasingly able to produce sophisticated and differentiated messages in order to maximise their long-term survival. However, we also ask ourselves if the complex, richer and nuanced approaches to sustainability, such as those we are promoting within COBRA, are not at the same time less accessible to a wider audience and to policy-makers. Should ICTs try to convey simpler messages, but with the risk of impoverishing indigenous visions, positions or actions? In view of the battle that is now raging for who will ultimately control the financial flows emerging from Payments for Ecosystem Services, we still believe it becomes crucial to encourage performances that convey an image of indigenous people as highly capable agents, to promote indigenous self-determination.



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