IUCN launches Russian and Spanish versions of Sacred Sites Guidelines

09 November 2009 | News story

IUCN launches today Russian and Spanish versions of its Sacred Natural Sites: Guidelines for Protected Area Managers – a landmark publication to support the protection of sacred places around the world.

The new versions are presented at the Ninth World Wilderness Congress in Merida, Mexico. Natural areas that are held sacred by people are found all across the Earth, and many of them contain high natural values.

They have been preserved by traditional communities as precious places of land and water that have particular significance to their cultures. The book helps conservation professionals and the custodians of sacred sites interested in the role of cultural and spiritual values in nature conservation to ensure the long-term survival of such valuable sites.

In Latin America, sacred natural sites are also an important practice of many indigenous societies all across the continent. Countries where the existence of many sacred natural sites has been documented, and where IUCN and its member organizations, such as Pronatura and The Nature Conservancy, have been actively involved in their protection, are Mexico and Guatemala.

“We decided to present the Spanish version of the Guidelines at WILD9 precisely because this important international conservation gathering takes place in the traditional lands of the Maya people of Yucatan, shared by Mexico and Guatemala,” said Gonzalo Oviedo, IUCN Senior Adviser on Social Policy and close collaborator in this work. “This is one of the areas of Latin America with the greatest richness in biological diversity and indigenous spiritual traditions – and one where both are at risk because of many threats. Through this publication, IUCN wants to add its contribution to the efforts for their conservation.”

The publications have been produced by IUCN’s Specialist Group on Cultural and Spiritual Values of Protected Areas (CSVPA), a group of experts of its World Commission on Protected Areas. The first edition in English was prepared in collaboration with UNESCO and launched at IUCN’s World Conservation Congress in 2008.

It is not known how many sacred natural sites exist – perhaps hundreds of thousands in the world. Some of them have been documented, but most of them remain only known to their owner communities and spiritual leaders. What is known, however, is that they are rapidly disappearing as a result of development pressures, cultural change and lack of awareness.

Russia and Central Asian countries have rich cultural traditions, and the establishment and protection of sacred natural sites has been a widespread practice of their indigenous and traditional peoples. Institutions such as The Christensen Fund and the Russian Association of Indigenous Peoples of the North (RAIPON) have been long engaged in the revitalization of sacred sites and other forms of conservation of the land and resources, and have worked with IUCN and the CBD to develop appropriate measures to that end.

“Custodians of sacred sites from Kyrgystan, Russia, Mongolia and other countries from Central Asia joined us at the IUCN Congress in Barcelona in 2008 and we were amazed to learn about the depths of their traditions,” says Robert Wild, Chair of CSVPA. “As they also highlighted their need for support to conserve their sacred sites, and requested the translation of the Guidelines publication launched in Barcelona would be a good step in that direction. I am very glad that the collaborative work with the Central Asian team of The Christensen Fund has led to this very useful product.”

The publication in Russian was also presented last Friday at the Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD) meeting on the protection of traditional knowledge, which ended last week in Montreal, Canada.

“The CBD has recognized the importance of the protection of sacred natural sites in various documents and decisions, and produced its own guidelines for it," said Petr Azhunov, Baikal Buryat Center for Indigenous Cultures. “But mostly these decisions remain on paper. I am attending the traditional knowledge meeting to explore ways in which we can make better use of the CBD to strengthen action on the ground, and I am highlighting the opportunities that the new Russian translation of the IUCN Guidelines offer for working with communities in Central Asia and congratulate all who have made it possible."

The Spanish version of the Guidelines was produced in collaboration with The Christensen Fund and the Mexican organization PRONATURA, both with active programmes for sacred sites protection in Mexico.

“I am proud to have been part of enabling this important work to be translated and presented at WILD9, not only as a contribution to the cause of protecting the biological and cultural values of the many sacred sites on this enchanted land,” said CSVPA co-Chair Bas Verschuuren. “But also as a tribute to the Maya and many other indigenous peoples. “Most of all this work has been a testimony of the engagement of all the collaborating institutions and their willingness to work closely with indigenous communities and other sacred sites custodians for implementing the Guidelines."

At the opening of Wild9 Indigenous Tlingit (Alaskan) delegate Byron Mallott handed over a ceremonial statue of a frog to the Yukatec Mayan priests that had just cleansed the conference, being convened on their ancestral lands. Further calls for preserving sacred earth where made by the Bishop of Yukatan and most of the other key-note speakers, thus setting course for full inclusion of sacred sites and spiritual values in the conservation of nature.
 

The publications launched today are accessible for download from www.iucn.org and www.csvpa.org

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This image shows the courtship behavior of Indian Bull frogs (Holobatrachus tigerinus). During the monsoon, the breeding males become bright yellow in color, while females remain dull. The prominent blue vocal sacs of male produce strong nasal mating call.