Cultural Heritage and
Sacred Sites: World Heritage from an Indigenous Perspective 15 May 2002 -
New York University
Presentation by Dr. Sarah Titchen (transcript by Marie-Danielle Samuel
from audiotape) Dr Sarah M. Titchen is the Chief of the Policy and
Statutory Implementation Unit of the World Heritage Centre at UNESCO
Headquarters in Paris, France. In recent years Dr Titchen's work at the
UNESCO World Heritage Centre has included a focus on the implementation of
the World Heritage Convention in the Pacific and assisting with the
development of the proposal for the creation of a World Heritage
Indigenous Peoples Council of Experts (WHIPCOE).
peoples and cultural and natural World Heritage sites: As Mr. Kyazze mentioned, 2002 is
really an historic year for the UN and its agencies in the fields of both
Cultural Heritage and Indigenous issues. 2002 has been designated the UN
Year for Cultural Heritage. It is also the 30th anniversary of the World
Heritage Convention which is the subject of my particular work and as you
know the first Permanent Forum on Indigenous Issues is taking place down
the road at UN Headquarters.
UNESCO plays a particularly significant role in the protection of cultural
heritage and UNESCO has a number of conventions and recommendations on the
protection of this heritage. UNESCO also has a rather significant program
on Man and the Biosphere which promotes the sustainable use of a network
of biospheres around the world in cooperation with local communities.
Most recently in 2001, there was also the adoption a new convention for
the protection of Underwater Cultural Heritage, the new Universal
Declaration on Cultural Diversity and work is now beginning to determine
what is the best international system of legal protection for the
Intangible Cultural Heritage, including traditional dances and songs.
These new initiatives include issues of heritage protection that are very
likely to be of particular interest to Indigenous peoples. I cannot speak
about of all these initiatives as my particular specialty is on the
implementation of the World Heritage Convention which was adopted 30 years
The World Heritage Convention is a stage setting instrument. It recommends
international cooperation in the field of heritage conservation and has
167 states parties that have signed up to this convention. It calls on
signatory states to identify, protect, conserve, present and transmit to
future generations, in the words of that convention itself, the
outstanding cultural and natural heritage situated on the territory of
those states. This is a significant point that it is a very unique
instrument as it protects both cultural and natural heritages and perhaps
this is also why it has such tremendous relevance to Indigenous
communities around the world.
The convention does not actually include specific references to Indigenous
peoples or to the importance of heritage sites to Indigenous peoples.
However, the convention does include reference to links between people and
the environment and it refers specifically to the combined works of nature
and of man in the language of 1972 as part of the combined heritage of
humankind deserving of protection. That's what the Convention says.
In 1992, 20 years after the convention had been working, referring to this
particular wording in the convention on the combined works of nature and
man, the World Heritage Committee decided to include outstanding cultural
landscapes on the World Heritage list, places demonstrating an outstanding
interaction between people and the natural environment. This recognition
of the interconnectedness between people and the environment and of
spiritual association people may have with land and water has provided
some quite unique new opportunities for international recognition of
sacred sites and other places of importance to Indigenous peoples as World
Heritage sites. In 1993, Tongariro National Park in New Zealand was
recognized as the first ever World Heritage cultural landscape. As some of
you might know, the outstanding cultural and spiritual connections between
the Maori people and this sacred volcanic landscape are outstanding and
this was recognized in the creation of this first ever World Heritage
cultural landscape at the international level. The World Heritage list
includes as of now 721 natural and cultural sites in 124 countries. We put
some 2001 maps outside showing the sites that were inscribed on the list
up to the end of 2000. You will be able to see the distribution of those
sites around the world.
Many of these properties as we call them have importance to Indigenous
Peoples and there are examples of World Heritage sites whose inscription
on the World Heritage list was wholly or partly justified on the basis of
the values of those places to Indigenous peoples. These sites include the
Rice terraces of the Philippines cordillera, Uluru-Kata Tjata in
Australia, Machu Picchu in Peru and many sites in Africa as well.
In nominating these sites to the World Heritage list, the states parties
are requested to insure the participation of local peoples in the
nomination process and this is considered to be really essential to give
them a shared responsibility with the state party in the future
maintenance of the site.
Furthermore, we know examples in practice. Best practice management of
World Heritage areas where there is cooperation with Indigenous peoples.
These include the involvement of local communities in the nomination at
the beginning, the management and monitoring of the World Heritage
property over time and there are examples of joint management and
management in partnership that rely on traditional knowledge and practice
around the world.
There is tremendous potential for World heritage conservation to really
contribute to the cultural survival of Indigenous peoples. It can also
contribute to the meaningful protection of lands and waters of importance
to Indigenous peoples with their participation in traditional knowledge as
the basis for an environmentally sustainable future.
As we know, there are also examples of ways Indigenous Peoples are not
consulted when the site is nominated for World Heritage listing or for the
preparation of management plans for the site.
UNESCO is also aware of cases where Indigenous Peoples have not been
consulted when public works are proposed on their traditional lands, even
when that area is designated as a World Heritage area.
We also know that there are situations when Indigenous peoples have been
actually physically removed from protected areas as a way of justifying
inscription of an area on the World Heritage list as a place of natural
importance devoid of what is perceived as the negative impact of local
There are also examples of Indigenous peoples being restricted from
practicing traditional hunting, gathering, land use and trading practices
as they are said to disturb the ecological balance particularly of natural
world heritage areas.
In recent years, a number of initiatives have begun to try and ensure that
Indigenous voices are heard at an international level in effort to promote
the world's natural and cultural heritage
Here, I want to remind you that the World Heritage Convention is an
instrument of international cooperation between states parties (national
governments usually) and that the World Heritage Committee is an
intergovernmental committee. It is for national governments to develop
national policies for World Heritage conservation and to decide to include
Indigenous peoples for example in their delegations at official meetings
of the World Heritage Committee.
Recent initiatives were developed by Indigenous peoples with particular
association to World Heritage sites in Australia, Canada, New Zealand and
the United States of America. And I would like to pose at the moment
because those people cannot be here today and I wanted to pay my respects
to them for their hard work and their commitments and for their powerful
words in trying to get an indigenous voice heard in matters to do with
So in the year 2000, December 2000, the first ever World Heritage
Indigenous Peoples Forum was held. It was held as part of the 24th session
of the World Heritage Committee in Cairns, Australia. The Forum conveyed
its concerns about the lack of involvement of Indigenous peoples in the
protection of their knowledge, traditions and cultural values which apply
to their ancestral lands within all comprising sites now designated as
World Heritage areas.
Furthermore the Forum made a particular request. It requested the
establishment of a World Heritage Indigenous Peoples Council of Experts -
WHIPCOE as it was mentioned before. This was to be established to provide
expert Indigenous advice on World Heritage.
The Indigenous Forum in Cairns considered that the application of
traditional knowledge, innovations and practices of Indigenous peoples and
traditional local communities is vital to the conservation and sustainable
use of the biological diversity at many World Heritage areas.
The forum made some very specific recommendations: For those of us in the
UNESCO World Heritage Centre to work in collaboration with our colleagues
from the Secretariat of the Convention on Biological Diversity. We were
asked to charter, develop guidelines or some recommendation on the conduct
of cultural, environmental and social impact assessment regarding
development on sacred sites, lands or waters occupied or used by
Indigenous and traditional local communities with specific reference also
to World heritage sites.
The Forum in Cairns also recommended to the state parties to the
Convention that they work in partnership with Indigenous and traditional
local community organizations.
So what the Forum was saying: there are issues that need to be discussed;
we want a Council of Experts to participate in most discussions; we want
the World Heritage Convention secretariat to work with another Convention
secretariat to try and develop guidelines, best practices and so on…
And that Forum also called on state parties to take a cooperative and
partnership approach to working with Indigenous communities with respect
to World Heritage conservation. Very far reaching recommendations from
The idea to establish this World Heritage Indigenous Peoples Council of
Experts was further discussed at a meeting in Winnipeg, Canada in November
and Luis was there…along with others and representatives and indigenous
experts from Australia, Belize, Canada, New Zealand , the USA. And we also
had with us representatives of the Technical Advisory Group to the World
Heritage Committee, cultural heritage experts, natural heritage experts,
conservation experts, a representative from the Office of the UN High
Commissioner for Human rights, and Luis was there representing Yachay Wasi
and I was there from the World Heritage Centre.
The group that met in Winnipeg recommended that WHIPCOE should be
established, that it should work in cooperation with states parties and
all those involved to insure that these Indigenous voices are heard in
efforts to protect and promote the world's natural and cultural heritage.
It was also intended to bring Indigenous competencies and expertise to
complement other expert groups in order to support the objectives of the
World Heritage Convention, to support and enhance best practices for World
Heritage conservation and to build and service a network for Indigenous
peoples to achieve the above purposes. Unfortunately, the World Heritage
Committee, when it met in December last year in Helsinki, did not support
the establishment of WHIPCOE. It did not support its establishment; it did
not support funding for further meetings to discuss the idea.
However, the Committee did recognize that these were issues of importance
that needed to be discussed. So it suggested that like minded states
parties, Indigenous communities work together, network together. The
Committee suggested that professional research in the field be encouraged
and that there be an exchange of views on the subject.
In this context, the World Heritage Centre of UNESCO, where I work, is now
discussing very actively with our colleagues from the Secretariat of the
Convention for Biological Diversity how we can move ahead on the
development of guidelines, best practice examples for the management and
conservation of World Heritage properties, particularly when they include
or are in their entirety sacred sites or are on lands or waters occupied
or used by Indigenous and traditional local communities, as it has been
recommended by the World Heritage Committee.
Of course, we expect that many more places of importance to Indigenous
peoples are going to continue to be nominated for inclusion in the World
Heritage list by signatory states parties.
This is particularly going to be the case because most of our efforts now
in the implementation of the Convention are focused on strengthening work
in the Pacific, which is the region in which I work, the Caribbean and
also in Africa.
Our job in the World Heritage Centre is to stand ready to assist any
states parties and particularly those from those regions, should they
request any assistance, whether that assistance is technical and/or
financial assistance and we do have a World Heritage Fund to support World
If any of those states parties should request assistance in particular to
ensure meaningful consultation and involvement of Indigenous peoples in
all aspects of World Heritage conservation, we have the capacity to
provide that assistance. That's all I wanted to say now. I tried to bring
you up to date with the latest developments in this very particular area
of UNESCO's work and how it relates to Indigenous peoples.