(Un)Seeing like a Conservationist: Translating Nature-Culture through an Indigenous Framework
This paper critically examines what happens when particular enactments of nature-culture dichotomy by the Nepali state actors through its conservation projects intermingle and clash with Dolpopa ways of knowing and being with the environment. Drawing on insights from ethnographic field research and extended personal experiences growing up and working in Dolpo, Northwest Nepal, I first present a particular ‘modern’ practice that I call ‘seeing like a conservationist’, that is, the ways in which national park staff and conservationists represent Dolpo landscape and people and translate them into concrete interventions. ‘Nature’, in these practices, emerges as a selection of things out there that are anything but humans. I then draw on socially embedded Buddhist/Bonpo analytics to advance a situated critique of mainstream conservation and present multiple ways of knowing and being with nature. ‘Nature’ within emergent Dolpopa frameworks, is less about things and more a metaphor for the interconnected relations in which humans, more-than-human beings, and the inanimate earth are enmeshed into and through which they become who or what they are. Ultimately, this paper puts the ‘ontological turn’ in productive conversation with critical Indigenous studies while pushing back against the tendency of the former to erase Indigenous thoughts and thinkers.