National Parks and ICCAs in the High Himalayan Region of Nepal: Challenges and Opportunities
In Nepal, as in many states worldwide, national parks and other protected areas have often been established in the customary territories of indigenous peoples by superimposing state-declared and governed protected areas on pre-existing systems of land use and management which are now internationally considered to be Indigenous Peoples' and Community Conserved Territories and Areas (ICCAs, also referred to Community Conserved Areas, CCAs). State intervention often ignores or suppresses ICCAs, inadvertently or deliberately undermining and destroying them along with other aspects of indigenous peoples' cultures, livelihoods, self-governance, and self-determination. Nepal's high Himalayan national parks, however, provide examples of how some indigenous peoples such as the Sharwa (Sherpa) of Sagarmatha (Mount Everest/Chomolungma) National Park (SNP) have continued to maintain customary ICCAs and even to develop new ones despite lack of state recognition, respect, and coordination. The survival of these ICCAs offers Nepal an opportunity to reform existing laws, policies, and practices, both to honour UN-recognised human and indigenous rights that support ICCAs and to meet International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) and Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD) standards and guidelines for ICCA recognition and for the governance and management of protected areas established in indigenous peoples' territories. The challenge will be for Nepal to reverse long-established inter-ethnic and governmental relationships which have dispossessed and marginalised indigenous peoples and insufficiently respected their knowledge, institutions, conservation contributions, and human rights in national parks. This article explores the political ecology of ICCAs in Nepal's Himalayan national parks, with particular focus on SNP.