UC Berkeley press release


UC Berkeley hosts international conference to forge joint strategy to preserve the world's languages, cultures and species

by Robert Sanders

Berkeley -- In a rare show of common cause, linguists scrambling to preserve dying languages, anthropologists concerned about disappearing peoples and biologists alarmed at declining species will come together Oct. 25-27 to forge a common strategy for preserving the world's threatened diversity.

The conference, "Endangered Languages, Endangered Knowledge, Endangered Environments," is hosted by the University of California at Berkeley's Department of Integrative Biology, and will draw not only international scholars from the humanities and a broad range of social, behavioral and biological sciences, but also indigenous rights advocates.

"These experts will be talking to one another about possible interconnections between language, culture and biology, looking for common denominators, and then formulating joint plans for research, training and action," said conference organizer Luisa Maffi, a UC Berkeley anthropologist with the Institute of Cognitive Studies. "My real hope is to see interdisciplinary teams go out into the field to work for the preservation of the world's endangered diversity."

In addition to three days of closed meetings, Maffi has scheduled a free public forum involving scientists and indigenous rights advocates for Saturday, Oct. 26, from 7:30 p.m. to 9 p.m. in room 2050, Valley Life Sciences Building on the Berkeley campus.

The symposium includes talks by a biologist, an ecologist and a linguist, followed by a panel discussion with five native scholars and advocates from Africa, the Americas and the Pacific.

"For the sake of humanity it is crucial that native peoples be involved in preservation efforts, and that indigenous peoples' ways of managing the environment be known and maintained," Maffi said.

"Biologists have been thinking about the loss of biodiversity for several decades," noted botanist Brent Mishler, associate professor of integrative biology at UC Berkeley and director of the University and Jepson Herbaria. "Perhaps the anthropologists and linguists can learn from the strategies of the biologists, since there are lots of parallels between the loss of biological diversity and the loss of cultural and linguistic diversity."

Maffi added that "conservation biologists will in turn benefit from incorporating a biocultural perspective in their work, that is, a notion of the fundamental interdependence of humans and their environments."

The three-day conference itself will involve intense discussions about the common threats to survival of cultures, languages and species around the world, and about unified strategies that could help save them. Among the scientists and activists attending will be:

o Alejandro Argumedo, a Peruvian K'echua and director of Cultural Survival Canada, which focuses on the connection between cultural and biological diversity and the resource rights of indigenous peoples.

o Herman Batibo, professor of African linguistics at the University of Dar es Salaam, Tanzania, and an expert on language shift in Tanzania and Botswana.

o Jane Hill, Regent's Professor of Anthropology and Linguistics at the University of Arizona and president-elect of the American Anthropological Association, who has worked for many years on language shift and language death among Native Americans.

o Leanne Hinton, professor of linguistics at UC Berkeley and a leader in the revitalization of Native American languages.

o Ian Saem Majnep, a native of Papua New Guinea and a Kalam speaker who has collaborated with various New Zealand and Australian anthropologists, linguists and botanists on Kalam knowledge and use of plants and animals.

o L. Frank Manriquez, a Tongva/Ajachmem tribal activist known for her traditional artwork and her involvement in preservation of Native Californian cultures and languages.

o Felipe Molina, a Yeme (Yaqui) from Arizona who has long been involved in efforts to document and promote traditionoal Yoeme language and culture, oral traditions, music, dance and song. He currently is involved with Native Seeds/SEARCH, a nonprofit group devoted to preserving native plant resources.

o Gary Paul Nabhan, an agricultural ecologist and Director of Science at the Arizona-Sonora Desert Museum, cofounder of Native Seeds/SEARCH and a MacArthur Fellow who works on the ecological knowledge of the native peoples of the binational Southwest.

o James Nations, vice president for Mexico and Central America of Conservation International, who for the past 15 years has worked for conservation of tropical ecosystems in South and Central America.

o Darrell Posey, an ethnobiologist at the University of Oxford and first recipient of the "Chico Mendes Award for Outstanding Bravery in Defense of the Environment." He founded and coordinates the Programme for Traditional Resource Rights of the Global Coalition for Bio-Cultural Diversity.

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