Impact of Economic Development and Environmentalism on Indigenous Subsistence Patterns and Way of Life

Words: 1053
Pages: 4
Subject: Environment


Indigenous communities worldwide encounter various challenges in their efforts to preserve their traditional subsistence patterns and way of life. The influences of economic development and environmentalism have become significant factors affecting indigenous populations. This paper explores how these forces can inadvertently become vehicles for external regulation, posing threats to the subsistence patterns and cultural heritage of indigenous people. By examining the overlapping histories of applied and academic anthropology, as well as the ethical dilemmas and opportunities for advocacy in the funding, use, and dissemination of anthropological knowledge, we can gain a deeper understanding of the complex dynamics at play .

Economic Development and Indigenous Livelihoods

One prominent challenge faced by indigenous communities is displacement and land enclosure resulting from economic development projects (Kottak, 2019). As these projects expand, indigenous communities often experience the loss of their ancestral lands, which disrupts their subsistence patterns and traditional livelihoods. The displacement severs the intimate connection between indigenous communities and the land on which their way of life depends. Moreover, the enclosure of land for resource extraction limits indigenous access to natural resources, further jeopardizing their ability to maintain their traditional practices (Kottak, 2019).

The introduction of new technologies and practices associated with economic development also poses risks to indigenous communities’ cultural knowledge and practices (Kottak, 2019). As modern systems are introduced, indigenous knowledge and practices can be overshadowed or even replaced. Consequently, younger generations may become disconnected from their cultural heritage, leading to a decline in cultural identity and traditional knowledge (Kottak, 2019).

Furthermore, economic development projects often prioritize profit and productivity, disregarding the ecological sustainability and cultural values upheld by indigenous communities (Smith, 2017). Traditional subsistence patterns, such as small-scale farming, hunting, and gathering, are often undervalued in favor of large-scale industrial practices. This shift not only disrupts indigenous livelihoods but also perpetuates a cycle of dependence on external systems, undermining the self-sufficiency and autonomy of indigenous communities (Smith, 2017).

Environmentalism and Indigenous Communities

While environmentalism plays a crucial role in preserving ecosystems, it can sometimes restrict indigenous practices and threaten their subsistence patterns (Kottak, 2019). Conservation efforts may impose limitations on indigenous access to natural resources or restrict their traditional land use practices, such as hunting, fishing, or gathering. Although the goal is to protect the environment, such measures can erode the cultural significance and spiritual connections that indigenous communities have with the natural world (Kottak, 2019).

Integrating indigenous perspectives and knowledge into environmental conservation initiatives is essential for fostering inclusive and effective approaches (Adams, 2018). In recent years, there has been growing recognition of the importance of indigenous participation in environmental decision-making processes (Smith, 2019). By involving indigenous communities in the planning, implementation, and evaluation of conservation projects, their unique insights and sustainable practices can be incorporated, leading to better outcomes for both the environment and the well-being of indigenous populations (Adams, 2018).

Ethical Dilemmas and Advocacy Opportunities

Meaningful participation and consultation are essential to address the ethical dilemmas that arise when economic development and environmental initiatives impact indigenous communities (Kottak, 2019). Often marginalized and excluded from decision-making processes, indigenous voices must be included to ensure that their rights and interests are respected. Advocacy efforts should emphasize the importance of meaningful consultation and the inclusion of indigenous perspectives (Kottak, 2019).

Power imbalances between indigenous communities and external actors, such as governments, corporations, or non-governmental organizations, can contribute to exploitative relationships (Kottak, 2019). Economic interests may prioritize profits over the well-being of indigenous communities, resulting in unfair resource extraction, labor exploitation, or inadequate compensation for the use of indigenous lands. It is crucial to address these power dynamics and strive for equitable resource management and fair compensation (Kottak, 2019).

Recognition and protection of indigenous rights are fundamental to safeguarding their subsistence patterns and way of life (Kottak, 2019). However, indigenous communities often face obstacles in asserting their rights, particularly when they conflict with economic interests or conservation priorities. Enhancing legal frameworks and enforcement mechanisms is necessary to protect indigenous rights and ensure the preservation of their cultural heritage and sustainable livelihoods (Kottak, 2019).

Collaborative Approaches and Cultural Resilience

One way to address the challenges faced by indigenous communities is to foster collaborative approaches that recognize and respect indigenous knowledge, values, and practices (Adams, 2018). Encouraging partnerships between indigenous communities, researchers, policymakers, and practitioners can facilitate a more inclusive and culturally sensitive approach to economic development and environmental conservation. By incorporating indigenous perspectives and traditional ecological knowledge into decision-making processes, initiatives can be tailored to support sustainable development that aligns with the unique needs and aspirations of indigenous communities (Adams, 2018).

Promoting cultural resilience is another crucial aspect of preserving indigenous subsistence patterns and way of life (Smith, 2019). Recognizing the importance of cultural identity and strengthening cultural revitalization efforts can contribute to the resilience of indigenous communities. By valuing and promoting indigenous languages, traditional practices, and cultural expressions, we can empower indigenous communities to maintain their cultural heritage and adapt to changing socio-environmental conditions (Smith, 2019).

Collaborative initiatives between indigenous communities, researchers, and policymakers have also shown promising results in achieving more equitable and sustainable outcomes. For instance, participatory mapping exercises have been used as a tool to incorporate indigenous knowledge and spatial perspectives into land use planning (Strack, Bonnell, & Mason, 2019). Such collaborative efforts recognize the value of indigenous knowledge systems and empower communities to actively participate in decision-making processes that affect their lands and resources.


In conclusion, economic development and environmentalism can unintentionally pose threats to the subsistence patterns and way of life of indigenous people. However, by prioritizing meaningful participation, advocating for indigenous rights, fostering collaborative approaches, and promoting cultural resilience, it is possible to create a more equitable and inclusive future. Anthropologists, policymakers, researchers, and communities must work together to ensure that economic development and environmental initiatives respect and support the cultural heritage, subsistence patterns, and well-being of indigenous communities. By doing so, we can contribute to a sustainable world that embraces diversity and preserves indigenous knowledge and practices for future generations.


Adams, M. (2018). Indigenous Peoples and Environmental Governance: A Comparative Analysis. In Routledge Handbook of Indigenous Governance (pp. 169-184). Routledge.

Kottak, C. P. (2019).Anthropology: Appreciating human diversity. McGraw-Hill Education.

Smith, L. T. (2017). Decolonizing methodologies: Research and indigenous peoples (2nd ed.). Zed Books

Strack, M., Bonnell, J. E., & Mason, T. (2019). Engaging Indigenous knowledge systems and participatory mapping for land-use planning in Canada’s Northwest Territories. Land Use Policy, 87, 104044.