Rethink the wilderness

For far too many people the ‘wilderness’ is seen as a fragile, delicate pocket of land, free from the plague of people, noise and pollution. An island of tranquillity amongst the sea of urban-industrial modernity, (Cronon, 1995) and an area we can turn to for refuge from our modern over commoditisation, materialism and industrialisation. This romanticism of wilderness has, of course, called for people, with the best intentions, to savour these segments, as a foundation to saving the planet.
But think critically. Viewing wilderness in this way, it is not shallow and artificial, should we not consider the deeper, truer histories of the land? In the 18th century the words tied with the concept of wilderness were those of ‘untamed’, ‘unkept’, ‘dangerous’, ‘savage’ and ‘inhospitable’. It was not until the nineteenth century that the wilderness became a positive concept, and pivoted in its framework by becoming desirable. By this time tourism had flourished into one of the most prosperous global economies, with no sign of stopping or slowing, and thus the hanker to ‘discover’ more remote, extreme areas was paramount. The use of language by many companies, societies and the like, has allowed for indigenous groups to be marginalised from their own land. As the first world hunts for the untouched, indigenous people are campaigning and highlighting, that in actually fact, this seek for wilderness leads to a dead end, because this is their land, their ‘dangerous’ ‘savage’ wilderness, that under strict management is being maintained, inhabited and sustained.
As a geographer I urge you to consider; is this land truly uninhabited or are we, the first world, making the most important people in this debate, obscured from view, or even, totally invisible. Increasingly there has been more consideration to the idea that some areas perceived as wild, are actually not at all, and rather inhabited by indigenous groups. Not only in regards to their land rights but also in the management methods of their wilderness, which often differ to how outsiders ideas. However the concept of wilderness has allowed for reinforcement of colonial roots, and thus, over centuries of misrepresentation, racism and stereotyping is frequently prominent for these small societies. This coupled with a magnitude environmental campaigns, that seek to treasure the remaining wilderness have lead to indigenous groups being marginalised from society and their land.
So how do we solve this pressing issue? Whilst the UN has resolves to ensure no indigenous people are forcibly removed from their land, any changes have been very slow and small. Under aboriginal Australian understanding, it is believed the environment and culture are one and the same, and thus can not be separated. By adapting this understanding, the first world may begin to be educated in their ignorance of these issues. As it stands environment preservation is prioritised above indigenous rights, but why can a content medium be reached between the two? Understanding and acknowledgement of indigenous groups could not mean defeat, but should rather be a celebration of beautiful land and cultures.
The time is now, to raise awareness of the wilderness, the lack of it and its misconception. Not only geographers but holiday makers and the like, I call, to rethink your current understanding, consider its history, and who you might be uprooting as you touch down in their wilderness.
William Cronon 1995 –
Jenny Pickerill – Finding Common Ground?


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