Under Mount Roraima: the conservation and development of a sacred landscape

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Academic Profile

Daniel graduated with honours from Hamilton College in the US in 2001 and holds a BA in Public Policy and Spanish. After working for several years at a prominent arts auction house in New York City, he decided to study international relations, economics, Latin America and emerging markets at The Johns Hopkins University School of Advanced International Studies where he received an MA in 2006. Soon after graduation, he began a job at the World Bank in their Caribbean Country Management Unit where he worked on climate change adaptation and mitigation projects and ultimately became the Country Officer for Guyana. Coming from a top-down, international development background, he joined the DPhil program in the School of Geography and the Environment in 2010 in order to deepen his understanding of indigenous communities through a bottom-up approach that will ultimately give him a holistic understanding of conservation and development challenges.

Current Research

Current and historical engagement with nature is largely a function of our spiritual beliefs and knowledge of ecological dynamics. Our continual degradation of the planet necessitates a deeper understanding of how people interact with the land. Many indigenous peoples embody an alternative model of sustainable life that values landscapes differently than capitalist models of exploitation and conservation. In order to ensure environmental justice and the provision of sustainable livelihoods for vulnerable populations, Daniel's research aims to fill the knowledge-gap between the ecocentric and anthropocentric dimensions of natural resource management.

Mount Roraima is one of the oldest and uniquely biodiverse geological features on earth. This towering table-top tepui is trisected by Guyana, Venezuela and Brazil. Indigenous communities have lived in a dialectic relationship with this sacred "house of the gods" for thousands of years. In recent centuries, the land and its people have endured colonial and postcolonial incursions of disease, forced labor, evangelism, mining operations, timber extraction, western democracy and neoliberal economic pressures. The future will bring climate change and Guyana's unprecedented Low Carbon Development Strategy.

Daniel's ethnogeographic research will focus on the landscape surrounding Mount Roraima within historical, political, and event ecology frameworks. After an extensive interdisciplinary literature review, data on the region's natural and cultural assets and socioecological relationships will be collected during fieldwork among the closely related Pemon and Kapon tribes in the circum-Roraima landscape. Research methods will include: (i) participant observation; (ii) structured, semi-structured, and informal interviews; and (iii) comparative mapping of assets among the groups which claim material, social, and spiritual ties to this sacred landscape. An analysis of adaptive capacities and the management of power through spiritual practices will be an important component of the research, as this dimension of landscape is often neglected in development and environmental studies. Ultimately, he hopes to reinforce the value of indigenous knowledge to both our understanding of the evolution and maintenance of the landscape, and in the design of effective and cost-efficient policies that provide sustainable livelihoods and co-benefits for the conservation of biological and cultural diversity.