Cultural keystone places: implications for ecological conservation and cultural renewal

Date and Time: 
Thursday, 12 April, 2012 - 20:40 to 21:00
Turner, Nancy (School of Environmental Studies, University of Victoria, BC)

The importance of a “sense of place” has been widely studied in recent decades, especially since the publication of Keith Basso’s captivating book, Wisdom Sits in Places. The works of Tim Ingold, Thomas Thornton, Eugene Hunn, and Leslie Johnson, among others, exemplify this focus in relation to anthropology, geography and ethnoecology. Knowledge of place – as reflected in people's origin stories and other place-based narratives, discourse, geographical names, activities at particular locales, art, and protocols of proprietorship and stewardship – is a major component of traditional ecological knowledge systems. Just as certain biological species have particular and special roles in a people’s culture (which we characterized previously as “cultural keystone species” - Garibaldi and Turner 2004), I propose that in every place-based cultural tradition, there are also “cultural keystone places”: locales that are exceptionally well known, and that are critical to a community’s identity and well-being. They are places where people gather, often at “ecological edges” and hotspots of biological diversity, where they can access important resources. Many have deep spiritual values associated with them, and have featured in ceremonial traditions, although many have been impacted by settlement and industrial activities. In this paper, I propose “cultural keystone places” as a concept, describe the characteristics of such places, and discuss their potential in conservation, ethnoecological restoration and cultural renewal.