Ailan Awareness (AA) is a locally founded and managed NGO that focuses on the strengthening of Indigenous sovereignty with regard to ecological and cultural diversity in New Ireland, Papua New Guinea (PNG). Since 1993, AA has engineered a unique decolonial approach to local socio-ecological empowerment. We empower coastal communities to manage their environmental and cultural resources using a mix of traditional and scientific methods, giving primacy to strengthening Indigenous approaches to conservation. Working at a grassroots level, AA addresses a major gap in the efforts of the national government and international NGOs: we give the people most directly affected by declining biodiversity and the loss of tradition the support and tools required to design and carry projects that support the longevity of biological diversity and traditional socio-spiritual practices. By linking these two things they help empower communities to maintain Indigenous sovereignty over both the natural and the cultural world. The NGO believes that Indigenous sovereignty results, in part, from this revitalization of the relationship between the cultural and the biological.
AA’s goal is to inspire awareness about the deep connection between the social, the spiritual and the ecological throughout the province and to bring at least 10% of New Ireland’s coastline under Indigenous Epistemology Based Marine Resource Management Plans (IEPs). AA is driven by an Indigenous value system that does not make a distinction between ecosystem health and human health or between terrestrial systems and marine systems. Across Melanesia, Indigenous cultures have lived in complex partnerships with the animals and plants on their lands and in their seas. Their value system takes it as axiomatic that nurturing, maintaining, and revitalizing these partnerships is the key to creating the conditions for a healthy future in New Ireland for people and ecosystems.
Since 2008 AA has partnered with Dr. West and her students. This partnership developed because of the shared vision of John Aini, the founder of AA, and Dr. West. Both Aini and West believe that the communities in New Ireland are best situated to conserve and maintain the biological and cultural diversity that their lives depend on and they feel that their role, as project practitioners, is to facilitate Indigenous communities regaining and maintaining sovereignty over their socioecological futures.
Pacific Climate Circuits
Dr. West is the co-creator, along with Dr. Kevin Fellezs and Dr. JC Salyer, of the Pacific Climate Circuits group at Columbia. The group applies lenses of race, class, gender, sexuality, and inequality to the current analyses of climate change in the Pacific Region.
Culture and Ecology University Seminar
Dr. West is the co-director, along with Dr. Veronica M. Davidov, of the Culture and Ecology University Seminar at Columbia. This seminar, first founded in 1964, brings scholars and activists from New York City and the greater region together to workshop new ideas at the nexus of anthropology, ecology, Indigenous studies, critical race studies, history, cultural studies, geography, and feminist praxis.
Costal Resilience Working Group
Dr. West is the co-director, With Dr. Kate Orff and Dr. Kyle T. Mandli, of the Costal Resilience Earth Network at the Columbia University Climate School. This group brings together scholars from across all of the Columbia University schools and affiliate institutions who work on questions of, and solutions for, rising sea level.
Environment and Society
Dr. West is the co-founder, along with Dr. Dan Brockington, of the interdisciplinary peer-review journal Environment and Society: Advances in Research. Together in 2009 Dr. West and Dr. Brockington saw the need for a journal that demonstrated and reviewed the cutting edge environmentally-focused research being done on today’s crucial environmental questions. Working with the editors at Berghahn they created the journal and edited it from 2009 to 2019.
Protected Areas, Community Based Natural Resource Management Areas, and Indigenous and Locally Designed Management
An international collaboration
Because she wanted to contribute to the project of conservation in Papua New Guinea through something more than critique, and to do so in a way that fostered Indigenous sovereignty over biodiversity futures, Dr. West cofounded The Papua New Guinea Institute of Biological Research (PNGIBR) with six of colleagues from Papua New Guinea and two colleagues from the United States in 2005. This group of scholars and activists came from diverse backgrounds and life experiences around the common goal of creating a pipeline for young people from Papua New Guinea to earn masters and doctoral degrees in the ecological and social sciences at international universities and then return to Papua New Guinea.
To date the NGO has over thirty professionals working in environmental conservation and economic development in Papua New Guinea who have been through their programs. The founders of PNGIBR believe that Indigenous sovereignty over social and environmental futures in Papua New Guinea can only come to pass when Papua New Guineans are in charge of conservation and development in the country. PNGIBR is currently in a dormant phase but its founders hope it can emerge in the near future and continue to facilitate Indigenous sovereignty in PNG.