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A roundtable with anthropologists, community representatives and conservationists sharing the impact that changes in access to forest landscapes have on local, Indigenous and Maya communities; and approaches which strengthen sovereignty and address challenges to the use of these cultural landscapes.
The Belize-Guatemala border region sits at a nexus of influential political, environmental, and socioeconomic forces, which have contributed to significant changes in the way local communities can use the local environment and self-identify. Ethnographic work has revealed the extent to which anthropological research in the region, originating from European and American explorers, has defined paradigms of cultural heritage, influenced tourism, reinforced the value of "traditional" identities, and estranged local, Indigenous, and Maya communities from their traditional lands. Innovative collaborative work between local communities, archaeologists, conservationists, educators, heritage professionals, and other specialists has adapted conservation management and land rights to reflect the diversity of views regarding cultural environmental heritage and address how local communities have been disenfranchised.
Community based conservation initiatives are working to protect the local biosphere, while collaborative archaeological and cultural heritage outreach focuses the needs of conservation and landscape management policies to reflect local community experiences of value. Community-based programmes have a significant impact on how the cultural landscape in the region is protected, and support the rights of local, Indigenous, and Maya peoples to use their natural wealth and resources. This work is internationally recognized in pioneering Indigenous rights as well as Indigenous-led environmental defense and sustainable development. Human rights issues in the region relating to lands, forests, territories and cultural identity and knowledge, reinforce the need for urgent cross-disciplinary approaches to conservation, and acknowledge that conventional land-management methods are insufficient for fully understanding and reflecting the rich cultural complexity of the region's forest landscape and use.