Land-Water Management and Sustainability: An Indigenous Perspective in Laitu Khyang Community, Chittagong Hill Tracts (CHT), Bangladesh


Ranjan Datta

PhD defended at: 

University of Saskatchewan, Saskatoon, Canada



There is an increasing recognition in environmental sustainability research of the significance of Indigenous land and water management practices that are locally developed and grounded in traditional resource use. This dissertation explores land and water management policies and practices in the Chittagong Hill Tracts (CHT) region of Bangladesh, with a particular focus on traditional Indigenous and invasive government and non-governmental policies and practices enacted within the Laitu Khyeng Indigenous community located in the CHT. Three main questions guide the study: (1) What were traditional Indigenous Laitu Khyeng land-management customs and practices, particularly in relation to environmental sustainability? (2) To what extent were Laitu Khyeng community members affected by introduced land-management policies, such as those promoted by government, NGOs, commercial companies, and multinational agencies? And, (3) What were Laitu Khyeng hopes and expectations regarding land management policies and practices, particularly in relation to environmental sustainability? Data collection methods included: traditional sharing circles, individual story sharing, photovoice, participant observation, and commonplace books. The research findings revealed that current management practices, imposed by both government and non-government agencies, have seriously undermined local, traditional land and water management practices. The effects of these management projects include: dramatic increase in the non-Indigenous population resulting from an outsider brick-field industrial project within the last 10 years; increased destitution, displacement, and deforestation of natural resources resultant from force, fraud, and manipulated occupation of forest and plain land over two decades; recent expansion of the Bangladesh Forest Department and private companies’ lumber plantation projects by outsiders; and increase in national and multinational corporations’ tobacco plantation projects within last 15 years. Addressing questions of resource management and sustainability, participating Elders, knowledge-holders, and community leaders articulated meanings of land and water management in terms traditional cultivation culture, administrative structures, and spiritual practices. In addition to these themes, youth participants emphasized land and water management as involving key responsibilities, including learning traditional cultivation knowledge from Elders, and organizing peaceful campaigns to protect their land, water, and identity rights. The research findings demonstrate that the Laitu Khyeng Indigenous traditional land and water management practices value biodiversity, human and nonhuman relationships, spirituality, conservation, historical practices protection, and also draw from non-Indigenous knowledge and practice in environmental resource management. To achieve environmental sustainability in the community, participants emphasized that all youth in the community learn local Indigenous knowledge and practices in order to protect the environment.