How We Work

Indigenous Peoples and Local Communities

Yurok tribal members hold tanoak acorns gathered on traditional Yurok land in northern California
near the Klamath River. The acorns are a staple of the Yurok tribe's diet, which they eat in (reconstituted) powder form.
Tanoak acorns Yurok tribal members hold tanoak acorns gathered on traditional Yurok land in northern California near the Klamath River. The acorns are a staple of the Yurok tribe's diet, which they eat in (reconstituted) powder form. © Kevin Arnold

Building trust. Acknowledging the past. Listening always.

Lasting conservation must actively involve people and partners linked to the natural systems we seek to protect, and their voices must be at the center of what we do. We are continually learning and growing in how we show up as an authentic, ethical and effective conservation partner.

Deeper connections—and greater conservation results

Around the globe, Indigenous Peoples and local communities have long protected their lands and waters in reciprocity with nature, often guided by deep connections to place, culture and ways of knowing.

These communities collectively manage at least one-quarter of the world’s lands17% of all forest carbon, and vast stretches of freshwater and marine habitats. Their stewardship and management often achieve greater conservation results and sustain more biodiversity than government protected areas.

Łutsël K’é Dene First Nation signs Establishment Agreements with Parks Canada and the Government of the Northwest Territories that mark a historic milestone for Thaidene Nëné.
Partnerships based on trust A drum group celebrates the historic agreement to officially protect Thaidene Nëné in Canada’s Northwest Territories. At the invitation of partners like Łutsël K’é Dene First Nation, TNC and its Canadian affiliate provide strategic, financial and technical support. © Pat Kane

The disruptive legacy of colonialism

For generations, profound and painful challenges such as colonialism, forced resettlement, strong external development pressures and exclusion from natural resource decisions have undermined Indigenous Peoples’ agency and ability to manage their lands and waters. 

These externally-imposed power dynamics have disrupted countless communities’ relationships with territory, with cultural and spiritual practices and with their ability to self-determine sustainable economies. Not only has this history of disempowerment harmed people—it's harmed the lands and waters they've lived on, and all the life these places support.

When the legacy of these challenges is addressed, Indigenous Peoples and local communities can lead us to a world where people and nature thrive together—as they have done for millennia.

Galbadrakh (Gala) Davaa, (on right - Director of Conservation for the Conservancy's Mongolia Program) talks with a Mongolian elder who is there to oversee area youth as they practice horse racing for a traditional Mongolian Naadam festival. The rich natural resources of Mongolia’s steppes are attracting increased development, which is threatening the balance between humans and wildlife that has defined this country’s past. Through traditional land protection and initiatives like Development by Design, the Conservancy is working to create a sustainable future that honors and preserves the sustainable culture of Mongolia’s grasslands.
Decades of partnership Galbadrakh (Gala) Davaa, (right - TNC Mongolia Program Director) talks with an elder overseeing area youth as they practice horse racing for a traditional festival. TNC is helping herders gain formal recognition of their communal pasturelands and resource management rights. © Ted Wood

The most impactful and enduring actions we can take

When opportunities arise or we are invited to collaborate, The Nature Conservancy works in partnership with Indigenous Peoples and local communities to support their visions, learn from their stewardship experiences, and amplify their leadership in conserving lands, waters and ways of life.

Evidence supports this as one of the most impactful and enduring actions we can take to protect ecosystems and biodiversity and tackle climate change. TNC believes a thriving future is possible only if communities are shaping conservation and development decisions.

The Power of Working Together (4:17) Hear from some of our Conservation Champions how working closely with Indigenous and Local Communities can actually save the world.

Committed to being an authentic, ethical and effective partner

Respect for people, communities and cultures is a core value of The Nature Conservancy. For our conservation work to endure, it needs to actively involve people and partners whose lives and livelihoods are linked to the natural systems we seek to protect. Their visions and voices need to be at the center of what we do.

Nature United

How Canada's Nature United works with Indigenous Communities.

Learn more

When we are invited to work alongside Indigenous Peoples and local communities, we together develop relationships based on respect, trust and mutual understanding. 

Partnering with Indigenous Peoples and local communities has been an important part of TNC’s approach for many years. In places like Canada, Indigenous-led conservation has been a key part of our strategy from the beginning. But like all conservation organizations, our history is imperfect. We've made missteps, and TNC is committed to continually learning and growing in how we show up as an authentic, ethical and effective conservation partner.

Partner-Centered Principles

Our work with Indigenous Peoples and local communities (IPLC) work is based on building relationships, honoring self-determination, establishing trust, and fostering partnerships focused on shared interests.

  • TNC  innovation is enabling compliance with Brazil’s progressive Forest Code,working with indigenous peoples to integrate traditional knowledge with modern approaches

    Indigenous and community-led

    We seek to understand what a community wants our role to be. Together with communities, we co-create plans that align with the communities' priorities and The Nature Conservancy’s experience and mission.

  • in a family cooking hut at the ejido Veinte de Noviembre in in the lush Maya Forest of Mexico's Yucatan Peninsula.

    Diverse and inclusive

    We recognize and respect the diversity of Indigenous Peoples and local communities, and the diversity that exists within communities. We aim to center gender equity and inter-generational leadership in our IPLC work.

  • A caucus of Indigenous leaders attended the conference and met to discuss issues related to climate action in Indigenous communities.

    Reciprocity

    Our partnerships with Indigenous Peoples and local communities are opportunities for mutual learning, sharing and benefit between the communities and TNC. We strive for transformational—not transactional—partnerships in the spirit of reciprocity.

  • 
Deniziu Ara jo Ticuna, do povo indígena Tikuna e graduado do Centro de Formação Indígena da Amazônia no Mind Park, INPA, Manaus, Amazonas.

    Communication and accountability

    We listen deeply and open clear lines of communication. We commit to fulfilling agreed-upon roles and responsibilities, and to holding ourselves accountable for long-term partnerships and commitments.

  • Nyoongar Marine Project Co-ordinator

    Flexible, adaptive and patient

    We strive to be flexible to the needs, realities and competing priorities within communities. We recognize the interconnectedness of all things. And we learn from past mistakes.

Map detailing where The Nature Conservancy works with Indigenous Peoples and local communities. As of June 2020.
Where We Work Map detailing where The Nature Conservancy works with Indigenous Peoples and local communities. As of June 2020.

Evidence-based strategies to support healthy communities, lands and waters

The Nature Conservancy’s Indigenous and community-led conservation approach is strategy based and place based, guided by our Voice, Choice and Action (VCA) Framework, We developed the VCA framework based on scientific theory and evidence as well as decades of practitioner experience partnering with communities across diverse cultures and ecosystems.

The VCA Framework is underpinned by respect for Indigenous Peoples and local communities’ connections to lands and waters as well as by a commitment to advancing equity and human rights. It has four main strategies which aim to address deep-rooted challenges and support the visions of Indigenous and local communities that partner with TNC for thriving communities and healthy lands and waters.

VCA Main Strategies

Click to read more about each:

Margaret Lou-Vike is a key member of the Mothers Union
Mothers' Union in the Solomon Islands Margaret Lou-Vike is a community facilitator among the Kia people raising awareness about the importance of making well-informed and inclusive decisions around big issues such as mining and logging. Her group successfully protested logging operations in the traditionally owned Barora Faa forest. © Bridget Besaw

Monitoring for adaptive management

We developed a common set of measures and monitoring guidelines that give programs implementing the VCA Framework a way to track interlinked human well-being and environmental outcomes.

Engaging in community-level monitoring will help us and our partners make even more informed decisions about how to adapt our strategies to ensure effective and sustainable solutions for people and nature and tell a shared story from a place of evidence.

Read More

TNC’s Human Rights Guide for Working with Indigenous Peoples

View the Guide

Respecting and promoting human rights: The right thing to do, and good for conservation outcomes

Underlying these strategies is our commitment to respecting, promoting and upholding the best practices and standards for a human rights-based approach to conservation. These standards include respect for Indigenous Peoples’ right to self-determination and the foundational principle of Free, Prior and Informed Consent.

Supporting Indigenous and community rights is one of the most impactful ways to protect critical places, address climate change and build a future in which people and nature thrive, yet these rights have often been disregarded or undervalued by actors, including conservation organizations.

With acknowledgment of where conservation has fallen short and with a humble respect for Indigenous peoples’ hard-fought collective power in taking back these rights, we assert that a human rights-based approach improves conservation policy and practice and leads to a better world for everyone.

We are a founding member of the Conservation Initiative on Human Rights and in 2020, we launched the Human Rights Guide for Working with Indigenous Peoples and Local Communities that will continue to evolve alongside our experience.

Maasai women watching Maasai men performing traditional dance and chanting during a circumcision ceremony in Tanzania. The Nature Conservancy is working to protect the land that the Hadza people of Tanzania depend upon to maintain their hunter gatherer way of life.
Maasai women watching dance Maasai women watching Maasai men performing traditional dance and chanting during a circumcision ceremony in Tanzania. The Nature Conservancy is working to protect the land that the Hadza people of Tanzania depend upon to maintain their hunter gatherer way of life. © Nick Hall

Gender equity leads to better outcomes for people and nature

When Indigenous and community-led conservation includes women, the results are positive and proven—increased forest protection, climate change mitigation and sustainable food production.

Women around the world play a central role in managing natural resources for their communities, yet they often lack rights and decision-making power in these contexts. Structural inequality undermines the security and well-being of not only women but entire communities and the ecosystems they protect.

TNC has developed gender-responsive strategies and internal guidelines to increase equity and conservation success using a community of practice model. From managing fire in the U.S. to monitoring sea turtles in the Solomon Islands, women and girls are leading our planet to a brighter future.

Indigenous Women: Leaders for Thriving Ecosystems (4:17) Around the world, TNC practitioners and partners are working together to support a culturally responsive approach to gender equity in Indigenous- and community-based conservation.

Download the Report

Dig Deeper

Community-Based Conservation Needs Sustainable Financing to Ensure Durable Results

Indigenous peoples and local communities have a key role to play in global biodiversity conservation and nature-based solutions to climate change. These community’s aspirations often include sustainable development while taking care of nature. However, historic and ongoing economic and social marginalization pose obstacles to IPLC pursuit of both socioeconomic and conservation goals. Therefore, supporting IPLC conservation efforts involves addressing conservation financing needs within a larger context of sustainable development.

Key features of successful financing solutions include ongoing fundraising efforts; diversification of financing sources; clearly distributed roles and responsibilities within the financing strategy; private sector partnerships for enterprise-based solutions; and flexible funding to respond to new opportunities. As well as enabling factors which include IPLC ownership and leadership; investment in institutional capacity beyond conservation; clarity of tenure, title or some form of property/resource rights; and access to technical capacity through trusted partners. 

  • Fall colors at Gila Preserve in New Mexico. The Gila Riparian Preserve protects more than 1000 acres of the Southwest's fragile riparian habitat and the verdant gallery woodland along the Gila River, the last of the Southwest's major free-flowing rivers.

    Working With Indigenous Peoples in New Mexico

    In New Mexico, TNC acknowledges and learns from our Indigenous communities. Read more.

  • Alaska.

    Conservation in America's Tongass

    The Nature Conservancy works with communities in the Tongass Forest where Southeast Alaska's coastal villages have deep ties to the land and sea and a unique way of life that taps the wealth of the forest and 17,000 miles of salmon streams. Read more.

  • Shannon Wadena and his son, Shannon Jr. (right),  work their canoe across Upper Rice Lake near Bagley, Minnesota.

    Wild Harvest

    In northern Minnesota, the Ojibwe people are keeping a vital tradition alive even in the face of growing challenges. Read more.

  • The Chickasaw Nation and Bureau of Indian Affairs partnered with The Nature Conservancy at the Pontotoc Ridge Preserve to conduct a controlled burn.

    Respecting Fire: Where Conservation Science and Indigenous Wisdom Meet

    The Cheyenne and Arapaho Tribes, Chickasaw Nation and Bureau of Indian Affairs partnered with The Nature Conservancy in Oklahoma to conduct controlled burns at the J.T. Nickel Family Nature & Wildlife and Pontotoc Ridge Preserves. Read more.

  • Smoke from an indigenous prescribed burn filters through the forest canopy on Yurok lands, near Weitchpec, CA in October.

    Quiet Fire

    Indigenous tribes in California and other parts of the U.S. have been rekindling the ancient art of controlled burning. Read more.

  • Pindamonhangaba, SP, Brazil: 09/19/2018:  Maria Salete Eugênio coleta banana produzida em sistemas agroflorestais na Fazenda Nova Coruputuba.

    Protecting Nature Through Authentic Partnerships

    Conservation for the coming decades must be based in authentic partnerships with Indigenous Peoples and local communities. Read more.

  • Ethan Rombough stands on a small island overlooking Christie Bay at the entry point of Thaidene Nëné National Park.

    The Guardians

    In northern Canada, a First Nation community is asserting its people’s rights and authority over 6.5 million acres of their traditional homelands. Read more.

  • Pacaya-Samiria Reserve, Peru.

    Ancestral Memory: Key to Saving the Amazon

    From Colombia, Brazil and Ecuador, different voices stress the importance of protecting Indigenous traditions under threat in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic. Read more.

  • May apple flower growing among oak woodland.

    Homecoming for Rulo Bluffs

    444 acres of woodlands and prairie are now back in the hands of the Iowa Tribe of Kansas and Nebraska. Read more.