Handbooks for Conservationists

United States
The Indian Law Resource Center is writing a one-of-a-kind handbook for conservationists that will help build collaboration between conservationists and Indian and Alaska Native nations. The goal of the handbook is to facilitate better alliances in order to improve the effectiveness of conservation efforts. The handbook will provide essential information and access to useful resources and references for conservationists and environmental organizations concerning the sovereign and legal character of Indian and Alaska Native nations, about their governments and lands, and about the laws affecting them.  Protection of the environment is enormously important among Native communities. Yet collaboration between Native peoples and conservation organizations often is impeded because today there is no ready resource to provide conservationists with practical information about how to work with Indian and Alaska Native peoples and about their lands, histories, cultures and legal rights. Our handbook will expand understanding of Indian and Alaska Native tribes and will help foster positive relationships between conservationists and Native communities. We expect this resource to be a building block for powerful alliances that will protect the rights of Native peoples while also helping to protect threatened lands and ecosystems in the United States.

In the global race to preserve biological diversity and stave off climate change, conservation projects, such as protected areas, have had a devastating impact on indigenous peoples in throughout North, Central and South America, including Mexico and the Caribbean.  A new resource, Conservation and Indigenous Peoples in Mesoamerica: A Guide, is intended to educate conservation actors, including government agencies and non-governmental organizations, about the legal rights of indigenous peoples and how to work with them as collective rights-holders and equal partners to protect the environment.  The guide, developed as a collaborative project by the Indian Law Resource Center and the IUCN Commission on Environmental, Economic and Social Policy (CEESP), has a regional focus on Mesoamerica.  Mesoamerica is the central region of the Americas, extending roughly from central Mexico south through Belize, Guatemala, El Salvador, Honduras, Nicaragua, and northern Costa Rica.

The Guide argues that greater attention should be given to indigenous peoples’ substantive rights, including their collective rights of self-determination and land ownership, rather than merely recognizing participatory rights, such as those relating to participation in decision making or consultation.  The Guide’s authors, concurring with an International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) study, note that countries and NGOs have deliberately used participatory rights “to give the false impression that the views of Indigenous peoples are being taken into account when in fact they are not.”