Projects

The Indian Law Resource Center provides legal assistance to Indian and Alaska Native nations who are working to protect their lands, resources, human rights, environment and cultural heritage. The projects we take on reflect the diverse approaches needed to address these many interlacing issues.

United StatesThe 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...
Helping Indian leaders initiate, win, and implement the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples has been an important part of the Center’s work for more than 35 years. The Declaration is a monumental statement of the rights of Indian and Alaska Native tribes and other indigenous peoples. The right of self-determination, the right to exist as tribes and distinct peoples, the right of tribes to own their land and resources, the right to the enforcement of and respect for treaties, and protection and access to sacred sites are all proclaimed in the Declaration.Today, we...
Our Law Reform project is directed at increasing understanding and support for the sovereign rights of Indian and Alaska Native nations and assisting them in winning needed improvements in federal law.  The law affecting tribes is terribly antiquated and unfair. Among the most serious problems are the impediments of federal law that unfairly restrict economic development for all tribes and perpetuate great poverty on many reservations and in Alaska Native villages.Our project aims to promote economic development, help reduce poverty, and improve the living conditions of Indian and Alaska...
In Guatemala, extractive industry and conservation projects are threatening the special relationship the indigenous peoples have with their lands and resources.  For several decades, the Maya Q’eqchi’ communities of El Estor have worked hard to achieve recognition of their collective land ownership through Guatemala’s land titling system. This ineffective system, coupled with the lack of legislation upholding indigenous peoples’ full collective ownership of lands under their possession and governmental authority to manage their natural resources, has been deliberately used to pave the...
Multilateral development banks (MDBs) and some national development banks play a central role in the approval of large-scale development projects, such as dams and forestry initiatives, which have had devastating effects on indigenous peoples and other local communities. The Center works to ensure that these financial institutions respect the environment and human rights of indigenous peoples in all their development activities.For this reason, the Center is working to develop binding international law that can hold MDBs accountable for their human rights impacts. We also advocate for policy...
The Center has a long history of environmental advocacy in Alaska. Over the years, the Center has continued to help Alaska Native nations and villages expand their legal and technical capacity to protect and clean up their lands and waters.  Watershed protection is a critical issue for Native peoples in Alaska because the rivers are often essential for subsistence livelihoods and traditions. The Center has assisted the Yukon River Inter-Tribal Watershed Council, now consisting of some 70 sovereign Alaska Native and Canadian First Nations governments committed to restoring the Yukon...
As part of global climate negotiations, the world’s leaders recognized that deforestation is one of the leading causes of climate change, and launched a program to protect forests in developing countries. REDD+, which stands for Reducing Emissions from Deforestation and Forest Degradation, allows developed countries, like the United States or France, to get credits toward reducing their greenhouse gas emissions by paying developing countries, like Mexico and Indonesia, to conserve their forests. A large percentage of REDD+ projects, however, are targeting indigenous peoples’ lands due to the...
For more than 15 years, the Center has provided legal representation to the Assiniboine and Gros Ventre Tribes of the Fort Belknap Indian Reservation in their fight for environmental justice and clean-up of the contamination caused by the Zortman and Landusky gold mines adjacent to the Fort Belknap Reservation.  Through lawsuits and public pressure, we helped the Tribes shut down the mines – once the largest heap-leach gold mines in North American – and demand the first-ever complete reclamation of the open–pit mines.Reclamation is ongoing, and the water quality in King Creek, Alder...
The Rapa Nui people are the original inhabitants of Rapa Nui Island, commonly known as “Easter Island.” The island in the southeastern Pacific Ocean is a colony of Chile, “annexed” in 1933 without the consent of the Rapa Nui people. The Rapa Nui people, comprising 36 clans, are engaged in a collective effort to rebuild its government and regain control of their ancestral lands and sacred and burial sites. In addition, the clans want to reclaim their self-government rights so they can curb unsustainable immigration and development on the island. The Center is providing legal assistance to help...
In the United States, violence against indigenous women has reached unprecedented levels on tribal lands and in Alaska Native villages. More than 4 in 5 American Indian and Alaska Native women have experienced violence, and more than 1 in 2 have experienced sexual violence. Alaska Native women continue to suffer the highest rate of forcible sexual assault and have reported rates of domestic violence up to 10 times higher than in the rest of the United States. Though available data is limited, the number of missing and murdered American Indian and Alaska Native women and the lack of a diligent...
On June 15, 2016, after nearly 30 years of advocacy and negotiation, the Organization of American States (OAS) adopted the American Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples. The OAS is a regional intergovernmental organization of 35 member countries of the Americas, including the United States.The American Declaration offers specific protection for indigenous peoples in North America, Mexico, Central and South America, and the Caribbean. It affirms the right of self-determination, rights to education, health, self-government, culture, lands, territories and natural resources, and it...
The Center's best known work is our 30 years of organizing and advocacy to win adoption of  the UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples.  The Declaration was adopted by the UN General Assembly in 2007.  The Declaration proclaims an historic body of collective rights and human rights of indigenous peoples and individuals. For the first time in history indigenous peoples' right to exist  was declared to be a legal right.  The Center continued its leadership in seeking endorsement of the declaration by President Barack Obama's Administration, and in 2010, the...
An example of the unfairness of federal law and the injustice of federal administrative action to Indian tribes is the recent treatment of the Timbisha Shoshone Tribe, a small tribe in Death Valley, California. Some years ago, the Timbisha Shoshone Tribe and other Western Shoshone tribes were awarded compensation by the Indian Claims Commission, and the money was placed in the U.S. Treasury in trust for the tribes. Then, in 2004, Congress passed an act taking all of the money away from the tribes and ordering the money to be distributed to individual Indians – not necessarily...
On September 22 and 23, 2014, the United Nations held the World Conference on Indigenous Peoples in order to share perspectives and best practices on the realization of the rights of indigenous peoples, including to pursue the objectives of the UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples. The World Conference resulted in a concise, action-oriented outcome document with major commitments by the UN and member states to advance the rights of indigenous peoples.The Need for a World Conference on Indigenous PeoplesThe UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples was a major victory...