10 Indigenous Peoples’ Victories to Celebrate

For thousands of years, indigenous peoples have been the stewards of the lands and waters where they live. As the world struggles to protect vital natural areas that we all depend on, their support and insight is critical for success.

Kayapó community meeting, Brazilian Amazon

Meeting in a Kayapó community in the Brazilian Amazon. (© CI/photo by Haroldo Castro)

Today, on the U.N.’s International Day of the World’s Indigenous Peoples, CI is celebrating another important milestone: this year marks the 10th anniversary of our Indigenous and Traditional Peoples Program.

Over the last few decades, indigenous peoples and their allies have made significant progress in ensuring that their rights are recognized and respected, and that they have the tools and means to choose their own development path. Here are 10 successes from the past 10 years in which CI has been privileged to participate.

1. Guyana’s First Community Owned Conservation Area

Managed exclusively by the Wai Wai people of the Konashen district in southern Guyana, this Community Owned Conservation Area is now the largest protected area in the country.

The Wai Wai received title to the land in 2004, given them legal rights to the territory. They then partnered with CI and the government of Guyana to have the entire area established as a protected area. This effectively brought more than 400,000 hectares (1 million acres) of rainforest under sustainable management while ensuring the continued support of the Wai Wai people and their traditional way of life.

2. Indigenous Climate Change Roundtable of Guatemala

In order for the forest carbon trading mechanism known as REDD+ to work, indigenous peoples who live in forested areas must be informed, willing participants. In 2005, CI played a key role in ensuring indigenous participation in national-level “REDD+ Readiness” processes, organizing and co-founding the Indigenous Climate Change Roundtable of Guatemala.

3. Revival of Tibetan Horse Race Festival

In 2006, CI and the Sanjiangyuan National Nature Reserve Management Bureau signed a conservation agreement with Cuochi, a nomadic Tibetan community living at the source of the Yangtze River. The agreement with the Cuochi villagers empowered the community to manage, monitor and protect a 244,000-hectare (more than 600,000-acre) area of the nature reserve. The benefit package for the community included support for traditions like the revival of the Tibetan Horse Race Festival in Cuochi in 2007.

4. Indigenous Representation on CI’s Board of Directors

From 2006–2011, CI was privileged to have indigenous leader Megaron Txucarramae — a Kayapó from Brazil, and regional director of Brazil’s Federal Indian Agency (FUNAI) —serve on our board of directors. Victoria Tauli-Corpuz — an Igorot from the Philippines, executive director of Tebtebba and a member of the U.N. Permanent Forum on Indigenous Issues — has done so since 2009. The inclusion of their unique perspectives in discussions about future conservation activities has been incredibly valuable.

5. New Caledonia Lagoons Designated as UNESCO World Heritage Site

With help from CI, WWF, the provincial government and local partners, the indigenous Kanak tribes played an integral role in getting the lagoons of New Caledonia — thought to hold the world’s most diverse concentration of coral reef structures — designated as a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 2008. This designation protects the marine ecosystems that are critical to Kanak livelihoods; they are mainly subsistence fishermen and farmers.

6. Indigenous Advisory Group

Launched in 2009, the Indigenous Advisory Group is comprised of six indigenous experts from around the world who advise CI on collaborations with indigenous peoples on REDD+; bring advice and feedback from indigenous experts to CI and other NGOs; and promote understanding of the needs, priorities, concerns and programs of indigenous peoples related to conservation and climate change issues. (Hear the story of Mina Setra, a Dayak woman who is a member of the Indigenous Advisory Group, in the video below.)

7. Cofán Recieve Title to Rio Cofanes Territory

In 2007, the Ecuadorian government signed a deed granting the Cofán indigenous peoples title to the more than 30,000-hectare (75,000-acre) Rio Cofanes Territory. The Cofán’s ancestral land shelters one of the most ecologically significant montane forests in the world, which are important for the survival of the Cofán.

The effort to protect this area was led by Cofán organizations in Ecuador, with assistance from The Nature Conservancy. It has received more than US$ 650,000 in critical financial backing from CI’s Global Conservation Fund (GCF) that supports the creation, expansion and long-term management of this and other Ecuadorian protected areas.

8. Indigenous Leaders Conservation Fellowship

Since its inception in 2010, this fellowship created by CI and the Secretariat for the Convention on Biological Diversity has provided seven leaders from indigenous and traditional communities in Brazil, Chad, DRC, Fiji, Guatemala, Kenya and Peru with the opportunity to explore how traditional knowledge and science can be used together to offer solutions to climate change and biodiversity loss. For example, 2012 fellow Zenón Gomel Apaza led a movement to renew traditional water management systems in the highlands of Peru to protect community livelihoods affected by climate change-related drought.

9. Harapan Rainforest Conservation Concession

The 100,000-hectare (250,000-acre) Harapan Rainforest on the Indonesian island of Sumatra is made up of two former logging concessions, making it the country’s first conservation concession. This is an area intended to be used for activities such as logging or mining, but instead leased from the government, maintaining the area as a source of income.

GCF supported the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds, BirdLife International and Burung Indonesia in their efforts to develop landmark legislation that enabled this milestone achievement. The concession is supported by a trust fund that will generate enough annual interest to pay the concession fees and management costs, ensuring the forest’s long-term viability. The initiative also is providing jobs for about 100 local people as forest wardens and other roles, and is piloting income-generating activities such as aquaculture and handicraft production for indigenous peoples living in and around the area.

10. Kayapó Trust Fund

In 2011, CI was instrumental in creating the first trust fund exclusively dedicated to the Kayapó with US $4 million from CI and an additional US $4 million from the Brazilian National Development Bank. This trust helps to ensures that the Kayapó have the freedom to follow a development path of their own choosing, since they won’t be reliant on outside actors. Grants will be targeted at terrestrial monitoring and protection of Kayapó land, as well as the development of sustainable economic activities for the Kayapó.

Regina Harlig is the senior manager of capacity-building and knowledge management on CI’s Social Policy and Practice team.


  1. Martha says

    I am thrilled with this positive, wonderful work for and with peoples who are so often ignored. Thank you all.

  2. Pingback: 10 Indigenous Peoples’ Victories to Celeb...

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