I put this post together in the light of the recent investigation of WWF from Buzzfeed News. If you haven’t read it yet, I advise you to do so. I want to clarify that I’m not trying to take up the space of Indigenous voices; I’ve just compiled a list of organisations and resources concerned with supporting Indigenous communities around the world, in an attempt to use this platform to redirect your attention to those who need to be heard. If you know of others that are missed here, please let me know and I’ll add them.
(If you yourself are an Indigenous person and you want to utilise the platform I have in some way to share your story or be heard, please contact me here.)
According to the UN, there are over 370 million indigenous people living across 90 countries worldwide, speaking an overwhelming majority of the world’s estimated 7,000 languages and representing 5,000 different cultures. Indigenous people have sought recognition of their identities, ways of life and their rights to traditional lands, territories and natural resources for years, yet throughout their rights have continually been violated. In 2007 a UN declaration enshrined minimum standards for the survival, rights, dignity and wellbeing of Indigenous people, however Survival International argues their land ownership rights are still not properly respected.
Indigenous voices need to be at the forefront of global environmental efforts. If they aren’t it is all too easy for colonial conservation and violence to take the lead. Below are the resources I have found thus far when it comes to advocating for justice and rights for Indigenous people across the world.
Organisations advocating for Indigenous rights
Survival International, formed in 1969, work in partnership with tribal peoples to protect their lives and land, aiming to put a stop to racism, land theft, forced development and genocidal violence. They stop loggers, miners, and oil companies from destroying tribal lands, they lobby governments to recognise Indigenous land rights, and they document and expose atrocities committed against tribal people and take direct action to stop them.
Survival International also argue that Indigenous people need to be at the forefront of environmental protection conversations. 80% of the most biodiverse areas on Earth are home to Indigenous and tribal peoples, and these people have developed highly effective measures for maintaining the richness of their environment and methods to preserve biodiversity, long before the word conservation was even coined.
Survival International works as a unified organisation, operating in seven languages across six country offices which all have charitable/nonprofit status. They are funded almost entirely by the public: they take no money from national governments, who are the principal violator’s of Indigenous rights, they also don’t accept donations from any company that abuses tribal peoples’ rights or is likely to do so. Their staff include regional experts with direct experience of, and contacts in, hundreds of tribal communities and organisations.
You can get involved here: you can donate, raise money, request a Survival speaker, organise/join Survival events, or campaign to fight for land rights, oppose racism and forced development, and to put Indigenous people at the forefront of environmental efforts.
The CWIS is the leading Indigenous peoples’ think tank, ensuring that communities can safeguard their rights and resources. It defines itself as a group of activist scholars advancing the rights of Indigenous peoples worldwide. In 1979, during the first Conference of Tribal Governments at Tumwater in the Pacific Northwest, tribal leaders adopted a resolution to establish a documentary centre for tribal records and research. Grand Chief George Manuel called for the creation of a “Fourth World Think Tank”, and Dr. Rudolph Ryser (who grew up as a member of the Cowlitz tribe but is of Weskarini, Ondeia and Cree heritage) took the helm and created the CWIS.
So far the CWIS have seen 27 laws and regulations drafted, over 3500 students mentored and educated, over 4000 tribal documents digitised, and over 7000 individuals receive medicine. They have led the development and implementation of public policy that benefits Indigenous nations around the world since their founding, particularly in areas such as the environment, Indigenous food systems and food security, medicine, intellectual and cultural property rights, economic development, education and more.
They also publish the Fourth World Journal, the world’s leading publication for ideas and analysis about and by writers from the world’s more than six thousand Fourth World nations.
Cultural Survival advocates for Indigenous Peoples’ rights and has supported Indigenous communities’ self-determination, cultures and political resilience since 1972. They partner with Indigenous communities to advance Indigenous Peoples’ rights and cultures worldwide. Their programmes work to inform, create resources, support access to information, bolster freedom of expression, and assist Indigenous communities to organize and shape their futures in ways consistent with their traditions, languages, and cultures.
They publicise Indigenous Peoples’ issues through their award-winning Cultural Survival Quarterly and, at the request of communities, they launch campaigns to urge decision makers to respect Indigenous Peoples’ rights to their lands as they confront destructive mining projects, mega-dams, or land-grabs. Their organisation is Indigenous-led and has a diverse board of directors that is comprised of Indigenous and non-Indigenous perspectives.
IWGIA stands for International Work Group for Indigenous Affairs. Founded in 1968, it is a global human rights organisation that describes itself as ‘dedicated to promoting, protecting and defending Indigenous peoples’ rights.’
IWGIA cooperates with Indigenous peoples’ organisations and international institutions to promote recognition of and advocate for the rights of Indigenous peoples. They focus on defending Indigenous peoples’ land rights, promoting inclusion in climate action and participation in local and international decision-making processes. Today Indigenous peoples from all over the world are involved in IWGIA’s global network. IWGIA initially focused on Indigenous peoples in Latin America and Asia but, from the late 1980s on, also began working with indigenous peoples in Russia and Africa. They now have 31 projects around the world.
IWGIA also release a global report, the Indigenous World, which provides an update of the current situation for Indigenous peoples worldwide. You can download the report here.
Forest Peoples Programme is a human rights organisation operating around the tropical forest belt, working with forest peoples from across the globe to secure their rights to their lands and their livelihoods. They work with over 60 partner organisations representing Indigenous peoples and forest communities from across the globe, working to promote an alternative vision of how forests should be managed based on respect for the rights, knowledge, cultures and identities of the peoples who know them best.
Peoples who live in forests around the world have customary rights, and have developed ways of life and knowledge that are attuned to their forest environments. Unfortunately, forests are commonly treated as empty lands controlled by the state that are available for development, colonisation, logging, plantations, dams, mines, oil wells, gas pipelines and agribusinesses, which force peoples out of their homes. Many conservation schemes also deny forest peoples’ rights; Forest People’s Program work through advocacy, practical projects and capacity building to change this.
Minority Rights Group International campaigns worldwide with around 130 partners in over 60 countries to ensure that disadvantaged minorities and Indigenous peoples can be heard.
They utilise training and education, legal cases, publications and the media and cultural programmes to support minority and Indigenous people, and their campaigns target governments and communities to eradicate further discrimination based on age, class, gender and disability, which can have a multiple impact on minorities.
These are just some of the larger organisations, other organisations whose work you can follow include:
- Amazon Conservation Team
- Amazon Watch
- Global Forest Coalition
- International Indian Treaty Council
- Life Mosaic
- Rainforest Foundation
- Rights and Resources Initiative
- World Rainforest Movement
- Assembly of First Nations
- Congress of Aboriginal Peoples
- Federation of Saskatchewan Indian Nations
- Inuit Tapiriit Kanatami
- Native Women’s Association of Canada
- Nunavut Tunngavik Incorporated
- Pauktuutit Inuit Women of Canada
- RAVEN (Respecting Aboriginal Values & Environmental Needs)
- Alaska Federation of Natives
- First Nations Development Institute
- Great Lakes Indian Fish & Wildlife Commission
- Honor the Earth
- Indigenous Environmental Network
- Inter-Tribal Environmental Council
- National Congress of American Indians
- Native American Rights Fund
- White Earth Land Recovery Project
Supporting the rights of Indigenous People
There has also been a good amount written online about better supporting the rights of Indigenous people, so I thought I’d share here also. The following advice comes from a 2016 panel discussion with The Guardian:
1. Focus on the priorities
Indigenous people can’t choose their own way of life, get control over their own education, healthcare and so on, unless their lands are secure. That’s the overwhelming priority. All other issues are secondary. If their land rights are recognised, tribal peoples thrive. If they’re not, the outlook is bleak. Jonathan Mazower, advocacy director, Survival International.
2. Include Indigenous people in discussions of land use
Without land, Indigenous peoples have no livelihood, no identity, no means of survival. In this context, states need to respect the principle of free, prior and informed consent. Indigenous peoples need to be consulted about use of their land and included in development processes. Companies need to take this on board too and conduct proper due diligence prior to embarking on, and during, investment projects. Lucy Claridge, legal director, Minority Rights Group International.
3. Apply the law to ensure land rights are protected
Laws on land rights are often good, but they’re universally flouted. Brazil’s an example – all Indian tribes in Brazil should have had their land protected in law by 1993 according to the constitution, but dozens are still waiting. In the meantime many, like the Guarani, live in dire circumstances – often camped by roadsides, in terrible conditions, with levels of disease and suicide that are off the scale. And when they try to re-occupy small bits of their lands, they’re frequently shot at. Jonathan Mazower, advocacy director, Survival International.
4. Build public awareness
Informed public education and awareness building is critical to the implementation of Indigenous rights. This is a responsibility of all. There is a lot of mistrust for good reason. But how we inform ourselves and understand our own complicity in consumption and policies that sustains the need for production, profit, and exploitation is absolutely necessary. We can then begin to understand the impact on Indigenous peoples, their territories and lands. As an Indigenous person our relationship to the land is the heart and soul of who we are, our identity, and our survival. Suzanne Benally, executive director, Cultural Survival.
5. Recognise their role in conservation
Indigenous peoples’ key role in conservation – which is often one of the reasons used for their eviction – needs to be recognised. Indigenous peoples’ dependence on the land for food, shelter, identity and survival has resulted in a deep respect for that land and a need to conserve it. Indigenous peoples traditionally develop a set of conservation measures that are passed down from one generation to the next, and as a result they should be seen as the best people to conserve that land. Lucy Claridge, legal director, Minority Rights Group International.
6. Bridge the gap between policy and practice
Another major challenge is the gap between policy and law and practice. There are many excellent examples of rulings by international courts on the rights of Indigenous peoples including the Endorois case and others such as Saramaka in Suriname which are legally binding on governments but yet years later many of these cases remain unimplemented. The same gap exists at the level of policies and safeguards held by multilateral agencies like the World bank and other international finance institutions which govern how they can lend for projects that affect Indigenous peoples. The policies often have shortcomings but are broadly speaking vast improvements on the situation 20 or 30 years ago. Yet despite this the policies and safeguards are frequently unimplemented or disregarded in some way. Conrad Feather, project officer, Forest Peoples Programme.
7. Encourage the state to fulfil wider rights
There is a human right to education, and a human right to an adequate standard of living – and there is also a right to development: the right to be included in development processes which affect you. The right to development includes the fulfilment of civil, political, economic, social and cultural rights and freedoms. States bear the duty to bear the burden for creating conditions favourable to a people’s development. Lucy Claridge, legal director, Minority Rights Group International.
8. Don’t speak for Indigenous people
Perhaps the greatest obstacle to advancing Indigenous peoples interests is the slow process of building coalitions between “fourth world” (Indigenous) nations and between fourth world NGOs. NGOs tend to be focused on their priorities and often “speaking for” fourth world peoples generally. We have generalised the many nations into “Indigenous peoples” and forgot that what is important in central Africa may not be a priority in Asia. Rudolph C Ryser, chairman of the CWIS board of directors, Center for World Indigenous Studies.
9. Learn from stories of progress
Notwithstanding the dire situation for many peoples there are also some incredibly inspiring stories. From Peru where I work mainly there is the story of the Achuar people in the north who have come together to defend their territory and implement their own vision for self government. For over 15 years they have successfully resisted the efforts of various oil companies and the government to explore for oil on their territory. Conrad Feather, project officer, Forest Peoples Programme.
Other advice that has been given online, especially for those living in countries such as America, Canada and Australia:
Find out which tribe(s) are Indigenous to your area
Learn the history of your area, and the oppression and crimes committed that allow you to live there today, remembering that if you are on any land in places like America, it is Indigenous homeland. You can use maps like Native Land or the Native Languages Map for more information, then read up on the histories and stories of these tribes that have been written and documented by them (not their oppressors/colonisers) to get a full picture. You can then look into ways you can support these tribes. For example: is there any legislation in progress in your area that could hurt or help local Indigenous people, and could you use your voice or professional networks to help? Make sure to follow the lead of Indigenous people: you can engage with the work already being done by Indigenous groups and offer your support, but avoid becoming a white saviour or centring yourself. You’re there to listen and support/amplify if and when you can, not add extra emotional labour.
Donate your money (if you can)
As well as the organisations listed above, if you live in America you can find a list of organisations serving Indigenous people here.
Buy goods from Indigenous people
Avoid any and every white-owned business that’s involved in cultural appropriation. You can find a Buy Native list here instead, while Survival International also has an online shop. You can also buy Indigenous art online from sites such as Shumakolowa, and GoodReads has a list of books by Indigenous authors here.
Resources for learning more
During my research, here are the recommendations I came across for further reading:
(I’ve included some Amazon links here, while I don’t agree with Amazon’s practices I understand that not everyone can boycott and want to give you options. After all it’s the company that needs to change, not individuals)
- Exiled in the Land of the Free: Democracy, Indian Nations, and the U.S. Constitution by Oren Lyons
- Every Day Is a Good Day: Reflections by Contemporary Indigenous Women by Wilma Mankiller
- Ceremony by Leslie Marmon Silko
- Because A White Man’ll Never Do It by Kevin Gilbert
- Everyday Acts of Resurgence: People, Places, Practices by Jeff Corntassel
- The State in Africa by Tatah Mentan
- Skins: Contemporary Indigenous Writing compiled by
- Indigenous Men and Masculinities: Legacies, Identities, Regeneration by Robert Alexander Innes and Kim Anderson
- Tribal Peoples for Tomorrow’s World by Stephen Corry
- The Archipelago of Hope: Wisdom and Resilience from the Edge of Climate Change by
- You can also find more recommended reading of books by Indigenous people in America here and recommendations from the First Nations Development Institute here
- CWIS has an online bookstore here plus a variety of online courses that you can take here
- You can watch Life Mosaic’s educational video series on land rights, Territories of Life, here
- African Books Collective is an African owned online bookseller that carries books in a wide range of topics including African studies, history, the environment and more
(If you have more suggestions for this list, feel free to let me know and I’ll add them).
Overall I hope that some of this information was helpful and that if you were giving money to WWF, you’ll consider diverting that money into supporting Indigenous communities instead, who are already at the forefront of non-colonial conservation.