Indigenous peoples

Across the globe, Indigenous peoples manage significant areas of Earth’s most biodiverse regions as a core expression and part of their cultural identity and spiritual practices. The profound relationships they have with the whole of the natural world are a hallmark of their worldviews, values and way of life – and contribute to their effective sustainable conservation of lands, territories, seas and natural resources.

This close relationship to their environments means that Indigenous peoples are often the first and most severely affected by environmental degradation. Furthermore, insecure tenure rights over their lands and territories, as well as exclusion from environmental decision making, often constrain the contributions of Indigenous peoples to conservation and exacerbate their socio-economic vulnerabilities and marginalisation.

Indigenous peoples and IUCN

IUCN has a long history of working with Indigenous peoples both to promote recognition of their rights at policy level and to support their conservation activities on the ground. IUCN endorsed the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples (UNDRIP) in 2008 and regularly monitors and reports on its contributions to the implementation of the Declaration. IUCN Resolutions and field-based work emphasise Indigenous peoples' rights to the lands, territories and natural resources they have traditionally owned, occupied and used, and the need to ensure the full and effective participation of Indigenous peoples in all conservation initiatives and policy developments that affect them.

Together, the IUCN Human Rights in Conservation Team (HRCT) and the Commission on Environmental, Social and Economic Policy (CEESP) support IUCN in advancing Indigenous peoples self-determined priorities throughout policy fora, programmes and projects.

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Indigenous peoples and local community members engaged in a direct conservation finance initiative by the Global Environment Facility (GEF) which is currently being co-implemented by IUCN and Conservation International (CI)

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people received messages from twelve indigenous leaders from nine countries during IUCN’s campaign on Indigenous Insights – Stewarding the Earth, which presented the conservation priorities of indigenous women and men.

Who are indigenous peoples

IUCN recognises Indigenous Peoples as those set out in the International Labour Organization (ILO) Convention 169 (1989) and the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples (UNDRIP):

  1. tribal peoples in independent countries whose social, cultural and economic conditions distinguish them from other sections of the national community, and whose status is regulated wholly or partially by their own customs or traditions or by special laws or regulations;
  2. peoples in independent countries who are regarded as indigenous on account of their descent from the populations which inhabited the country, or a geographical region to which the country belongs, at the time of conquest or colonisation or the establishment of present state boundaries and who, irrespective of their legal status, retain some or all of their own social, economic, cultural and political institutions.


Self-identification as indigenous or tribal shall be regarded as a fundamental criterion for determining the groups to which the provisions of this Convention apply.

ILO Convention 169, 1989

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Policy Positions

Statement at UNPFII 17th Session (2018)

Statement by IUCN Indigenous Peoples Member Organisation representative Yeshing Juliana Upún Yos to the Seventeenth Session of the United Nations Permanent Forum on Indigenous Issues (UNPFII)

Full statement read more

Statement at UNPFII 18th Session (2019)

An indigenous-led strategy for conservation, presented by Jenny Springer, IUCN at the 18th Session of the United Nations Permanent Forum on Indigenous issues

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Statement at UNPFII 20th Session (2021)

Statement by Anita F. Tzec, IUCN, delivered at the 20th session of the United Nations Permanent Forum on Indigenous issues

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An IUCN Indigenous Peoples’ organisation strategy

As a distinct and mobilised constituency within IUCN, IPO Members have also developed a self-determined strategy identifying joint priorities for advancing their rights and issues in conservation and engaging with each other and within IUCN moving forward. These priorities focus particularly on leveraging IUCN’s convening power, knowledge generation, standard setting and policy engagement in regard to indigenous issues.  The strategy outlines actions to:

  • Increase indigenous participation in IUCN’s governance;
  • Participate in IUCN’s global policy engagement processes;
  • Promote the recognition of rights in relation to lands and territories, natural and cultural resources;
  • Promote the creation of a system of indigenous protected areas that strengthens the use, management and conservation of natural resources by indigenous peoples;
  • Address issues related to cultural heritage;
  • Address the rights and participation of indigenous women; and
  • Support indigenous organisation institutional strengthening.

Strengthening indigenous voices and action

Championing indigenous conservation governance at IUCN

At the IUCN World Conservation Congress in 2016, the IUCN Members Assembly adopted a landmark decision for Indigenous peoples and conservation. Members voted to create a new category of IUCN membership for Indigenous Peoples’ Organisations (IPO), strengthening the recognition of their rights, participation, voice and role in IUCN.  This was the first time IUCN reformed its membership structure in its 70-year history and it did so specifically to recognise the specific situation and role of IPOs. This change in IUCN’s governance structure now allows IUCN to play an important convening and facilitating role for indigenous participation in environmental decision-making. Today, Indigenous members and leaders play important governance roles at IUCN through its Council and Commissions.

At the 2021 IUCN World Conservation Congress, IPOs participated for the first time as Indigenous Peoples’ Organisation Members of IUCN and - along with the IUCN Secretariat and CEESP, led the organising of the first ever World Summit of Indigenous Peoples and Nature - where they launched their Global Indigenous Agenda for the Governance of Indigenous Lands, Territories, Waters, Coastal Seas and Natural Resources, which calls on  the wider conservation community, including States, to recognise, respect and protect the collective rights and governance of Indigenous peoples to their lands, territories, waters, coastal seas and natural resources.

    Supporting indigenous conservation leadership 

    In 2021, to amplify indigenous voices and priorities, IUCN collaborated with the Forest Farm Facility and IFNOTUSTHENWHO? in producing a communications campaign called Indigenous Insights - Stewarding the Earth. The campaign published a series of video messages from IPOs and partners and published news and events to help inform and advance indigenous rights in a key year of environmental policymaking.

    In 2022, IUCN and Conservation International launched the GEF-7 Inclusive Conservation Initiative (ICI), a project that will support Indigenous Peoples and Local Communities (IPLCs) to secure and enhance their stewardship over an estimated area of at least 7.5 million hectares of landscapes, seascapes and/or territories with high biodiversity and irreplaceable ecosystems.

    ICI
    Press release
    NEW: Inclusive Conservation Initiative prioritizes Indigenous and local…

    Today, the Global Environment Facility (GEF), International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) and Conservation International announced the launch of a new global initiative to support the leadership of Indigenous…