Human Rights Guide for Working with Indigenous Peoples and Local Communities

The Nature Conservancy envisions a world where the diversity of life thrives, and people act to conserve nature for its own sake. Nature fulfills us and enriches our lives; human well-being depends on healthy ecosystems. Those best positioned to lead are the people who have stewarded the lands, waters and resources for generations. This Guide offers tools for how to support and uphold their autonomy, decision-making, and self-determination.

Case Study

We’ve created a narrative about an imaginary European territory, Wenland, where the Wen people are facing many of the common impacts of the legacies and current realities of colonialism on IPLCs Indigenous Peoples and Local Communities, including displacement, cultural dispersal and territorial disputes. In the following case study, we imagine various scenarios that TNC staff might encounter in their work with IPLCs, national governments and private companies, with each scenario tied to a particular module, to provide concrete examples and thought-provoking prompts related to the concepts in the modules. Through these scenarios, we encourage our staff to think deeply, engage in the nuance, challenge their individual biases, push for widespread inclusion and engagement, and center IPLCs as the most knowledgeable stewards of the land, as we work toward sustainable solutions that work for everyone. We rely, as always, on the nine Principles and Safeguards in imagining these scenarios, and what to do about each.

Supporting Content

Each module contains tips, key issues and resources that support and enhance the content. Additionally the guide includes templates, checklists and guidance on what documentation should be saved, that are designed for ease of access when working in the field. We’ve included links to appendices where you can refer to the entire body of checklists, documentation to save and templates.

Tips point you towards related Nature Conservancy resources and concepts that align with the module content.

We’ve collected resources and tools from other organizations working on human rights-based approaches to conservation. Staff may refer to these resources for deeper understanding and continual learning.

Key Issues
Some key issues or questions might arise in our work with Indigenous Peoples and local communities. We’ve highlighted some of these issues so staff can prepare for these topics.

Templates provide starting points and guides to the various processes described in the modules. Download the template PDF files for printing and use offline.
See all Templates

Checklists offer a simplified yet comprehensive way of understanding whether all the activities of a module have been completed.
See all Checklists

Documentation to Save
It’s important to document our work, but it can be hard to know where to start. This appendix gives examples of documentation to collect throughout an initiative.
See all Documentation to Save


TNC’s Global Conservation in Partnership with Indigenous Peoples and Local Communities Team:
Allison Martin

TNC’s Global Diversity, Equity and Inclusion Team:
Laurel Chun

TNC’s Global Legal Team:
Johnny Wilson

TNC’s Ethics and Compliance Office and Helpline Web Portal:
(available in multiple languages)

24/7 Helpline:
Phone: (800) 461-9330 (U.S.)
Text: 571-458-1739 (U.S.)
See for local phone numbers around the world

Wenland Case Study Introduction

Welcome to Wenland

Wenland is a vast subarctic island. The European state of Albian claimed Wenland as a territorial possession during Albian’s period of expansion in the 1600s.

Historically, the Wen people were nomadic, and their traditional lands stretch across Europe from as far back as pre-Roman times. In the late 19th century during a surge in intolerant nationalism across Europe, the Wen were forcibly resettled to Wenland. They settled the southern part of the island, but as Albian immigrants began to travel to Wenland’s south coast and settle there, the Wen people were steadily pushed north into the permafrost region, known as the Wend.

In 1934, the Albian government issued a proclamation declaring the Wend as a Wen homeland. They funded the development of Wen self-government, but Parliament never ratified the proclamation. The modern Albian government doesn’t recognize the proclamation as legal, perhaps spurred by Albian citizens, most of whom fiercely oppose the idea of a Wen homeland. No one has actively interfered with the Wen’s occupancy and use of the Wend, so most Wen people withhold comment and avoid the issue.

In the 1970s, oil companies began offshore extractive operations without consulting with the Wen. Many Albian workers migrated northward and today the largest towns in the Wend are half Albian and half Wen. These towns have integrated economies and workplaces, but social segregation and ethnic tensions are ongoing. A few smaller Wen-only villages are scattered throughout the Wend.

There are three distinct Wen social and lineal groups: Wenna, Wenebe, and Wennec. Collectively, they’re called Camps, which alludes to the encampments they built when they first arrived in the Wend in the late 1800s. The Wenna and Wenebe Camps are now based in larger towns, while Wennec consists mostly of small villages that are more self-contained. The three Camps generally cooperate but have sometimes developed rivalries. The Wen Camps speak different dialects of Wennish, although they all speak Albian, too. The Wennec villages are the least proficient in Albian, whereas the Wenna and Wenebe are fluent.

One thing all Wen have in common is defining themselves by their survival in — and connection to — the Wend. They recite how countless peoples came to the Wend through the millennia, but only the Wen listened to the land and learned to live with it in harmony. The Wen hold deep knowledge of the landscape and are committed to protecting it.

Likewise, they’re committed to protecting their culture, including their language, traditional dress and ceremonies. A summer celebration draws Wen from all three Camps to sacred sites across the Wend for a month of festivals, cultural immersion and inter-Camp consultation.

The Wen maintain their own institutions of self-government, but they are citizens of Albian and subject to the jurisdiction of the Wenland territorial government.

1B. Wenland Case Study

TNC in Wenland (SCENARIO 2)

Unlike Scenario 1, TNC has a large office in a southern Wenland city and a small office in a northern Wen town, where there are three ethnic Wen on staff. TNC has helped Wennec communities near its northern office fund and manage numerous conservation and community development projects over the years. We have not worked much with the other two Wen Camps.

Let's Say…

Thoughts and Guidance

Let's Say…

As in Scenario 1, the TNC team is considering program activities regarding an old easement project for which no FPIC process was conducted. The idea of initiating activities around the easement has come up informally several times in conversations with Wen contacts, and everyone seems in favor. In this Scenario, is a broader FPIC process still necessary?

Thoughts and Guidance

TNC may not need to immediately address the lack of FPIC in every legacy project; however, modifying, expanding, or revisiting a project may trigger that need. Because FPIC is such a powerful relationship-building tool, TNC should not shy away from exploring it. It’s not clear whether the Wennec Camp would be able to authorize further development of the project without involvement from the other Camps or broader Wen authority. An open FPIC process would answer this question and help TNC build trust and relationship with the Wenna and Wenebe Camps as well.

Let's Say…

The Wennec Camp wants TNC’s help in developing a herd management program for the Wendbok, a culturally significant reindeer. In the past, Wendboks were a staple of the Wen diet, but overpopulation has become an issue in some regions where fewer Wen youth are taking up hunting.

Thoughts and Guidance

The fact that the proposed action would affect a migratory herd means a management plan is more likely to affect the other Wen Camps as well. And an additional inquiry and consultation are warranted to ensure that all Wen people are being considered in the decision-making.

Let's Say…

Following on the above, when TNC asks to begin a broad consultation process about the Wendbok, Wennec leaders firmly object, saying that there are political considerations TNC wouldn’t understand. They also say that a core tenet of Wen self-government is that individual communities control local land- and resource-use decisions — and this authority extends to migratory herds.

Thoughts and Guidance

This scenario introduces tension related to the principle of Respect for Self-Determination, which urges TNC to respect the Wennec’s own understanding of their authority within broader Wen society. Without any clear evidence that this understanding is problematic, TNC should probably defer to the Wennec’s process. At the same time, TNC should let the Wennec know they will be checking in with the Wenna and Wenebe authorities, since TNC owes a duty of Respect for Self-Determination to the Wen people as a whole. TNC should be prepared for difficult cases where respecting a decision from one community could undermine self-determination of another or the community at large.

Let's Say…

The Wennec move forward with their herd management program. TNC wildlife specialists who look at their initial plan are dismayed, saying it doesn’t take into account data about the whole ecosystem. The Wen individuals on staff at TNC tell their colleagues that the whole thing is probably just an attempt by local big shots to get around Wenland hunting permit restrictions that the Wen have long objected to. Can TNC take a stand against the program or at least its hasty implementation?

Thoughts and Guidance

TNC does not have the agency to decide what’s best for the Wen. Instead, staff should defer to the Wen’s authority to exercise their self-determination. The fact that the Wennec Camp’s plan does not immediately meet the ideals or expectations of TNC is no reason to depart from Respect for Self-Determination, though it may lead to discussion with the Camp and an offer of assistance.

In any relationship with an IPLC, there is much that TNC likely doesn’t see; here, the Wennec Camp’s plan may rest on Indigenous knowledge about the herd and the ecosystem that is not stated in the plan documents. The fact that TNC has Wen staff members doesn’t negate the fact that TNC is an outsider organization. However, TNC’s commitments to Informed Decision-Making, Meaningful Consultation, and Inclusion could lead TNC to advocate for more discussion of the herd management plan, as long as it does so with respect for the Camp’s ultimate right to decide for itself.

1D. Wenland Case Study

Wen Self-Government

Most Wen live and work alongside the Albian population in Wenland society under the Wenland territorial government and the Albian national government, but Wen self-government persists to an extent. The three Wen Camps occupy areas that partially overlap, and they each maintain a quasi-executive Camp Council.

The Councils, which are majority male but have some female representation, typically focus on efforts to preserve and promote Wen culture. There are also quasi-judicial Elder Councils composed of only men, who advise the Camp Councils and help resolve disputes. The authority of all these Councils has almost never been tested in Albian courts, which exercise civil and criminal jurisdiction over the Wen population.

Let's Say…

Thoughts and Guidance

Let's Say…

Following up on point 6 in the “Permafrost Crisis” scenario, TNC is now working with all three Wen Councils to agree on an Engagement Plan. The Wenebe and Wennec Councils vehemently disagree on the amount of consultation needed. Both Councils acknowledge that neither is superior and that decisions affecting the Wen can only be made by consensus. Three months go by and the disagreement persists. FrostLock is considering abandoning its Wenland project, which neither Council wants. Can TNC adjust its involvement to pressure the Councils to agree on an approach?

Thoughts and Guidance

The simple but profound truth is, TNC’s work with IPLC institutions must persevere even when things are hard or frustrating. True collaborative relationships and respect for self-determination aren’t contingent on things going as planned. TNC teams have to live with IPLC governance procedures we may find frustrating or counterproductive, but we need to work according to the rules and expectations of the system. Whether TNC can increase advocacy and try to pressure the Councils for legitimate purposes will depend on Wen rules and expectations—but this must be pursued in the spirit of Free Choice and zero tolerance for coercion.

Let's Say…

In response to the disagreement, FrostLock suggests that TNC should work with FrostLock on a Plan B to conduct an FPIC process exclusively with the Albian government, noting that the Wen Councils are “just advisory anyway.” Can TNC entertain this suggestion?