As we’ve discussed, TNC and the IPLC should understand and agree to conflict resolution procedures in advance. Addressing IPLC concerns early on will add legitimacy and usefulness to the procedures. Along with basic failure to consult, a hallmark of poor conflict resolution practice is an insistence by outsiders on using their own procedures, which may be unfamiliar to the IPLC. Then the outsiders are surprised if the IPLC either doesn’t follow the procedure when conflicts arise or doesn’t accept the legitimacy of the results. This leads to estranged relationships on top of the existing conflict, rather than the stronger relationships that come from a well-considered conflict resolution process.
The menu approach addresses this to some extent, by allowing an IPLC to set aside any procedures it doesn’t like or understand. Additionally, the first two mechanisms recommended in this guidance—Dialogue and Mediation—are more concepts than formal procedures, which means they could be adapted into frameworks the IPLC prefers.
IPLCs have their own ways of conducting intentional dialogue and, in many cases, engaging a structured process and a third-party facilitator akin to mediation. It’s valuable for TNC staff to learn about how an IPLC understands and engages these modalities, to the extent the IPLC is willing to share. Integrating TNC’s and the IPLC’s approaches can be a useful exercise in collaboration and trust-building.
More importantly, having a conflict resolution method that contains elements of an existing IPLC practice means they are much more likely to seek these solutions when conflicts arise, and it’s more likely that any resolutions will have broad legitimacy within the IPLC.
Conflict resolution methods can be adapted in a number of ways:
For Dialogue, when a member of an IPLC wants to approach another member with a grievance, are there rules or customs in place that ensure mutual respect and enhance dialogue? Examples could range from the structural, like the use of nominees in the place of the aggrieved parties, to the ceremonial, such as the practice of sharing meals before or after a dialogue.
For Mediation, disputes and grievances might be addressed in non-adjudicative but intentional forums before IPLC governing bodies, elder councils or similar entities. Someone within the IPLC might often serve in the role of mediator for intra-community disputes; they may therefore understand the value of a neutral perspective, as opposed to the role of an advocate on behalf of the IPLC, which is an important but separate role.
A plan that provides for mediation facilitated by such an individual stands a much better chance of being relied on and respected, since the person brings credibility. There also might be a trusted outsider who has helped resolve disputes with outsiders in the past. Or perhaps there is a panel of trusted individuals from which the parties could select a mediator.
Any adjudicative dispute resolution methods used by the IPLC should get a close look. In many cases, using such procedures will carry an expectation that TNC or other parties will be bound by the decision of the IPLC institution and not consider it merely advisory. TNC should agree to submit to these procedures only when confident in our ability to comply with a binding decision. It’s better to respectfully decline to submit to these decision-making procedures than to submit to the procedures, but then not be able to comply with the result.
IPLCs are typically understanding of an outsider’s inability to fully submit to IPLC decision-making procedures. In some cases they may not even allow outsiders to use the procedures. But an agreement to use IPLC procedures is the highest expression of respect for Self-Determination and Overarching Good Faith. Even if this agreement needs to be restricted to certain types of disputes or circumstances, for example, following the exhaustion of other options, an agreement to submit to IPLC procedures is a valuable addition to a Conflict Resolution Plan.