Indigenous Forest Governance: Challenges, Enabling Conditions, and Factors for Success

Land holds sacred and spiritual importance to Indigenous communities (Gebara 2018). A central aspiration of many Indigenous peoples worldwide is to have an effective voice regarding any decisions made that affect their lands and waters, natural resources, wildlife and environment (Nettheim et al, 2002). Struggles for Indigenous self-governance over natural resources coincide with a global push for the decentralization of forest governance which has taken place in countries across Asia, Africa and Latin America. As the Canadian International Resources and Development Institute (CIRDI) continues to operate in countries where authentic Indigenous engagement is critical to project success, the organization’s approach to forests and Indigenous communities is informed by an understanding of the potential benefits common to the decentralization of forest governance and the enabling conditions supporting Indigenous rights to self-governance of forest resources.

This paper elucidates four key enabling conditions that can support Indigenous forest governance: •

  • Formalizing Indigenous forest tenure; •
  • Supporting locally evolved Indigenous governance institutions; •
  • Ensuring Indigenous autonomy and authority over decision-making, and •
  • Fostering collaborative processes and meaningful Indigenous involvement.

Realizing these enabling conditions can deliver benefits with regards to the long term sustainability of forest management and associated ecosystem services. This paper concludes with a brief discussion about the existing knowledge gaps around the impacts of rights-based activities (e.g. governance, empowerment) on poverty dimensions, and potential policy implications for central governments aiming to support Indigenous forest governance.

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