Celebrating Innovative Partnerships with Indigenous-Led Organizations

Indigenous women talk in a greenhouse while looking at plants.

Critical Collaborations to Reach Shared Development Goals

Indigenous Peoples are critical partners in USAID’s localization and development goals and programs. Their cosmovisions—sets of beliefs, values, and practices—present a more holistic view of the interconnectedness of the environment to human well-being, and scientific research has demonstrated that indigenous knowledge and practices are better at preserving the environment and biodiversity than efforts to establish protected areas and national parks.  

Indigenous Peoples’ organizations are not traditional development actors or ‘western’ nonprofit organizations. They represent their own communities in a manner similar to community-based groups; and in many cases they are led by elected officials of their communities. This is why it is important that we listen to them and collaborate with them as equal partners in development activities.

In November 2021, Administrator Samantha Power articulated USAID’s vision for inclusive development: to make aid more accessible, more equitable, and more responsive to the needs and priorities of marginalized groups. USAID partners with Indigenous-led organizations in many ways, not only to implement programs, but also to create them. Indigenous organizations are active participants in planning programs that can address their needs and provide the services that the organizations deem important.

In honor of the International Day of the World’s Indigenous Peoples, USAID celebrates a few examples of partnerships with Indigenous Peoples that address key development challenges.

1. Amazon Indigenous Rights and Resources Activity

In Brazil, Colombia, Ecuador, and Peru, USAID’s Amazon Indigenous Rights and Resources Activity (AIRR) encourages Indigenous Peoples’ participation in the sustainable economic development of the Amazon to preserve biodiversity and reduce carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions caused by forest loss. 

Erika Valera Saldaña (Pictured on the right) is a member of the Kukama Kukamiria Indigenous Peoples in Peru and one of 35 students in the School of Indigenous Governance and Amazon Development’s (EGIDA) second class. It takes her nearly 24 hours (primarily by boat) to reach the in-person EGIDA classes in Pucallpa from her home in Loreto. However, she is willing to travel the distance to learn important lessons in leadership, good governance, political communication, strategic negotiation skills, Indigenous economy, and more that she can then share with her community to help it protect its territory from the threats of illegal logging and unsustainable fishing. (Photo Credit: USAID/Peru)

Within the framework of the AIRR project, USAID worked with Indigenous partners to develop the Escuela de Gobierno Indígena y Desarrollo Amazónico (EGIDA), the first School of Indigenous Governance and Amazon Development in Peru. This joint work contributes to strengthening the capacities of diverse participants from different Indigenous communities across the Peruvian Amazon. Through EGIDA, Indigenous students have the opportunity to learn new concepts and exchange experiences related to leadership, good governance, political communication, and strategic negotiation skills. This knowledge will better equip them to protect their ancestral lands, empower their business initiatives, and become agents of change who use their voices to advocate for the sustainable management of their communities. 

Erika Saldaña, a member of the Kukama Kukamiria Indigenous Peoples in Peru, is a student at EGIDA, and her case shows how this alliance combats sexism and promotes gender equality in her community. The role of women in native communities in the Amazon is key in transmitting ancestral knowledge, protecting Amazonian forests, and encouraging entrepreneurial endeavors to benefit households and communities. These endeavors directly improve forest-dependent livelihoods, such as Erika’s dream project of developing a handicrafts business, based on her community’s traditional skills and natural elements.

2. Advancing Rights in Southern Africa

Journalist Laedza Osekeng describes how attending USAID's ARISA supported trainings influenced her to report on pressing issues impacting Indigenous peoples in Botswana. (Photo Credit: ARISA Youth Media Literacy Program)

In eight Southern African countries (Angola, Botswana, Eswatini, Lesotho, Madagascar, Mozambique, Namibia, and South Africa) USAID works with its partners to improve the recognition, awareness, and enforcement of human rights. Advancing Rights in Southern Africa’s (ARISA) innovative approach brings together diverse organizations to promote the rights of Indigenous Peoples through research; litigation; domestic, regional, and international advocacy; media training and publications; providing resources; and developing and strengthening their skills, instincts, abilities, and processes. 

Through ARISA-supported media training, Laedza Osekeng, a journalist with Duma FM, a commercial radio station in Botswana, attended a workshop in Cape Town, South Africa, that focused on reporting on Indigenous Peoples’ rights and challenges, and the role of the media in ensuring that Indigenous Peoples’ issues are reported on. The workshop also highlighted overall challenges media face in reporting on Indigenous Peoples’ issues. Ever since the workshop, and with support from her employer, Laedza has been working to identify Indigenous Peoples’ issues in her country and start reporting on them. Laedza has already published one story on Indigenous Peoples and is currently developing another on Indigenous Peoples and the right to education. 

3. PNG Lukautim Graun Program

In June 2022,the seven clan leaders from Miruma community in Eastern Highlands Province, Papua New Guinea, sign the conservation deed to protect their land and its rich biodiversity. (Photo Credit: USAID/Lukautim Graun Project)

Through the PNG Lukautim Graun Program (LGP), USAID is partnering with traditional landowners in Papua New Guinea to manage their communal land and protect the country’s rich biodiversity, which is under increasing threat from industrial development, population growth, and other anthropogenic factors. 

Through LGP, USAID assisted communities in Madang Province with land use planning through resource mapping, recording of community history, and conservation area planning. Communities identified conservation targets important to themlike the protection of white bandicoot habitats, freshwater catchment areas, leatherback sea turtles and their nesting sites, and cultural sitesfrom threats such as over-hunting, unwise gardening practices, logging, and bush fires. Communities shared their completed land-use plans with local government representatives to incorporate priority needs into the government processes for planning rural development and environmental protection. In turn, these local-level land-use plans will be incorporated into provincial and national land-use plans giving them the power of law.

How USAID Continues to Build Partnerships with Indigenous Peoples

USAID’s Policy on Promoting the Rights of Indigenous Peoples takes a specialized and deliberate approach to addressing the rights, needs, challenges, and aspirations of Indigenous Peoples globally. One facet of the Agency’s localization efforts is to support Indigenous Peoples’ leadership in pursuing their self-determined development. To amplify the efforts, USAID established the Partnerships Incubator, which designed WorkwithUSAID.org to be a resource hub for new, current, nontraditional, and potential partners to navigate how to work with USAID. Since the launch of the site on November 4, 2021, WorkwithUSAID.org has added more than 50 organizations to the Partner Directory that identify as working with Indigenous Peoples to overcome development challenges in Indigenous communities around the world. Through this site, Indigenous partners can access innovative services and curated tools designed to improve organizational readiness, connect with peers and experts, and prepare to receive USAID funding. WorkwithUSAID.org also welcomes opportunities for USAID staff and Indigenous-led organizations to share success stories and best practices on our News & Insights blog about USAID partnerships to support and inspire similar organizations starting their journey.  

As we honor International Day of the World’s Indigenous Peoples, USAID is proud of its partnerships with Indigenous Peoples and recognizes that much more can and should be done across the development community to elevate the voices of Indigenous Peoples in the development process. If you are an Indigenous-led organization or work with Indigenous communities, we encourage you to get connected to USAID by joining the Partner Directory.

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