Indigenous management and conservation of land are critical to protecting the world’s natural environment from increased degradation due to climate change, yet within the continental U.S., the colonization of Indigenous tribes has led to the loss of 99% of previously managed Indigenous land.

To provide insights for donors who want to take action on this issue, the Center for Disaster Philanthropy recently hosted a webinar: Indigenous Land Management: Decreasing Disasters and Increasing Resilience. Tanya Gulliver-Garcia, CDP Director of Learning and Partnerships moderated the discussion between Diana Campos, Program Coordinator, Environment-Fragility-Peace Nexus, CDA Collaborative Learning Projects; A. Uʻilani Tanigawa Lum, Assistant Professor, William S. Richardson School of Law; and Joel Moffett Director of Environmental & Special Projects, Native Americans in Philanthropy

Why Focus on Land Management

Moffett highlighted the value of Indigenous land management for both communities and ecosystems: “When you get down to the core of why Indigenous communities need to have a land base and to restore that connection to their homelands, it goes back to restoring their way of life, restoring their communities. It goes back to our values of reciprocity and taking care of the land, the water, and the species so that they can take care of us.” 

Lands managed by Indigenous peoples benefit from their arsenal of knowledge and practices, which are informed by the land itself. This wisdom can help prevent disasters. When Indigenous communities have land and resources, they are more equipped to recover from disasters that do occur and take care of their communities. 

In contrast, Tanigawa Lum highlighted what happens when land management is taken away from Native communities. In the recent Hawai’i fires, Tanigawa Lum saw “plantation disaster capitalism in which, for example, the governor suspended laws that were designed to protect our resources and practices. Plantation successors quickly exercised their power and jumped in at the opportunity to make things better for themselves.” 

The disaster, which was caused in part by poor land management, was used as a way to further separate Native people from their land. These actions will harm these communities and the long-term wellbeing of the land. 

Native land management has many benefits, but there are significant barriers to be overcome. Philanthropy can help reduce those barriers to increase the amount of land managed by Indigenous peoples. Using this systems map, Campos illustrated the complex relationship between Indigenous communities, colonization, land, and disasters.

How Funders Can Be Good Partners

Reciprocity is key to working with Indigenous partners. Native people are best equipped to lead but they have been systemically stripped of the tools with which to do so effectively at scale. Donors can work with Indigenous communities to reconnect them to the land. Funders can put in the work to develop relationships directly. There are also ways to engage through efforts like the Tribal Nations Initiative, which connects donors with Tribal Nations to direct funding to Native-led solutions. 

Watch the full webinar: Indigenous land management: Decreasing disasters and increasing resilience at the Center for Disaster Philanthropy.