Despite the outsize role that Indigenous peoples play in protecting nature, their contributions often go overlooked. The modern conservation movement was built on the false idea that nature starts out “pristine” and untouched by humans, as the environmental journalist Michelle Nijhuis has written. That put many of the movement’s early efforts, including protected areas, at odds with Indigenous land management — the very activities that created many landscapes that countries are now racing to protect.
The stakes couldn’t be higher today. More than 50 countries, including the US and the other wealthy nations that make up the G7, have committed to conserving at least 30 percent of their lands and waters by 2030. Some Indigenous activists fear that reaching that goal, known as 30 by 30, could come at the expense of Indigenous land rights.
But they also see an opportunity to change the paradigm of conservation to one in which the enormous contributions of Indigenous peoples are recognized and supported. The consortium’s report could help propel that shift. It finds that if you consider areas conserved by Indigenous and local communities, in addition to formally protected and conserved areas, more than 30 percent of the world’s land is already conserved.