North America – old version (duplicate)

URGENT ACTION (December 2016): Loma de Bácum needs your help!

The indigenous community of Loma de Bácum in Northeastern Mexico is standing against a pipeline that the transnational company IEnova is attempting to build through their territory without the community’s consent. Despite a legal document issued by the local authority that mandates that the company stop any building activity within Loma de Bácum, construction continues. A GDF collaborator, who is opposing this construction, was recently kidnapped along with her husband. While she has been released, her husband remains disappeared.

To support our collaborators, put the spotlight on this struggle, and amplify the present momentum for indigenous sovereignty in Turtle Island, we will bring Standing Rock water protectors to the Yaqui community of Loma de Bácum in Sonora, Mexico. We ask for your help to realise this plan.

Please read our statement here and consider making a donation through here.

The Region

Covering Canada, the United States, Mesoamerica and the Caribbean Islands, the extended region of North America spans a great diversity of ecoregions – from the Arctic to the tropical forests of Central America, through different types of deciduous, evergreen and temperate rain forests; deserts; plains and variegated coastlines and marine ecosystems. Many of these ecosystems have evolved in close connection with the region’s diverse indigenous cultures. There are currently approximately 450 indigenous languages spoken throughout the region (some of which are critically endangered, however); Mexico in particular is a language ‘hotspot’, with over 200 languages spoken. In addition to this linguistic and cultural diversity, the region experiences rich biological diversity: four of the planet’s biodiversity hotspots are in North America, one of which constitutes the entire region of Mesoamerica.

This unique biocultural diversity suffered an initial massive impact following the arrival of European colonists in the 15th and 16th centuries, which continued as the colonists settled vast portions of the continent and exploited natural resources on an unprecedented scale. The rapid expansion of free-market capitalism in the 20th and 21st centuries has constituted another, although perhaps more subtle, major threat to biocultural diversity in this region. Indeed, the colonisation of North America is ongoing, as governments and settler populations continue to systematically dispossess indigenous peoples from their land and livelihoods. That many indigenous cultures, including languages and ethnobiological knowledge systems, have been maintained and continue to evolve in the face of continued oppression is a testament to their resilience and the power of their communities.

North America region


To date, GDF’s work in the region has principally focused on the Chinantla region of Oaxaca state in Southern Mexico. In Oaxaca alone, there are 15 ethnolinguistic groups, each with their own multiple sub-groupings, rich history and distinct ethnobiological knowledge systems. This cultural diversity is inextricably linked to Oaxaca’s incredible biological diversity.  The state is home to large remaining tracts of primary cloud forest, where one can find remarkable rates of plant and animal endemism. The forested cultural landscapes of the Chinantla are traditionally managed and maintained by the indigenous Chinantec inhabitants, who have lived in the states of Oaxaca and Veracruz for thousands of years. There are 70,000 Chinantec speakers in Mexico who speak 14 mutually unintelligible variants of the language. The Chinantla mountains are an important source of fresh water for the region. Watersheds and rivers, such as Río Perfume and Río Santiago drain into the Usila River, providing 50% of the water flowing into the Cerro de Oro reservoir, one of the main water reservoirs of southern Mexico.

In response to a local request for assistance, GDF collaborated with Anima Mundi – Investigación y Acción Biocultural, a local NGO that works with Chinantec communities. We have supported community endeavours to secure their rights to their territories and resources, to protect their food sovereignty and to enhance the management of their biocultural diversity and extensive community conserved territories. Currently, GDF has no field projects in Mexico, although Anima Mundi continues to work with Chinantec communities through the implementation of projects related to participatory biodiversity monitoring and livelihoods improvement through the production and marketing of organic and fairtrade coffee, cocoa, honey, and other local products. GDF continues to collaborate with Anima Mundi, including through the organisation of Global Environments Network events.

Canada & United States

Since 2013, GDF has worked with indigenous collaborators in North America to foster networking, mutual learning and exchange between emerging community leaders through North American Community Environmental Leadership Exchanges (NACELE). These peer-to-peer learning opportunities convene dynamic indigenous leaders from all over North America to discuss ongoing and share strategies to protect and restore lands, waters and traditional foodways, and through these, culture and sovereignty.

Future Plans

In North America, GDF is directing our attention to the long-term collaborative task of building networks of support for indigenous nations and peoples as they continue to face challenges defending their land and waters. These networks of support are, and will be crucial in a context of ongoing extractive activity and pressure from extractive industries. To this end, GDF is developing partnerships with North American NACELE and GESA alumni to promote indigenous sovereignty and networking throughout the region.

We are currently also expanding our reach to Latin America and the Pacific, building on past collaborations to create platforms that seed durable networks among North American indigenous nations. Currently, GDF is planning an upcoming community exchange in Northern Mexico in early 2017, which will provide a training, networking and discussion space for indigenous community leaders on the topic of food and water sovereignty, and resistance to land and water grabs.

Current Projects

North American Community Environmental Leadership Exchanges

Community Environmental Leadership Exchanges convene environmental professionals and practitioners. These community-led exchanges foster peer-to-peer exchange of innovative methodologies, examples, strategies and tactics to address specific issues, strengthen sovereignty and share knowledge. They aim to enhance wellbeing at community and landscape scales, seeding durable networks for mutual support. In October 2013, the first North American Community Environmental Leadership Exchange launched these exchanges with a two-part event on the theme From Conflict to Collaboration in Indigenous Territories: Tribal Strategies for Resistance and Restoration.

Participants in Kanienkeha'ka territory

Past Projects

Assessing the effectiveness of community-based management strategies for biocultural diversity conservation

Through multi-disciplinary research carried out in selected fieldsites in Mexico, Brazil and Bolivia, this three-year project, carried out from 2012-2015, sought to assess the effectiveness of community-based strategies for biocultural diversity conservation. Funded by the European Union’s Framework Programme 7, the project concluded in January 2015 having generated significant evidence regarding the challenges and opportunities of community-based conservation in Latin America.

Implementing community-based landscape and resource monitoring to consolidate voluntary conservation

Launched in April 2012, the project focused on arming Chinantec community researchers with skills to boost the management of their cultural landscapes and natural areas through the establishment of a participatory monitoring programme. This 2-year project built on the project carried out from April 2009 to March 2012, entitled Management Programmes for Indigenous Voluntary Conserved Areas in Oaxaca, Mexico, that supported the elaboration of management plans for Voluntary Conserved Areas (VCAs) in the Chinantla region of Oaxaca.

Mapping in Del Rosario

Management programmes for indigenous Voluntary Conserved Areas in Oaxaca, Mexico

This three year project, from April 2009 to March 2012, was designed to enhance Oaxacan indigenous Voluntary Conserved Areas (VCAs) by strengthening the capacity of indigenous people and collaborating researchers to produce a management programme that incorporates local ecological knowledge and community-based research on the cloud forest ecosystem. Activities concentrated in the communities of Santiago Tlatepusco and San Pedro Tlatepusco, municipality of Usila, in north Oaxaca, Mexico.

Management prog for VCA 

Building local capacity to manage community conserved areas in Oaxaca, Mexico

Iimplemented between 2007 and 2009, this project sought to enhance Oaxacan community conserved areas (VCAs) and local livelihoods by strengthening the capacity of Chinantec indigenous peoples and collaborating researchers to document and manage biological resources while promoting traditional ecological knowledge and practice. It also supported Chinantec communities in their understanding of the impacts of the laws and policies related to community conservation initiatives.

morales girl - thumbnail

Examining the role of local participation in biodiversity conservation: case studies from southeast Mexico

Between 2010 and 2012, the international and interdisciplinary consortium, CONSERVCOM, worked to diagnose the opportunities and risks (both social and environmental) of different biodiversity conservation strategies that vary in their degree of local participation. The project analysed the connection between the degree of local participation in decision-making regarding the creation and management of protected areas and land use change in these areas and broader regional landscapes. It also explored the relationship between local participation, local use of natural resources, life strategies and the environmental knowledge, perceptions and values of local people in the study areas.


Farmer- to-farmer exchange in the Tlatepusco and Otate river basin, Oaxaca, Mexico

This project supported the Chinantec communities of Santiago Tlatepusco, San Pedro Tlatepusco and Nopalera del Rosario to improve their sustainable cash crop management practices and help them build strong governing institutions for the marketing and management of production. This was through organising knowledge and practice exchanges with the farmers and cooperative leaders of the town of Cuetzalan, located in Puebla, who have a long and successful history of institution-building and sustainable cash crop management practices.

Farmer to farmer exchange