North America is a rich tapestry of biocultural landscapes woven through with relationships among diverse lifeforms. Indigenous communities have been a part of this tapestry since time immemorial, tending, managing, cultivating, and co-creating these landscapes. The well-being of Indigenous communities and the well-being of lands and waters are fundamentally interlinked—North American environments benefit from the stewardship of Indigenous peoples and the careful application of traditional knowledge. In turn, the land nourishes the people.
However, in North America this balance has been upset. Historical and ongoing processes of colonisation have created conditions in which many Indigenous communities are under-resourced and marginalised. Extractive practices take from the earth and communities in non-reciprocal ways, based on ownership rather than relationship. Since conquest, Indigenous peoples are often excluded from meaningful participation in processes that impact their territories, or their participation is defined in limited ways. This creates significant barriers to effectively protecting the vibrant biocultural landscapes that Indigenous communities have tended for millennia. Without knowledgeable stewardship and with irresponsible consumption, environmental degradation of lands and waters continues. Indigenous communities, communities of colour and low-income communities are continuously forced to cope with the legacy of damage, toxicity and erasure that these activities leave behind.
Why are we interested in protecting the biocultural diversity of Indigenous territories?
Healthy biocultural landscapes greatly benefit all North Americans, through the provision of clean water and air; nutritious food; and safe places to live and experience reverence. Everyone has a role to play in restoring the balance.
In the last few decades, various authors have addressed the concept of biocultural diversity in a theoretical body that describes the ways in which biological diversity and cultural diversity are intertwined and interdependent. From this theoretical development, we begin by affirming that throughout history, indigenous peoples have adapted to their environment and at the same time modified it to meet the basic needs of food, health, home, clothing, among others. Indigenous peoples have also promoted environmental diversification by tolerating, caring for, managing, cultivating and enjoying plant and animal species, as well as other elements such as water, land and air. The territory of each indigenous or native people is precisely this environment which generations have been adapting to, and making their own. Each territory is a place where local Indigenous peoples know what to eat in each season of the year, where to find water, where the types of soil exist, variations of the climate, and the location of other living beings with whom the habitat is shared. Indigenous peoples’ territories are sets of biocultural landscapes resulting from the combination of the environment with indigenous practices and knowledge. The creation and coexistence with these landscapes over time has also generated symbolic and religious content that is an integral part of the life of each people.
The pressures that have threatened indigenous peoples throughout their history have often thrown relationships with the environment out of balance, yet these relationships are integral for ensuring the well-being of Indigenous peoples and their territories. Threats to the well-being of indigenous peoples have existed since before the conquest, although it was during this period that the attack on Indigenous cultures and lives became more present, explicit and bitter. Colonisation has not ended and Indigenous peoples and mestizo peasants continue to face pressure and threats from governments, businesses and other groups of people who are interested in the natural assets of their territory. Mega projects or industries related to the change of land use, the use or channeling of water, the industrial extraction of minerals, among others, constantly threaten to expel these people from the site that has been their home for generations. And as mentioned above, this place is not simply a piece of land that can be replaced by another elsewhere, but it is where the communities, their cultures and even their individual bodies are adapted, and whose care also depends on the knowledge which these peoples have developed.
Therefore, the defense and protection of Indigenous territories takes on biological, ecological, socio-cultural, symbolic, and religious meaning, as well as political meaning as peoples exercise their rights to decide in any situation that affects the satisfaction of their needs or the expression of their preferences or values.
Where we see ourselves
We see our role as facilitators and convenors, creating spaces for Indigenous and non-Indigenous leaders, professionals and practitioners to learn together and imagine solutions. Using a peer-to-peer methodology, we invite participants to share the gifts of their knowledge. Together we grow a common pool of resources, strategies, connections, and skills that participants carry with them to protect their territories or the place they call home.
As we create these spaces, we seed a growing network of mutual support among environmental changemakers who are deeply invested in protecting and revitalising biocultural landscapes. Participants in our North American events—such as Community Environmental Leadership Exchanges (NACELEs) and Regional Academies—become members of the Global Environments Network. This connects them to a global action network of other individuals dedicated to finding integrative solutions to the world’s greatest environmental and social problems.
In North America, restoring the balance will take time. We understand our role to be long-term and collaborative.
The broader landscape
Indigenous resistance in North America has existed for over 500 years and is going strong. Indigenous nations and communities are actively opposing corporate, settler- and state-driven forces of extraction and destruction through creative forms of resistance, resurgence, and life-affirming action. These include the revitalisation of traditional management practices, holistic strategies to foster wellbeing, the restoration of traditional foodways, and intergenerational learning and action.
Within this landscape there is further potential for strengthening Indigenous-led biocultural revitalisation and building relationships. Actions and projects could have greater impact with stronger networks of support. This is where we focus.
As we grow and collaborate on more initiatives and events, we see the interconnectedness of these projects and their significance for the decolonisation of North America more broadly. In this light, we understand that it is our responsibility to our collaborators to provide them with robust networks that are diverse in their membership. We continue to actively network with other individuals engaged in resistance and resurgence projects throughout North America and explore possibilities for collaboration and connection.
If you have any questions about the GDF North America programme, please contact: