First Advisor

Jeremy Spoon

Term of Graduation

Winter 2022

Date of Publication


Document Type


Degree Name

Master of Arts (M.A.) in Anthropology






Natural areas -- Conservation, Traditional ecological knowledge, Land trusts, Indians of North America, Environmental management



Physical Description

1 online resource (v, 114 pages)


Conservation organizations around the world are addressing exclusionary policies and implicit biases that have alienated segments of society from both the conservation movement and natural places. Native American tribes make up one segment of society with a particular interest in and deep ties to land and resources. Vancouver, Washington-based Columbia Land Trust recognizes tribes' special relationships with their ancestral lands and resources thereon, but has struggled to develop policies that involve tribes in conserved areas and conservation plans. The conception among mainstream scientists that western conservation science is better equipped than Indigenous ecological knowledge (IEK) to determine best practices is one part of that struggle. Another part, however, is the organization's limited capacity to holistically review and revise its policies and to engage respectfully with multiple sovereign nations in a coordinated and ongoing manner. Using political ecology as a lens for examining the asymmetry of power over land and resources, this research explores the most appropriate path forward in Land Trust-tribe relationship development. I conducted a combination of semi-structured interviews with tribe and Land Trust representatives (N=11), a survey of Land Trust staff, board members, and volunteers (N=47), participant observation among Land Trust staff, board members, and volunteers (N>20), and a review of literature pertaining to relationships between other conservation organizations and tribes. Overarching questions addressed each party's concerns and expectations around Land Trust-tribe relationships, and what cultural differences might challenge these relationships. Additional questions pertaining to tribes' histories, rights, treaties, and the impacts of colonization were directed at Land Trust participants to gauge their preparedness to engage respectfully with tribes/sovereign nations. An analysis of interview transcripts and descriptive statistics from survey data revealed three main themes: 1) Indigenous culture and IEK challenge conventional western conservation science, but in practice there is (or will be) significant overlap in conservation objectives and approaches; 2) Land Trust-tribe partnerships make practical sense and help to advance justice, equity, diversity, and inclusion (JEDI) goals; and 3) while all parties seem prepared to respectfully engage, some apprehension remains on the part of the Land Trust to commit to taking that next step -- an increased and dedicated effort may be necessary to initiate negotiations, draw up agreements, and orchestrate ongoing partnering efforts. These findings, in conjunction with existing literature, substantiate my argument encouraging Columbia Land Trust to institute policies and a strategy for involving tribes in regional conservation planning and in restoration and stewardship projects at select sites. Further, the findings may instill greater confidence for all parties involved to move forward in relationship-building processes. Through such processes, it is feasible that partners will learn to trust that each other's objectives and approaches to conservation (based either in western science or IEK) will overlap and/or are negotiable, and that partnering will improve conservation and social justice outcomes. This study provides a unique example of justice- and inclusivity-based relationship-building between one conservation organization and multiple tribes, each with varying conservation interests and capacities. Further, it contributes to a growing body of literature calling for conservation professionals to honor Indigenous rights and recognize the value of their ecological knowledge.


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