An indigenous population is an ethnic group whose ancestors inhabited a place before another, eventually dominant culture arrived. By definition, indigenous peoples are distinct from the prevailing culture that surrounds them.

That non-dominant status – and the associated effort to regain previous rights or places that were lost during the shift of cultures – has caused tensions between indigenous and non-indigenous societies throughout history. A glimpse at the news this year demonstrates the MPA field is not immune to such tensions (see box, “Recent global developments with MPAs and indigenous peoples”). The high-profile struggle over protection of the Chagos Archipelago in the Indian Ocean is just one example.

However, the relationship between indigenous peoples and MPAs can be one of mutual advantage and cultural transfer, rather than conflict. Many indigenous cultures have a history of managing natural resources in a sustainable manner. If MPA practitioners can harness that cultural knowledge – and recognize indigenous peoples as partners in developing strategies – then all sides may benefit.

That partnership is co-management: in this case, indigenous and non-indigenous societies working together to manage MPAs. Co-management can take different forms – from sites where all decisions are made jointly, to sites where partners carry different responsibilities and entitlements. In this issue of MPA News, we examine two distinct cases of co-management.

A. Gwaii Haanas, Canada: “Collaboration is the first move, not the last”

Background: The Government of Canada and the Council of the Haida Nation co-manage Gwaii Haanas National Park Reserve and Haida Heritage Site, a 1470-km2 coastal protected area in western Canada. The protected area encompasses the land portions of an archipelago of 138 islands where the Haida people have lived for thousands of years. Overseeing the management of Gwaii Haanas is a four-member Archipelago Management Board, of which two members represent the Canadian government and two members represent the Council of the Haida Nation. All board decisions are made by consensus.

Now the marine environment of Gwaii Haanas is being added to the protection system. Early this year, Canada and the Council of the Haida Nation agreed on a co-management arrangement for Gwaii Haanas waters that is similar to that for the land. The waters, covering 3500 km2, have become the Gwaii Haanas National Marine Conservation Area and Haida Heritage Site. The Archipelago Management Board, which will oversee both protected areas, is in the process of expanding to include a marine representative of the Canadian government and another Haida representative.

The following was contributed by:

Cindy Boyko
Representative of the Council of the Haida Nation on the Gwaii Haanas Archipelago Management Board (AMB)

On ensuring the Gwaii Haanas management partnership is balanced:

“The decision in 1993 to recognize two distinct authorities for Gwaii Haanas [the Council of the Haida Nation and the government of Canada] set a fundamental and solid base for creating longstanding good management for the area. It created an atmosphere in which the government of Canada can draw on the resources of the Haida Nation, and the Haida Nation can draw on the resources of Canada. It created an atmosphere where collaboration is the first move, not the last.

“The first few years were essentially about building trust in the relationship. The most important thing that we can all bring to the table is honesty. Sometimes it can get uncomfortable, and there are always bumps to smooth out. But as long as there is a committed and solid relationship between the parties at the AMB table, there is always room to find a solution that works for everyone.

“One example was the building of a warden station in Gwaii Haanas. When the government of Canada first expressed interest in building a station, there were no Haida employees yet in the Gwaii Haanas field unit. It was important to the Council of the Haida Nation that we not have a building created that would represent only the government of Canada and thereby establish a sense of ‘ownership’. The AMB decided to let the issue sit. Over time, Haida employment increased and discussions eventually restarted regarding the station, which has now been built. We also negotiated to have the Gwaii Haanas standard uniforms changed to incorporate Haida logos to reflect the co-operative management of the area.”

On employing Haida people in protected area management:

“An AMB goal for Gwaii Haanas’ field unit is eventually to have all positions filled by Haida, from management on down. Some day that will be realized. We are jointly working toward this. [Note: The manager of the park reserve is a Haida.]

“The field unit’s Haida employment rate now is at 50%. There are technical jobs that will take years to build the capacity for – science-based positions that will require university degrees. So we need to start recruiting in our schools to lead people in the right direction. It is a long process.”

On negotiating co-management for the new National Marine Conservation Area:

“A commitment was made years ago when the Council of the Haida Nation and the government of Canada signed the Gwaii Haanas Agreement [for co-management of the land area] that the Gwaii Haanas marine area would also be addressed. If we did not come together to look after our marine areas, we would all lose.

“The Canadian Department of Fisheries & Oceans is facing its own challenges: the dismal, long-term forecasts for the oceans and fisheries are dictating that change is necessary in management. The Haida Nation has been talking about this kind of change for a long time – we are on the ground watching the deterioration. Now we have a partner to help us make change come about.

“In the long run we will learn together about better ways to take care of the lands and waters. As we all know, looking after the lands and waters is important. It is the natural world that makes us who we are.”

For more information:

Cindy Boyko, Council of the Haida Nation, Haida Gwaii. E-mail:

Website of Gwaii Haanas National Park Reserve and Haida Heritage Site:

B. iSimangaliso Wetland Park, South Africa: Recognizing the people’s right to restitution but the state’s role in conservation

Background: What is now a 3280-km2 protected area on the northeast coast of South Africa – containing ecosystems from coral reefs to sandy beaches and from dune forest to savannah – was home to rural African tribes for more than 1000 years. The arrival of European settlers and the establishment of the racist apartheid government led to changes. From the 1950s through the 1970s, the white-ruled South African government removed thousands of rural Africans from the region, often forcing them with no warning to climb on government trucks that transported them long distances away. This was part of a nearly century-long process of removing “black spots” from areas in the country desired by the white ruling class. The area later designated as iSimangaliso Wetland Park was desirable at the time as a mining location, tree plantation site, and game reserve.

In 1994, after the fall of apartheid and the country’s first free elections, the new South African government passed legislation allowing dispossessed people to file land claims for return of their homelands. When iSimangaliso Wetland Park was designated as South Africa’s first World Heritage site in 1999, the entirety of the park’s land area was subject to one claim or another.

The following was contributed by:

Andrew Zaloumis
CEO, iSimangaliso Wetland Park, Ezemvelo KZN Wildlife (state wildlife agency)

On land claim settlements at iSimangaliso:

“Nine claims representing 75% of the Park have been settled. The settled claims are for the Bhangazi, Mbila, Mabaso, KwaJobe, Nsinde, Mnqobokazi, Makhasa, Sokhulu, and Mdletshe tribes. [Note: A regional land claims commission, overseen by the national government, rules on the claims.]

“Land use of the iSimangaliso Wetland Park remains conservation, so beneficiaries of the land restitution process may not resettle within the Park. This is in line with the national framework for the settlement of land claims in protected areas. [In non-protected areas of South Africa, land claim settlements do allow for resettlement.] This framework recognizes the rights of people to social redress while affirming that the state’s role is to manage protected areas in perpetuity. Successful claimants are awarded title to the land, but no physical occupation of land in a protected area is permitted, no large-scale agriculture, etc.

“iSimangaliso will remain an open ecological system, managed as an integrated part of the protected area by the iSimangaliso Wetland Park Authority. Compensation for loss of the use of the land is provided in the form of a household solatium [a compensation payment], and development and planning grants have been awarded by the Regional Land Claims Commission to community-led trusts for investment in community projects.

“By disallowing resettlement, the land restitution framework for protected areas avoids the balkanization of the Park, enabling the protected area manager to manage the land as one integrated ecological area. The specific beneficiation package for each of the claims is slightly different depending on the natural resource base, the tourism development potential, and the ecological limitations imposed by the zonation of the park.”

On the nature of co-management at iSimangaliso:

“As part of a land claim settlement, successful land claimants are required to enter into a co-management agreement with the relevant conservation authority – in this case the iSimangaliso Wetland Park Authority. After a claim is settled, co-management agreements are negotiated between the claimants and iSimangaliso. As co-management partners, land claimants have preferential access to revenue sharing, jobs and work opportunities, empowerment, economic ownership of tourism businesses, enterprise development, and natural resource harvesting.” [See box, “How iSimangaliso Wetland Park works with land claimants and local communities”]

On challenges this co-management system faces:

“A new model for conservation is being implemented in iSimangaliso. It balances biodiversity protection and ecosystem rehabilitation on the one hand with a genuine commitment to social equity and regional economic development on the other. This integrated approach, which recognizes the value of our natural assets and our people, is uniquely appropriate to South African conditions. It relies on active partnership between all those with an interest in the region to promote both conservation and development.

“While iSimangaliso is an important economic driver for the region, it is not an economic panacea. Although significant tangible benefits have been delivered to land claimants through the co-management agreements, many of iSimangaliso’s 620,000 neighbors are the poorest of the poor. There are high levels of unemployment. One of the biggest challenges we face is that there are unrealistic expectations of what the natural asset and the tourism sector can deliver. While iSimangaliso is committed to fulfilling its development mandate it cannot singly resolve the regional economic issues, including the alleviation of widespread poverty. Multi-tiered economic interventions outside the Park by the state and private sector, to address the economic and poverty-related issues of the region, are needed.”

For more information:

Andrew Zaloumis, iSimangaliso Wetland Park Authority, St. Lucia, South Africa. E-mail:

Website of iSimangaliso Wetland Park:

BOX: How iSimangaliso Wetland Park works with land claimants and local communities

  • Successful land claimants gain a seat on the iSimangaliso Wetland Park Board, which oversees Park management. A capacity-building program supports the development of leadership skills among claimant representatives.
  • A percentage of commercial revenue from the Park is paid to land claimants, who also hold equity shares in the Park’s tourism facilities.
  • Local small businesses receive support, including grants, from the Park’s Rural Enterprise Support program.
  • The Park facilitates tourism skills training for hospitality trainees, assistant chefs, and tour guides.
  • The Park supports 26 craft groups and 50 artists, including by developing access to markets for their works.
  • The Park has developed 39 food gardens to support local communities, and oversees the sustainable harvest of natural herbs and other plants inside the Park by local communities.
  • The Park provides financial and academic support to 10 first-year students studying at area universities, with the goal of developing future park management.

BOX: Recent global developments with MPAs and indigenous peoples

Chagos Archipelago:
The UK, which owns this island group in the Indian Ocean, designated the waters around Chagos as a massive marine protected area this year, with at least some of the MPA to be a no-take zone (MPA News 11:6). The designation was opposed by Chagossian islanders, whom the UK forcibly removed from the archipelago in the late 1960s in favor of building a military base there. The displaced Chagossians – now living in Mauritius, the Seychelles, and the UK – are suing for the right to return to the islands. They are concerned the new no-take protections will make it difficult for them to live self-sufficiently upon returning to Chagos.

In July, 300 members of California indigenous tribes engaged in a protest to defend tribal marine gathering rights, focusing in particular on the ongoing state process to plan a system of MPAs along the California coast. Charging that the planning process is infringing on their traditional rights, the protesters peacefully took over a meeting of the state-sponsored task force that is managing the MPA-planning process. The following month, tribal representatives joined with other regional stakeholders (including fishing groups and conservation organizations) to submit a unified proposal for a system of MPAs along the state’s north coast. The proposal allows for traditional, non-commercial tribal gathering rights. More information is at

New Zealand:
The nation’s Foreshore and Seabed Act of 2004 bars the indigenous Māori people from seeking any customary claims to beaches and waterways. The law, based on parliamentary concerns at the time that Māori would restrict public access to claimed areas, has been called racially discriminatory by Māori groups, who say they have a right to the foreshore and seabed based on historical possession and an 1840 treaty. In September 2010, the New Zealand government introduced a bill to Parliament that would repeal the 2004 law and replace it with a system that allows for Māori claims. Under the bill, public access for all would be guaranteed to claimed areas; however, claimants would have the right to restrict certain human activities there, such as by designating a no-take marine reserve. For more information on the bill, go to

BOX: Additional resources on indigenous peoples and protected areas