Indigenous-Led Education (ILED)

Supporting Indigenous Peoples’ Economic, Ecological and Cultural Resilience for Future Generations

We saved up enough in our village fund over the last few years, by sustainable harvest of forest produce, to provide for people who have lost their jobs in cities and returned home during the corona crisis” – Kukdel Village, Maharashtra, India

Examples of indigenous and local communities’ self-reliance and solidarity with others can be found in all parts of the world. In Northern Thailand, indigenous mountain communities, whose traditional rotational farming systems have long been criticized and falsely blamed for destroying the forest, are now providing rice and vegetables to people in the urban centres of Chiang Mai. In Costa Rica, indigenous communities donate food to those affected by COVID-19. These examples, and many more, have enormous lessons on pathways out of ‘Covid’ – especially towards empowering communities to be more resilient in the face of any such future crisis. Foremost amongst these is that instead of (economic) globalization, localization is the way to go.

Another key lesson is the need for adopting a more sustainable and respectful way of living in relation to the Earth. For years, indigenous leaders have urged the rest of the world to adopt a more indigenous-inspired way of coexisting with nature, including leaving habitats intact, harvesting plants and animals at sustainable levels and acknowledging and respecting the connection between human and planetary health. Now, they are reiterating that message in light of the coronavirus. They stress the role of traditional knowledge, practices and land stewardship in protecting the planet, mitigating climate change and reducing the risk of pandemics. Protecting nature is not just about ecology and biodiversity, it is also about preserving lives, histories and cultures.

But how can (mostly) northern-based NGOs and global networks working in environment, development and human rights sectors, grant-making and donor organizations, and foundations, who stand in solidarity with indigenous and local communities worldwide, best support the cultural and ecological resilience in communities and contribute to their empowerment?

Strengthening indigenous resilience

Building on the agency by grassroots communities, the original co-convenors (see below) have decided to put their hands together, to create more traction and support for culturally-appropriate, self-determined education. Centering grassroots initiatives that uphold, preserve and pass on knowledge, language, customary laws and practices, and connection to land to new generations. Our joint objective is to make indigenous communities, especially indigenous youth, more economically and culturally resilient and sustainable for the future.

We are keenly aware of the many problems and threats indigenous and local communities are facing, including human rights abuses, discrimination and marginalization, dispossession, loss and destruction of indigenous lands and territories. These situations aggravate the hardships and increased risk and threats many indigenous peoples experience in the face of Covid-19. Our organisations are deeply involved in addressing these issues in solidarity with local communities and partners through various of our main programmes.

A focus on education

However, we think it is important that there is also a more specific focus on the role of education. The engagement and commitment of future generations is a crucial factor for cultural resilience. And we know that resilient communities have more chances of success to defend their collective (land) rights. They are better positioned to establish long-term effective community governance, to maintain sustainable territorial management and biodiversity conservation, including food production and health systems, as well as generate community-based innovations and adaptations.

We know that indigenous cultures are under serious and many threats in the globalising system. Mainstream education, employment and urban lifestyles all influence cultural identities, especially among youth.  Impoverishment by conventional economic development and marginalisation puts pressure on indigenous lifestyles while  the loss or degradation of indigenous lands and territories reduces areas of cultural practice and production.

Fortunately, many communities are responding by developing their own initiatives that incorporate the transmission and use of traditional knowledge, and engage youth and children, on their own terms. Examples of initiatives range from entire community-run schools and curricula development, to informal schooling initiatives like culinary festivals, environmental conservation and restoration projects, maintenance of sacred sites, excursions involving several generations, practical courses and activities involving language or traditional skills, food production and health projects. Women especially play a crucial role as knowledge holders and teachers.

Such community-based initiatives are often small-scale and remain largely invisible to donors, policy makers and the general public and lack sustained support. Also, they are often unknown to other indigenous communities who could greatly benefit from the examples of others.

Read more in this fact sheet.

About this initiative

Our goal is to form a global collaborative network of organisations in support of Indigenous-Led Education (ILED).

While we have some initial thoughts about possible actions and activities within the network, our aim is to co-create this together with other, likeminded organisations, in a “co-shaping phase” that includes a series of webinars.

Functions or aims of the network may include:

  • Sharing funding opportunities, and networking and contacts aimed at supporting practical Indigenous-Led Education-related activities in indigenous and local communities. Looking at complementarity, not competition.
  • Organising and facilitating local, regional and international cross-visits and exchanges (physical and virtual meetings) between our respective partners, in order to share cultural ecological education practices and approaches, and to motivate, inspire and support each other.
  • Engaging in joint advocacy and awareness-raising among governments, donors and other stakeholders; making grassroots initiatives more visible (among others via graphs and digital maps), and gain traction in the support and financing of these activities. One idea to promote visibility is celebrating successful initiatives with an award. Also by developing information packages to highlight Indigenous-Led Education as part of the upcoming International Decade of Indigenous Languages (2022-2032), including short videos/stories.

Open questions to be addressed together:

  • Where/what resources are available for these activities and how can we ensure optimal and effective channeling to the grassroots and other initiatives, avoiding overlap with other initiatives?
  • What similar initiatives or networks exist, how to relate to these, complement each other (not duplicate or compete)?
  • What initiatives is everyone involved in, aware of, and possibly already supporting? Which countries/regions?
  • Who (else) should be on board?
  • How to coordinate a global collaborative network, keeping it light touch?
  • How can we envisage more tailored financial mechanisms that can genuinely reach the grassroots, e.g. small grants facilities?

While we seek to encourage exchange and learning between organisations and experts from all regions, we prioritize funding and support to Indigenous-Led Education initiatives in tropical forest regions because of the importance of tropical forests and because initiatives there are most underfunded and under-exposed.

Webinar series

As we would like to create a space to discuss and share information on Indigenous-Led Education initiatives and opportunities, we are planning to organize a series of webinars in 2020 and 2021 with those organisations that are interested in this idea and would like to contribute, one way or another.


Forest Peoples Programme (UK), Rutu Foundation for Intercultural Multilingual Education (Netherlands), Both ENDS (Netherlands), Keystone Foundation (India), Sengwer of Embobut Community Organisation (Kenya) , Non-Timber Forest Products- Exchange Programme – NTFP-EP (Asia), Federation of Negrito Tribes – SPNKK (Philippines), IMPECT Association (Thailand), Fundación para la Promoción del Conocimiento Indígena (Panama), Allianza Ceibo (Ecuador) and Federación de Comunidades Nativas de Ucayali y Afluentes – FECONAU (Peru).

Contact information

For more information, please contact Caroline de Jong at the Forest Peoples Programme: