Indigenous and traditional peoples have often been unfairly affected by conservation policies and practices, which have failed to fully understand the rights and roles of indigenous peoples in the management, use and conservation of biodiversity. In line with numerous international instruments, several IUCN Resolutions emphasise indigenous peoples' rights to lands, territories, and natural resources on which they have traditionally subsisted. These resolutions stress the need to enhance participation of indigenous peoples in all conservation initiatives and policy developments that affect them. Furthermore, they recognise that indigenous peoples possess a unique body of knowledge relevant for the conservation and sustainable use of natural resources.
IUCN uses the ILO Convention No. 169 Statement of Coverage and thus applies the term to
- Peoples who identify themselves as "indigenous" in the strict sense; and:
- Tribal peoples ("tribal peoples whose social, cultural, and economic conditions distinguish them from other sections of the national community, and whose status is regulated wholly or partially by their own customs or traditions or by special laws or regulations").
- IUCN also uses the same rights-related standards for peoples not necessarily tribal but with traditional links to ecosystems and their goods and services.
IUCN’s inclusive definition therefore applies to groups categorized as, inter alia, hunter-gatherers, pastoralists, ethnic minorities, etc… While IUCN recognizes that all people should enjoy equal rights and respect regardless of identity, it is strategically important to distinguish these communities from other stakeholders. They have a distinct set of rights linked to their social, political, and economic situation as a result of their ancestry and stewardship of the lands and resources that are vital to conservation and livelihood security.
Although IUCN takes this approach globally and is aware of international provisions that call for acknowledgement of and support to IP’ identity, it recognizes the need to consider the national policy frameworks in order to operationalize this definition on the ground.