World Heritage and Indigenous People

Many cultural and natural World Heritage sites are home to indigenous people. As the UNESCO policy on engaging with indigenous people recognizes, World Heritage sites are often located within land managed by indigenous people whose land use, knowledge and cultural and spiritual values and practices are related to heritage. Inspired by the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples (UNDRIP), the UNESCO policy embraces the right of indigenous people to their traditional lands, territories and recognizes traditional management systems as part of new management approaches. It describes indigenous people as stewards of a significant part of the world’s biological, cultural and linguistic diversity and as partners in site conservation and protection activities.

In line with the UNDRIP and UNESCO policy, the Operational Guidelines of the World Heritage Convention recognize the role of indigenous people in identifying, managing, protecting and presenting World Heritage. In this spirit, the International Indigenous Peoples Forum for World Heritage functions as a reflection platform on involving indigenous people in the identification, conservation and management of World Heritage properties, as noted by the World Heritage Committee at 41st session (Kraków, 2017).

In particular, the Operational Guidelines recognize

  • Indigenous people as stakeholders and rights-holders in the identification, nomination, management and protection processes of World Heritage properties as well as in the presentation of heritage, in line with a human rights based approach (paragraphs 12 and 211 d);
  • Full and effective participation of indigenous people in the preparation of Tentative Lists, i.e. the inventories of sites, which State Parties intend to consider for nomination. Before including sites on their Tentative List, “States Parties shall consult and cooperate in good faith with the indigenous peoples concerned through their own representative institutions in order to obtain their free, prior and informed consent” (paragraph 64);
  • that biological diversity and cultural diversity are closely linked and interdependent. Human activities may be consistent with the Outstanding Universal Value of the area where they are ecologically sustainable (paragraph 90);
  • thorough shared understanding of the property, its universal, national and local values and its socio-ecological context by all stakeholders, including indigenous people, as a possible common element of an effective management system (paragraphs 111 and 117);
  • The promotion of effective, inclusive and equitable participation of communities, indigenous people and other stakeholders concerned with the property through legislations, policies and strategies as necessary conditions to sustainable protection, conservation, management and presentation of World Heritage properties (paragraph 119);
  • Effective and inclusive participation of indigenous people in the nomination process to demonstrate that their free, prior and informed consent has been obtained and to enable them to have a shared responsibility with the State Party in the maintenance of the property (paragraph 123);
  • Educational and capacity-building programmes that promote sustainable and inclusive economic benefits for local communities and indigenous peoples, including the promotion of local material and resource use and of local cultural and creative industries and safeguarding intangible heritage associated with World Heritage properties (paragraph 214bis);
  • Traditional and indigenous knowledge held by local communities and indigenous people, with all necessary consent, aiming at demonstrating the contribution that the conservation and management of World Heritage properties, their buffer zones and wider setting make to sustainable development (paragraph 215);
  • International Assistance requests of inclusive nature, including the involvement of local communities and indigenous people (paragraph 239 j).

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