Case Study: North and South American Indigenous Leaders Technical Exchange


From May 17, 2006, US Forest Service staff Mike Dockry and Andrea von der Ohe accompanied a delegation of Brazilian indigenous leaders on a technical visit in the United States. The delegation included Jecinaldo Barbosa Cabral (COIAB General Director), María Miquelina Barreto Machado (COIAB General Secretary), Lourenco Borges Milhomem (COAPIMA Coordinator), and Jorege Terena (TNC/Brazil). The objective of the technical visit was to examine systems of environmental management on indigenous lands, learn about relationships between state and federal governments and indigenous tribes, and build alliances to address common problems faced by indigenous peoples in North America and Brazil. The technical visit was funded by the US Forest Service, The Nature Conservancy, and the US Agency for International Development/Brazil. This case study includes some highlights and lessons learned during the technical visit.

The technical visit started in Washington, D.C. and participants meet with government officials, non-governmental organizations, and intertribal organizations. The participants then traveled to the Menominee Indian Tribe of Wisconsin reservation and the College of Menominee Nation in Wisconsin. There the participants met with Menominee tribal members while they toured the Menominee community, forest, and tribal college. Discussions centered around building educational and tribal institutions, sustainable forest management and common histories and experiences. The next stop was in Oregon to visit with the Confederated Tribes of Warm Springs. During this stop the participants meet with tribal leaders and toured their sawmill, biomass to energy plant, and fish hatchery. They also learned about how the Confederated Tribes of Warm Springs foresters engaged their community in tribal land use planning. Finally the participants traveled to British Colombia to visit an Indigenous community in the Big Bear rainforest to learn how the community was protecting and managing their natural resources for the benefit of tribal members as well as the rest of Canada.

Methods, Tools, and Data

This technical visit is an example of experiential and collaborative learning. Indigenous cultures are often rooted in oral histories and landscape. Technical visits among Indigenous Peoples, their governments, and community members provide opportunities for interaction within Indigenous territories and foster collaboration, synergy, trust, and hope. This in turn fosters creativity and the design of sustainable projects within the participating communities.

Discussion of Results

This technical visit was an excellent project because participants learned from each other, formed friendships, and began to envision future projects that would foster community learning and sustainable forest management. Some of the lessons learned from this project include:

  • It is critical to provide international Indigenous visitors with the opportunity to meet and dialogue with Indigenous Peoples from the United States.
  • These exchanges are mutual learning experiences for the international participants and the local tribes.
  • The visiting delegates should prepare a one or two page document and short presentation outlining their goals for the visit and introduce their culture, land, and some of the projects their organizations are working on.
  • The study tour should begin with on overview session with information on the tribal system in the United States and the relationship they have with the government.
  • It is important to have professional translation services because it is difficult for participants to both translate and participate in meetings and discussions.
  • Meetings take longer than expected because of language and cultural differences. The time allotted to each meeting needs to be at least three hours.
  • It would beneficial to translate some US federal laws like the NAGPRA and NEPA into Portuguese and Spanish.
  • It is beneficial for international indigenous groups to visit Indian reservations in the United States because of their long history of sustainable forest management, their tribal institutions, history, and native hospitality.
  • Integrated Resource Management Plans and Forest Plans are critical elements of sustainable forestry and sustainable communities. Community planning is an important topic to cover.
  • There is a need for international workshops focused on indigenous forest management, sustainability and leadership. These courses should include culture as a critical piece of sustainability.
  • It is important for international Indigenous visitors to have opportunities to meet tribal leaders, experience traditional music, food, and prayers.

Management Implications

Indigenous peoples throughout the world are facing similar obstacles to sustainable resource management and sustainable development. Indigenous communities have developed innovative ways to overcome some of these institutional, historical, ecological, and political challenges. Indigenous groups throughout the world share many common realities and benefit from the opportunity to discuss their problems and solutions. These dialogues have the potential to improve sustainability world wide by informing Indigenous communities as well as informing broader discussions of sustainability.

Related Partners

The Forest Service was established in 1905 and is an agency of the U.S. Department of Agriculture. The Forest Service manages public lands in national forests and grasslands, which encompass 193 million acres.


  • Mike Dockry, US Forest Service Liaison to College of Menominee Nation, 715-799-6226 x3222 or