Tribal Lands Conservation Fund

Invest in Knowledge That's Native

Native Solutions to Climate Change, Conservation, and Environmental Justice

Native peoples have always been the best ecological stewards of our lands and waters. Indigenous peoples worldwide protect 80% of the world’s biodiversity, while making up only 5% of the global population.

And while Native people have a voice in global conversations on climate change, conservation, and environmental justice, it is too often challenging for that voice to be heard.

First Nations’ Tribal Lands Conservation (TLC) Fund is an opportunity to amplify Native voices. It is an opportunity to invest in solutions that lie with the ingenuity of highly resilient peoples who understand the relationship humans have with Earth.

Through the TLC Fund, First Nations supports tribes and Native-led organizations that are developing, leading, and advocating for climate justice and conservation approaches that will protect our lands, waters, and ecosystems for generations and generations to come.

More on the TLC Fund at Comcast Newsmakers:

The Time to Act is Now

Since time immemorial, for many Native people there were no words for water pollution or air pollution or deforestation. Native peoples had never seen or caused this kind of damage, and they could not envision disrespecting or damaging Mother Earth, who provides for all living creatures.

But now, every day, there is news of the climate crisis and reports of the devastation to our oceans, forests, and deserts. Words have had to evolve for the catastrophes of global warming, the mass extinction of plants and animals, devastating wildfires and floods, and shrinking forests. And now, Native communities are especially vulnerable to the effects of climate change, thanks to federal Indian law and policies that have relocated Native communities to places that are most prone to water rise, wildfires, and droughts.

The urgency to find climate solutions cannot be downplayed. First Nations created the TLC Fund because the time to act is NOW. We need to rethink conservation and implement the “new” old ways of protecting our Earth. We need to return to knowledge that’s Native.

Tribal Lands Conservation Fund -- Q&A with Mike Roberts

Tribal Lands Conservation Fund Panel Discussion

"Benefit Beyond Indian Country We believe what’s needed to save our Earth is an approach centered on culture and people that recognizes the rights of Native Nations and tribes to steward their own lands. It’s an approach that benefits not only Native lands, but the world for everyone."

The TLC Fund targets four strategic initiatives:

  • Supporting frontline activism
  • Elevating traditional knowledge
  • Creating conservation tools that align with and respect tribal sovereignty
  • Advancing research and advocacy for Native solutions

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Native Solutions that Work

Through the TLC Fund, First Nations supports Tribes and Native communities that bring core competencies to the field of stewardship and conservation, along with an approach centered on culture and people that recognizes the rights of tribes to steward their own lands.

The following are just a few examples of the Native ingenuity of First Nations’ Community Partners:

Big Valley Rancheria Band of Pomo Indians

California is home to more people who self-identify or are historically identified as Native American than in any other state. In California, tribes officially manage over 511,000 acres of land. While some have regained land ownership and title, many tribes must buy back their lands, and many more remain landless.

Big Valley Rancheria Band of Pomo Indians is one of those tribes. Deprived of protected legal title to their lands by treaty or formal claim, the tribe is on a mission to reclaim its ancestral lands and the burial grounds of their Xabenapo ancestors on the shores of Clear Lake.

With support from First Nations, Big Valley is developing a Memorandum of Understanding with the Clear Lake State Park to co-manage the natural resources of the land, and raise awareness of Big Valley’s history, culture, and capacity to monitor and best steward park resources. The tribe is assessing culturally significant species and planning for habitat restoration using traditional knowledge and Indigenous practices, including cultural burning. Ultimately, they hope to have the original Xabenapo village site and surrounding lands returned to the Tribe.

United Tribes of Bristol Bay

The Bristol Bay Watershed covers 40,000 square miles of pristine lands and waters, including three major river systems and thousands of miles of tributaries, streams, and wetlands that support the world’s largest wild salmon run. The watershed is home to hundreds of species, thriving subsistence-based Indigenous cultures, and 31 federally recognized Tribes.

The watershed also supports a multi-billion dollar commercial and sport fishing economy that provides for over 15,000 local jobs annually.

But at the headwaters of the watershed, plans are underway to develop the Pebble Mine Project, which would irreparably impact the health of the waters, people, wildlife, environment, and culture. With support from First Nations, United Tribes of Bristol Bay is asserting their Indigenous rights through a grassroots movement of outreach, education, youth leadership programs, and advocacy. Supporting the collective sovereignty of its member tribes, the organization continues to support government-to-government relationships with state and federal lawmakers so that the region’s tribes engage directly with elected officials and decision makers. Working with and for the people of Bristol Bay, United Tribes of Bristol Bay is ensuring that the voices of the region’s tribes are heard, and that Indigenous values are brought to the table.


Lower Brule Sioux Tribe

Building on tribal values and cultural practices, the Lower Brule Sioux Tribe’s Department of Wildlife, Fish, and Recreation is working to re-introduce the black-footed ferret, a federally protected endangered species native to North America.

Historically and traditionally, ferrets were thought to have knowledge of underground medicines. In honor of this trait, Native peoples would often use ferret pelts in regalia or medicine bundles, or emulate ferrets through face painting. But, like many wildlife species, the black-footed ferret was nearly wiped out because of human activities. The Lower Brule Sioux Tribe knows it has a responsibility to bring back the species through a holistic approach in honor of the animal’s cultural significance.

By defining their own research goals and collecting data based on tribal priorities, the Tribe is not only saving the ferret, but also strengthening tribal sovereignty. Tribal representative and biologist Shaun Grassel, Ph.D., writes, “We don’t rely on a state agency or federal government to explain to us what’s going on with our wildlife resources. We collect, analyze, and interpret our own data and let it tell a story of what’s going on with our wildlife populations.”

“We’re managing wildlife for the sake of wildlife. Not for politics or just for revenue. Conservation is the top priority. It’s doing what is best for our wildlife resources and our land.” – Lower Brule Sioux Tribe

Nez Perce

The lamprey, an ancient fish, is revered by the Nez Perce for its high oil content, exquisite taste, and ceremonial purpose. While the Nez Perce tribe was relocated to Idaho, many of their ancestral lands are in Oregon, where pollution, dams, unclean water and climate change are destroying fish populations.

The Nez Perce Fisheries Department knows that the loss of the lamprey not only indicates the deteriorating fish habitat, it also affects the cultural traditions of the tribe. If the fish die off, entire cultures would end as well.

Right now, the Nez Perce Fisheries Department operates fish hatcheries across a wide area in Idaho, Washington, and Oregon. They are involved in cutting-edge fisheries research and monitoring of the lamprey. And, they are implementing multiple stream restoration and habitat improvement projects across over 13 million acres.

With support from First Nations, the department is working safeguard and increase the tribe’s traditional knowledge and practices centered on lamprey recovery. 

Chugach Regional Resource Commission

The Alutiiq Pride Marine Institute in Seward, Alaska, is one of only two fish hatcheries in the state that are managed by tribes, and the only one that focuses specifically on shellfish, which are imperative to the traditional subsistence lifestyle of the seven tribes of the Chugach region.

The Institute is managed by First Nations’ community partner Chugach Regional Resources Commission (CRRC), an organization formed to ensure that Chugach Natives are involved in environmental decision making, and that Native stewardship and sound economic development are forever in place.

With the support of First Nations, CRRC is purchasing the Institute, providing for tribal sovereign jurisdiction. The purchase will make it possible for CRRC to expand the facility and create a coastal resiliency plan to protect the region, including the Institute and its water supply, from flooding and coastal erosion caused by climate change .

By calling on traditional knowledge, CRRC is mitigating climate risks and ensuring that shellfish can continue to be a part of the Tribes’ subsistence lifestyle.

More Frontline Activism to Protect Our Earth

The TLC Fund continues First Nations’ investments in Native American-led efforts to combat abusive extractive industries that are impacting Native communities, resources, and land, including:

  • Supporting the San Carlos Apache Tribe in protecting sacred site of Oak Flat
  • Backing Navajo Nation communities working to stop damaging helium, oil, and gas drilling
  • Aiding the Carrizo/Comecrudo Tribe of Texas in raising awareness about cultural and environmental impacts of the U.S./Mexico border wall
  • Helping Magpie Buffalo Organizing in defending sacred sites in the Black Hills of South Dakota from destructive mining
  • Supporting the People of Red Mountain, a grassroots group opposing mines that threaten their homelands
  • Combating environmental injustice and Protecting the Bears Ears National Monument

Why is the TLC Fund so important?

Philanthropy’s investment in Native-led stewardship is tragically low. First Nations’ research shows that, on average, only 23/100ths of one percent of grants distributed by large foundations between 2006 and 2012 went to Native-led organizations and causes. Further, of that small amount, only 6% of dollars granted went to Native-led organizations that serve the environment.

The TLC Fund compensates for this lackluster support from institutionalized philanthropy.

Much of the Native-led ecological work being done is supported by Western funders who insist that Native organizations implement Western practices.

The TLC Fund is designed to ensure support gets to organizations that are both Native-led and advancing stewardship efforts in a way that is centered on Native knowledge and cultural traditions.

The TLC Fund is a way to support knowledge that’s Native.

Celebrate Native Stewardship Through Art

Celebrate Indigenous ecological stewardship and knowledge that's Native with these coloring pages by Native artist and activist Hadassah GreenSky.

Download the Coloring Pages

First Nations – A Trusted Partner

Since 1980, First Nations has created and invested in innovative institutions and models that strengthen asset control and support economic development for American Indian people and their communities.

We are the most highly-rated American Indian nonprofit in the nation.

  • Charity Navigator: The highest rating of Four Stars for 11 consecutive years
  • GuideStar: 2022 Platinum Seal of Transparency, the highest level of recognition offered
  • Better Business Bureau: First Nations meets all 20 Standards of the Wise Giving Alliance
  • Great Nonprofits: New in 2022, First Nations was honored with a Top-Rated Award

First Nations has worked with Native communities on land stewardship-related initiatives since 2013, ultimately launching  the Stewarding Native Lands program to support Native stewardship and improve Native control of and access to ancestral lands and resources to ensure the sustainable, economic, spiritual and cultural well-being of Native communities.

Since the program launched, we have directed more than $6.3 million to 187 community partners to advance initiatives in environmental justice, climate adaption, community resilience, conservation and restoration.