Indigenous peoples and many local communities have unique protocols, procedures, rules, and regulations (referred to as ‘protocols’) that regulate their interactions within and between communities and with the territories and areas upon which they depend. Protocols provide clarity to community members about rights, responsibilities, and appropriate behaviour. Respecting and acting according to community protocols helps ensure social cohesion and reinforces customary laws, values, and decision- making processes.
Indigenous peoples and local communities are increasingly engaging with external actors such as government agencies, researchers, companies, and non-governmental organizations (NGOs). However, external actors often do not understand customary protocols and governance systems because they are codified in ways specific to each community, culture, and location. Failing to respect community protocols, whether intentional or not, can lead to conflict, deterioration of otherwise constructive relations, and negative impacts on the environment.
To address this issue, Indigenous peoples and local communities have begun to document and develop their protocols into forms that can also be understood by others. They are using them to ensure that external actors respect their customary laws, values, and decision-making processes, particularly those concerning stewardship of their territories and areas. They are actively seeking recognition of customary systems of governance and management, including traditional knowledge and practices, and their roles in the conservation and sustainable use of biological diversity and ecosystem adaptation. Many are referring to these instruments as ‘biocultural community protocols’.1