Across mineral rich and developing regions of the world, substantial natural resource wealth rests with Indigenous and tribal communities. And yet, throughout the world, Indigenous Peoples have historically suffered disproportionately from negative impacts of extractive activities in their territories: lack of consent, control, recognition, and benefit, and even outright theft and violence.

The global transparency movement has the potential to play a part in changing that past for the better by supporting Indigenous People’s greater participation in resource decision-making on their territories and in their countries. Used robustly, transparency can empower Indigenous Peoples to hold governments, including their own Indigenous governments, and companies to account for the payments made and received for resources and harness the development of their lands for their peoples’ own needs and wants.

To better understand how increasing transparency globally might affect Indigenous Peoples, we undertook a report, Preliminary Inquiry into Indigenous Peoples’ Participation in Extractive Industry Transparency Initiative Multi-stakeholder Groups: What are the Present Experiences, Potential Benefits and Challenges? We wanted to learn more about the challenges and successes for Indigenous peoples seeking good governance of natural resources through engaging with EITI, the Extractives Industries Transparency Initiative. We asked: has EITI shaped the ability of Indigenous Peoples to influence decisions about natural resources on ancestral lands? This initial and preliminary inquiry is meant to provide a snapshot of what growing natural resource transparency means for Indigenous Peoples in three distinct regions: Philippines, Guatemala and the USA.

The Global Transparency Movement and EITI

The Extractive Industries Transparency Initiative has led efforts to mobilize governments, industry and civil society to advance the transparency agenda. The EITI, which almost 50 countries are now working to implement, enhances citizen access to reliable and useful information regarding how much their governments are getting from the extraction of finite oil, gas and mineral resources. EITI implementation has two core components. First, transparency – oil, gas and mining companies disclose their payments to governments, and government discloses its receipts, which are audited and published. The second component is accountability – a multi-stakeholder group (MSG) with representatives from government, companies and civil society oversee the process and communicates the findings of the EITI report, promoting reform efforts in the country. Greater transparency improves accountability and encourages better management of these finite resources for the benefit of citizens.

What We Learned – Cross Cutting Themes and Recommendations

In spite of legal, cultural and historical differences in our three study countries, we identified five key commonalities.

  1. Legal contexts shape how Indigenous peoples can utilize EITI The legal structures governing Indigenous land rights, title, royalty payments, rents and benefit sharing differ vastly between and within EITI implementing countries, shaping and constraining how EITI can be implemented in a given country. Because of the disparity in legal requirements and protections for IPs in EITI implementing countries, ideas on how to make EITI useful for Indigenous Peoples must be tailored to that country’s legal context.
  2. Support is needed for Multi-Stakeholder Groups to target outreach strategies to Indigenous Peoples Information about the EITI process and the data from the reports themselves are not reaching enough Indigenous communities and tribal peoples. Based on our findings, we think EITI can better serve IPs through resourced, tailored outreach, as the Philippines MSG has recently begun to do.
  3. There is a need for consistent and ‘legitimate’ IP representation in EITI Multi-Stakeholder Groups IP representation on MSGs must be formalized and fulfilled. Our interviewees concluded that IP MSG representatives must come from peoples and regions directly affected by the extractive industry to be effective in conveying an Indigenous community perspective– currently, this occurs in some MSGs but not others.
  4. The case for building an Indigenous Peoples’ EITI Network and Caucus There is a need for a network for IPs in EITI implementing countries to exchange information, share good practices, discuss challenges and explore solutions. Both national IP EITI in-country caucuses and an international network would better enable Indigenous EITI MSG participants to shape decision-making about natural resources. This has the potential to position Indigenous communities to share equitably in both the decision making process and the potential benefits from the exploitation of natural resources on ancestral lands.
  5. The potential power of subnational EITI Multi-Stakeholder Groups Based on our research, we see sub-national MSGs as worthy of further exploration. Even if Indigenous Peoples’ representatives participate actively and effectively on national MSGs, it is not clear, at this stage, that the impact on Indigenous Peoples will be direct and meaningful. Thus, a single Indigenous community could seek to implement EITI, commensurate with the scale of their population and extractives revenue, and/or numerous or all Indigenous Peoples’ across an entire nation could seek to create a subnational, Indigenous-specific EITI process. Sub-national approaches would highlight the complex historic and present issues, allow greater participation by Indigenous Peoples, their leaders, and their governments, and allow greater focus on the specific context, revenues, arrangements, and means of transparency.

Conclusion: Indigenous Participation in EITI Multi-Stakeholder Groups has Great Potential but Needs Extensive Commitment and Work for that Potential to be Fulfilled

If employed effectively, improved transparency could position Indigenous Peoples to ensure governments and companies provide them a fair share of the revenues from extraction on Indigenous lands. EITI’s MSGs make contributions to fostering stability and good governance through enabling dialogue. More space is provided for civil society to voice their concerns, and together with governments and companies, relationships improve and trust is built between parties.

However, the promise of increasing transparency as a vehicle to reduce poverty for IPs has not yet been realized. There is much work to do to include Indigenous Peoples’ in national MSGs and the overall international EITI governance, as well as utilize EITI’s process and products to engage and inform Indigenous Peoples. With greater engagement, IPs can use EITI processes to shape the laws, rules, and processes that affect revenue flows to them.